This week was my birthday, and it led to a great deal of heartfelt thinking – not least because I was submitting my very first manuscript to a publisher, and as a result I had been bearing in mind amazing business books that have had an impact on my life.
I remember when I first picked up Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In – and the fireworks that it set off in my head. I already had a great admiration for her openness and honesty after her brilliant TED talk of 2010, and the continued willingness she had to speak her mind in the written words following this just added to my opinion that here was a woman who simply got it. She was prepared to stand up and say ‘we don’t have to pretend to be super women; it’s OK to admit that perfection is a myth’. She encouraged us to support each other, to stop the self-sabotage, and for our amazing men to step up and support us more too.
But when we talk about leaning in, there is an area where the esteemed Ms Sandberg doesn’t put much of a focus, and it happens to be a focus dear to my heart. It’s a whole world of opportunity, of adventure, of knowledge and insight and incredible talent.
It’s a world where women and men are not only leaning in – but leaning out.
It’s the incredible galaxy of innovation that is entrepreneurialism.
The talent that is being attracted to the start-up sphere from corporate is phenomenally strong, and in many regards underestimated. Sandberg addresses the issues faced by women in positions of power within corporate – but what about those brilliant women running their own entreprises? More and more, women are choosing to take their own paths, to take the road less travelled, because they see the opportunity in being able to work collaboratively with big thinkers in a freer and more receptive environment. They can run their own teams without interference from bureaucracy, enjoy more flexible working hours (whilst still trying to work out how to control the hamster wheel admittedly) – but most of all, they are able to put their own dreams into a realisable form.
They are able to lean out.
What do I mean by leaning out?
Leaning out is the philosophy of teamwork within a frame of standout innovation. It is the understanding that not only is it essential to be a voice at the boardroom table, it’s also essential to take that voice beyond the boardroom and into one’s own enterprise if that’s where the dream lives.
Leaning out is about taking an idea to new heights – and making it happen. It’s about saying ‘yes I will succeed’ when everyone else says ‘no you won’t’.
It’s about embodying the spirit of future change, and seeing it go from concept to concrete.
I am going to put this in very personal terms. For years, I saw success as making my way up the corporate ladder; about beating the boys at their own game. I embodied the ideals of ‘leaning in’; I was open and vocal in how I thought things should be. I made no bones about the fact that I wasn’t perfect – that my life was best fulfilled outside of the home; no matter how much I loved my family, if I attempted to be a stay at home mum, it would end in tears for all of us, and that this was OK – that my working to make the top of the corporate tree was the right goal for all of us. But then I realised something. No, I was not a stay at home mum – and believe me, I am not questioning that choice by any means; but what I did realise was, that equally, I was not Sheryl Sandberg. I was not interested in just leaning in. I wanted to have an out as well.
The rest, as one might say, was history wrapped up in a little black dress.
That little black dress has been, and continues to be, a story of innovation and invention. It is a story of collaborative business and amazing women who want to change the way they interact as entrepreneurs. Again, with all due respect to Sandberg, if she had the network that I am fortunate enough to enjoy, I feel that ‘leaning in’ may be a past concept.
That if she were to lean out and embrace all that is available within the realm of the entrepreneur as well as those fantastic corporate minds, she would perhaps see how to not only keep talent within the latter arena – but it would also give her some insights into the strength of how women engage in a sphere which they are making so much their own. To be able to see both the vision of those who wish to work as identities separate but together, as well as those who see the inherent value of the corporate intrapreneur?
It’s a new game. A new space.
Are you ready to lean out?