Lean In, but Stay Vulnerable

Sheryl Sandberg has encountered much controversy with her philosophy of women needing to “lean in” to be successful in the business world, and in any world. I agree with Sheryl, and I believe a lot of my success is attributed to the fact that I lean in every day. But, there are more aspects to just leaning in and driving full force through the business world. The majority of women want to lean in but have too many responsibilities and obligations that prevent them from committing to a full lean in.

This is a complex and dynamic concept that cannot be concurred with one article. However, I believe if we are going to follow this philosophy that will allow women to be successful, then we have to also recognize the mechanisms that will allow for leaning in.

My first thoughts on this are, well how can women lean in and balance their personal lives, which involves family and children, among many other responsibilities. Well, I think we need to look into the relationships we have with our employees, and build a sense of honesty; a flow of open communication.

There is a big misunderstanding about successful woman. Society thinks women on top must be harsh, insensitive, and aggressive. I don’t think so. Vulnerability is not always an enemy, and can actually do women some good. For example, many years ago I had my first big speech at a HUGE client. I was ecstatic when I heard that I would be getting the opportunity to present to them, but I am also a mom and my children were young then. So when I heard that my presentation would be at 2PM, right when I would need to be home to greet my children from the school bus, I thought I would show some vulnerability, take some control, and work the situation around my needs, not just the “big guys”. So I called them and asked that we move the time to 11AM the same day so I could be home to get my kids at 2PM – and just as I thought, they said yes without any hesitation. They didn’t look at me like oh this is a woman who cares more about family than her career. They realized I was a busy person trying to balance a schedule and made accommodations to that.

My point is… yes let’s lean in. But let’s also be vulnerable and communicate our needs to those that need to hear them. And the thing is, these two concepts can go hand in hand. If we really do lean in, and put our heart and soul in our work, then others should not have a problem being flexible.

I felt compelled to respond to Sheryl Sandberg because I do think that all this advice and decision making for women, or anyone, can make people’s heads spin. We get it from all angles: this is how to be successful, this is how to be a good mother, this is how to have a good relationship with your partner – well, this is overwhelming. We CAN do it all, but we can’t do it without showing vulnerability when needed, and we have to find balance and communicate those needs. Whether it is communicating with a boss that you have to deal with personal stuff or asking your neighbor to help watch your kid so you can attend that important meeting: let’s communicate, let’s be vulnerable, and let’s get things done.