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I remember when Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In first came out. I was still employed at a large tech firm. A senior leader. I loved my team, had an inspiring female boss being primed for CEO role, someone to look up to at the time and had just recovered (almost) fully from burn out from a previous role I’d just left. 

I bought the book and never finished it. I remember a strong physical feeling that I wanted to burn it. Quite an unusual reaction for me with books. Let me just say upfront, I really do admire Sheryl Sandberg and I know she got alot of both flack and praise for this book. It created a stir. It got people talking. It shone a spot light on a topic that needed to be aired and reviewed. And I applaud her for that. 

The world at that time was in a pickle (and still is). That’s clear for anyone with a single brain cell to see. Wars in all corners of the planet, a pandemic sweeping fear and anxiety through us all, corrupt and untrustworthy political players, division and judgement everywhere, famine, racism, poverty increasing, lack of trust in information. 

It’s also clear that more and more people are waking up to something. That the way we’re living and working isn’t working anymore. 9-5 is dead. The healthcare systems have edges in their capacity and capabilities. The leaders we’re encouraged to trust to do the right thing aren’t hitting the basic standards of human civilisation. Somewhere we’ve given away our power. 

I’ve been slowly realising over the last few years that I am a feminist. And what being feminist means to me is equality for all. I champion the rights of all humans to be treated fairly, respectfully, lovingly. I didn’t grow up a feminist, I bought into being a good girl, being nice, being quiet when grown ups were around, doing what I was told, fitting in, people pleasing. That I needed to look a certain way to be pleasing on the eye for men to accept me. That my capacity for success would almost entirely be decided by men, so I needed to look a certain way, behave a certain way, comply a certain way, fit in to a man’s world. 

As Sheryl Sandberg put it, in the workplace, I needed to “lean in” and learn how to lead as a man in order to succeed in the workplace still very much designed and dominated by men for men. I was pretty good at this (because I’m good at being a good girl and adapting myself to fit in).

What those ways of working taught me, is that I would never be good enough unless I was a man. Or had the approval of a man (and it didn’t matter if he was respectable or not). They also taught me a man could take whatever he wanted. They also taught me that for a good woman, or a compassionate man, those ways aren’t sustainable. They’re a fast track to burning out and killing your soul. And they certainly aren’t going to bring the world out of the pickle it’s found itself in. 

It’s fair to say that we still live in a mans world, I can’t change that fact, nor do I like it. We don’t have equality. We’ve come along way but we’re not there yet. And the mans world sits on top of a system which is geared toward feeding the needs of the old man’s world not the new human’s world. Power, ego, greed, control, competition, dominance. The system needs to change for sure, but that may take alot longer than any of us will survive. 

In the meantime we have choices about how we show up in our roles to lead and inspire others. There is another way, a way that’s neither male or female but one that embraces a different way of showing up. One that see’s the world through love and not hate or power. One that looks to join the dots across the horizons not dominate and control it. One that feels as much as it thinks. One that trusts and has compassion. One that’s generous and sharing. Inclusive and loving.

The antidote to all this sits somewhere in leaning out rather than leaning in. Making the responsibility for change all our responsibility, not just the marginalised groups. I don’t want to have to lean in with my elbows to make space at the table, I want other people at that table, to notice other people and make space. To lean out. 

What Sheryl Sandbery did in writing her Lean in book was to help more leaders recognise that men (and the women leading like men) needed to lean out, unlearn those lean in behaviours and create a new leadership culture that benefits all.

It won’t be easy, but I’m up for it if you are. I’m committed to working with any leader who is tired of leaning in. Those that believe kindness should be present in all workplaces. Those that want to lean out, collaborate, unite, see the bigger picture and take responsibility for it for the good of all. 

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