Lean Out to Lean In, but Don’t Lean Back

Lean In, Inc.

Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead has launched a lively national dialog about what it means to “Lean In.” Although Sandberg focuses most of her attention on women, her advice about pursuing both a career and personal fulfillment applies to both genders. Although, as Sandberg believes, it is irrational for women to “want it all” it is equally irrational for men to expect to have it all while assuming that the choices they make have no impact on the results in their careers or personal lives.

Everyone leans in to something. Now that it is in the public domain, the concept of Lean In is taking on a life of its own, and everyone has his or her own take on it. Some see the term, Lean In, as synonymous for an aggressive pursuit of success. Others, including Sandberg, use the term in a less pejorative and more encompassing sense: to take a seat at the table, cut through the bias, negotiate, collaborate and mentor.

From what I read, the national dialog is offering a twist: to be successful, “Lean Out.” Here’s my take.

Lean Out to Include Others

Successful people are not totally self-sufficient, but require teams of talent to support them. Only a small percentage of talented people are destined for the executive suite, so smart executives retain talented and dedicated employees who are happy to work hard as long as they are able to meet their needs and those of their families, and take steps to insure that they do both.

Lean Out to the Evolving Organization

Workplaces that enjoy the dual benefits of good leadership and smart technology enable employees to contribute in significant ways without occupying expensive office space, and can allow them to advance their careers away from the mother ship. Generally, face time becomes less critical, though not every organization’s culture is there just yet.

Taking fewer, more calculated career risks will increase your chances of being hired

Lean Out from Risky Career Decisions

This applies more to men who approach career opportunities casually and with less thought about whether or not they have the appropriate technical and leadership skills for long term success. In his Forbes article, Karl Moore states that taking fewer, more calculated career risks “will increase your chances of being hired and promoted if you can demonstrate risk management abilities at a personal and professional level.” The net result might be a deeper, more strategic “leaning in.”

Lean Out to Your Next Career Move

Clear focus and dedication (and usually extra work hours) are required to lean in. But it could be dangerous to your career if you do so to the exclusion of other opportunities that may take you to the next rung. This may be especially true if you’ve continued to lean in even though your current job is no longer meeting your professional growth or development goals.

How do you define Success?

Lean Out to a Lower-Powered but More Personally Fulfilling Career

It is foolish to assume there is only one, correct path to “success.” For some, success is defined by the corner office and the club membership. Others find success in creating beautiful paintings while sipping chardonnay by the lake. Still others define success by being able to attend all of their kid’s ball games while contributing as steady Eddies at work. In a recent Money survey, nearly half of the respondents cited more flexibility or more meaning as their top career priority.

With All of this Leaning Out, There is the Risk of Leaning Back

It is unsafe to assume that because you’ve paid your dues through all the years of leaning in, everyone else must do the same. Aside from simply ticking off the rank and file watching you and secretly plotting your introduction to humble pie, you just might fall over. It’s always more respectable to pick yourself up after falling forward than falling back.

Ultimately, each of us will create our own definition of leaning in or leaning out that is suited to our life, lifestyle and goals. And it’s that personalization that makes it just the right angle of lean.



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