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Lean In won't work for everyone

Posted by Chad O'Connor  April 10, 2013 11:00 AM

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Sheryl Sandberg has created an enviable career in the male-dominated Silicon Valley, first at Google and now at Facebook. It’s no wonder that her book “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead,” has created a major debate among both women and men and turned her into a highly sought-after speaker.

While I agree that having the drive to succeed is a critical component for female success in corporate America – I don’t agree with Sandberg’s underlying premise that women should act more like men to be successful.

The extreme view of Sandberg’s management philosophy is that women are mostly to blame for their lack of dominance in executive ranks, and that they should subvert their need for work-life balance, in order to impress the boss. The truth is there is one key social barrier to more women working at higher levels of an organization: women are the only ones who can bear children. Traditionally, most women have had to make tough career choices in order to have and raise children, as they struggle to meet the needs of their families vs. logging more time at the office. Balancing this requires an awful lot of “leaning in,” though perhaps not the sort Sandberg meant. Though the workplace has become increasingly supportive and many companies have adapted to give more flexible options to moms, it’s still sometimes an either/or choice that many businesswomen face.

Counter to Sandberg’s advice, organizations increasingly prize many qualities typically labeled as “feminine”, including caring, emotional intelligence, and people skills. In fact, there’s a lot of evidence that indicates that “being nice” pays off more in the long run – witness Adam Grant’s new book, Give and Take.

Here are four strategies women can use to help themselves find their way in corporate America:

1. Be Authentic. Rather than trying to act more like a man, women leaders should instead focus on being their true selves as they lead teams and organizations. Your management style should reflect who you are – or you will probably fail.

2. Find a culture that fits you. As you plan your next career move, don’t just consider the job description; consider the culture of the company, what the people are like and the style of the leadership there. If a place doesn’t feel right during the interview, it probably isn’t the right place for you. Choose a company that mirrors your personal style.

3. Find passionate mentors. Sandberg must have had the advantage of some good mentors and people who spotted her talent and helped her move forward. That is a key component to corporate success. Find people who you respect, and who see something in you at your current company, who want to help guide your career.

4. Find your passion. Above all, you have to have passion for what you do and be single-minded about your own success. People who get to the top are goal-oriented, find good mentors and situate themselves in corporate cultures where they are comfortable and can shine.

Maggie Walsh is vice president of leadership development at Forum, a Boston-based premier learning organization.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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