Sandberg’s Lean In & Cultivating Women’s Leadership

By Nina Simons

As I read about Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In, with recent reviews in the Nation by Katha Pollitt and in the NYT Book Review by Anne-Marie Slaughter, I appreciated how each of them decries the immediate array of attacks on Sandberg from other women, and eschews women’s tendency toward a kind of viciousness any time a new voice for women emerges.

Slaughter notes the value of Lean In acknowledging the self-doubt that is so prevalent among women, and the efficacy of encouraging women to practice overcoming it. Neither she nor Pollitt speaks to where that self-doubt comes from, though I’ll have to read the  book to find out whether Sandberg does. They do note that – although she certainly comes from an extremely privileged perspective, her views encouraging women to get out of our own way and intentionally hold our own value higher are valid. Also, while she begins to address the internalized biases and fearfulness that many women carry, she only speaks minimally to the urgency of systemic changes, to provide greater access to women as leaders in the workplace through flex time and addressing some of the other structural impediments to women’s equity in the corporate world.

For me, though, her book and the ensuing reviews miss a key point that’s necessary to address whole systems change: many women don’t aspire to leadership because we’ve inherited a definition of the word that’s at the least conflicted, and often even an overt turn-off. Around the globe and in various sectors, women – and some men – are reinventing leadership, and unless and until we wrap our arms around a new, emergent definition, we’ll continue to be in conflict with ourselves and slow our own progress in achieving it. Why stretch yourself to reach for a brass ring that you inwardly dislike, and that promises to make your life miserable? This was a core premise of our Moonrise book, as it is of our Cultivating Women’s Leadership Leadership trainings.

In the conventional view – the one many of us have unconsciously inherited – leadership is often based largely upon charisma and luck or achievement, and it often implies aggression, and a top-down or hierarchical approach to others. It is typically conferred through getting a position, advanced degree or receiving inherited wealth or privilege, and is often practiced solo. It implies a degree of commitment to work at the exclusion of all else that’s associated with tremendous sacrifice. It is rare, in the inner story that we carry mostly unconsciously about leadership, that leaders can have a satisfying home life or family. Or a creative life, or take decent care of themselves.  Is in any wonder that few women feel whole-hearted in pursuing it?

After 7 years of offering Cultivating Women’s Leadership Leadership intensives, we’ve surfaced reinventions of leadership that are occurring all over the world, and that exemplify the kinds of flexible, invitational and team-based or rotating leadership models that women have practiced throughout time. Here are what some women have said about this retreat, and how it’s changed their approaches to leadership.

Hope you’ll apply and come join us, and co-create a leadership revolution that’s in service to Earth, Life and Justice for all.

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