Lean Out – a Collaborative Approach


Lean In

I’ve had the uncommon pleasure in my career of reporting into five different VPs of Engineering that were women and, as a result, learned to appreciate an experience that was different from most working in high-tech. As such, I was a bit surprised and dismayed when Sheryl Sandberg published Lean In – Women, Work, and the Will to Lead and thought I should write a book or blog post entitled Lean Out – Men Learning a More Collaborative Approach. It seemed that Sandberg was advocating women in particular to behave more like the stereotypical Type-A, white American male, rather than calling out the value of diversity as described in Diversity: The New Global Mindset


However, after reading Liz Wiseman’s Multipliers – How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, I arrived at a refined perspective on how and when to lean. I then concluded that we should indeed lean in when we are the junior person at the table. This is when it’s good to inject new ideas and be heard. It came to me that I had been coached to do just that at Informix by a retired exec from IBM. On the other hand, in 28 years of management I’ve discovered there is a great empowering value if we Lean Out when we’re managing down – when we are the most senior person present. When, as a leader, we lean out, we allow our teams and more junior colleagues to be empowered by creating the space for them to lean in. When as the leader we lead in, we diminish and dis-empower our teams – denying our team members, more junior colleagues the opportunity to lean in and contribute. Wiseman speaks of the overly assertive, proactive, vocal leaders as Diminishers as we rob others of the opportunity when we lead in that manner. She argues that they continue to operate in a one brain, many hands organizational model that stunts the growth of both intelligence and talent around them. She also brings lots of example of leaders that multiply the value of their teams by creating opportunity and space for them to be more proactive and participatory – to lean in (though she doesn’t use that term for it).

It can be particularly challenging to lean out in a business that wants to aggressively move forward. As a knowledgeable leader it is often more expedient to lead into any situation and provide the solution – all with good intent – rather that allow our teams to arrive there on their own. Even when it’s as simple as starting with asking: what would you do, asking: have you thought about this potential challenge – and helping them arrive at the “right” outcome, it is still more expedient to just telling them what the “right” answer is. However, I feel that is limited to that situation and by disempowering them, we are required to be there for every decision and it becomes less expedient over even a short period of time. It can hard to resist that temptation when we are eager to move forward quickly.

The Confidence Code The Science and Art of Self-Assurance - What Women Should Know

On another note regarding leaning in or out, in Katty Kay’s and Claire Shipman’s book The Confidence Code – The Science and Art of Self-Assurance – What Women Should Know they make reference to a Stanford Business School Study that revealed that women who combined the qualities typically found in men (assertion, aggression, confidence) along with qualities more typically found in women (collaboration, process-orientation, persuasion, humility) do better than others. Note, oddly, the study did not reveal this advantage when men adoption both sets of traits – though I still suspect they’re missing something there. Note, as I point out in Confidence Villains, I think Kay and Shipman miss the power that can be derived from confidence villains.


Patty Azzarello provides a great perspective on managing up, down and across in her book Rise – 3 Practical Steps for Advancing Your Career, Standing Out as a Leader, and Liking Your Life. Her views of leveraging the strengths of her team – leaning out, while focusing on the impact you can make as a leader – including influencing across and up akin to leaning in.



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