The Lean In Alternative: Why Leaning Back Also Works for Women in Business

The Lean In Alternative: Why Leaning Back Also Works for Women in Business

Last Updated: Aug 3, 2016

Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In has received both high praise and disapproval from women. Whether you agree with everything she writes or not, the core lesson that women should lean in and become leaders in the workplace is solid advice. But, in their rise to the top, women should also make an effort to lean back to help other women. 

The release of Lean In, the new book by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, has sparked a firestorm of attention from the media and folks around conference room tables throughout the country. Sandberg’s assertion that women in business should “lean in” and make more of an effort to lead is one that has garnered both nods of agreement and adamant disapproval from men and women alike.

As a successful businesswoman in my own right, I acknowledge that women should absolutely do everything they can to take on leadership roles in the workplace. But in addition to “leaning in,” women in the workplace should make “leaning back” a priority.

To me, “leaning back” means bringing other women with you as you achieve. Though women in the workplace have come a long way, we often still make less than men who do the same jobs as us. We are still systematically overlooked for promotions, even when we’re more qualified than the man who ends up with the job. And though it’s becoming less uncommon to see a woman heading up an executive team or running her own business, I think those of us who do reach success have a responsibility to bring women into our own power teams as we achieve big things.

There is a stereotype that women would rather compete with one another than collaborate. But I rarely find that to be true. In fact, almost every day I’m struck by what women can achieve when they work together. Without discounting the special bond that women can have with men, the fact is, we also need to fuse with other women in order to maximize our female potential. When you are connected to other strong women who complement, understand, and care about you, you will feel nurtured, empowered, inspired, and fired up, and they feel that way too! That’s what “leaning back” is all about.

Read on for a few tips on how women can “lean back” in the workplace.

Be a mentor. Not enough can be said of what we can learn from others who have encountered and surmounted problems that are similar to our own. That being the case, as they take on leadership roles and reach their goals women should become mentors and actively seek to pass on their skills to up and comers.  

I’ve been in business for three decades, and I still learn every day from my students, staff, writers, speakers, business experts, and more. I consider them all my mentors. Being a mentor to women is also a big priority for me. I look forward to the time I spend mentoring women, and it always proves to be time well spent because in the end I think I learn just as much from them as they do from me.

Speak up. Commodities are easy to obtain and easy to replace. That’s certainly not how anyone wants to be perceived at their job, but that’s exactly what happens to women who choose to lay low. Lead the way by being an outspoken part of your organization. Don’t be afraid to make your voice heard.

Caution women in your organization or network from shrinking into their chairs and becoming invisible employees. Get in the middle of everything and bring new ideas to the table all the while encouraging participation and engagement from all of your employees. Help the women in your organization leverage the things that make them unique.

Teach the fine art of negotiating. Women who aren’t used to negotiating are especially susceptible to being intimidated by a show of force. Teach your network of women not to be afraid to demand respect.

I’ve worked with plenty of attorneys, met some tough negotiators, and seen many different negotiation styles. When I’m up against a pit bull, I’ll take a walk and role-play with my husband Tom, who can be a pit-bull himself. I anticipate every possible objection and get myself into a Zen-like state. When it comes time to negotiate for real, I am centered and ready. I know that if I allow myself to be intimidated or provoked instead of remaining calm and professional, the negotiations are destined to fail. It’s this kind of advice that doesn’t always make it down the line to women as they’re trying to rise up in an organization or get a start up off the ground. Share it, if you’ve got it!

Say no. Sometimes the best way to lean back is by simply modeling the right behavior. When women on the rise see you do (or not do) a certain thing, they’ll see that it’s ok for them to make that choice as well. One such behavior is avoiding over-commitment by saying no.

Saying “no” to some things means you will have the time and energy to say “yes” to the right things. You need to set your own expectations of what you want to accomplish. Don’t let your career or life take a backseat to everyone else’s. When other women see you boldly make this choice, they’ll be brave enough to do it too.

Collaborate. Intelligent women know what they don’t know and when to seek answers. Smart women appreciate that what works today won’t necessarily work tomorrow, and that aggressive learning is a competitive advantage to achieving any desired goal. A key element to aggressive learning is collaboration.

I find that women excel at connecting and collaborating to solve problems. The success that comes from this process provides sanity, support and genius solutions. It’s only when we come together and engage in conversation that we raise new questions and think of possibilities at a collective level we would not have considered on our own. Inside every woman is a natural collaborator. That’s a wicked advantage we have as women, an intellectual edge we can leverage for using our genius at the highest possible level. When you collaborate, everyone involved benefits.

In business—and life in general—the best long-term strategy isn’t to get ahead and stay ahead of everyone else. Instead, it’s to partner with others—to give everyone a piece of the pie and build up the people around you—so that everyone has an incentive to win. When you give other people a bit of advice, a word of encouragement, a few minutes of your time, or even a sought-after opportunity, you’ll usually see valuable returns.

This is really what’s at the core of “leaning back.” Time is a valuable gift. Mentoring is a valuable gift. Spiritual or emotional support is a valuable gift. If you want more money, encouragement, or love, give it today and you will receive it tomorrow, but not necessarily from the people you give it to. It comes through other manifestations. By giving back, I have received more abundance in every aspect of my life than I ever dreamed possible.

Vickie Milazzo, RN, MSN, JD, is author of the New York Times bestseller Wicked Success Is Inside Every Woman(Wiley, 2011, ISBN: 978-1-1181-0052-3, $21.95, From a shotgun house in New Orleans to owner of a $16-million business, New York Times best-selling author Milazzo shares the innovative success strategies that earned her a place on the Inc. list of Top 10 Entrepreneurs and Inc. Top 5000 Fastest-Growing Companies in America.


10 Things to Learn from a Business Failure

10 Things to Learn from a Business Failure

Last Updated: Feb 5, 2016
Failing at a business isn’t the end of the world. In fact, it could be the beginning of a successful new business. Here are ten things you can learn if you’ve had a business fail.

Failure isn’t something to celebrate—at least if you subscribe to conventional wisdom. Failure is seen as an ending; the end of the road. When you fail feelings of inferiority, embarrassment, and stress dominate your thoughts. Why move on? Why try again?

What if Thomas Edison embraced the conventional wisdom? How long would the world have waited before the light bulb was invented? Instead, he said this after multiple failures: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

If you look back and figure out what went wrong, you probably won’t repeat the same mistakes. Could any of these be the reason your last business failed?

1. Don’t Play the Blame Game

It’s hard to admit but before moving forward you have to embrace a harsh reality. It’s your fault. It’s not the economy’s fault, your partner’s fault, the city you live in, your lack of money, the people, the product, or the family issues you had.

It’s your fault because you were the leader. Every successful business overcame the same issues that brought you down. When you can say that you were the main reason the business failed, your mind becomes open to change.

2. Don’t Beat Yourself Up

Just because it was your fault doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs founded NeXT Computer in 1985 after being forced out of Apple. The company was far from successful and Apple later purchased it and brought Jobs back. Not only was he fired from the company he founded, arguably the most brilliant business mind in recent history started a business that essentially failed.

This series of failures didn’t derail Jobs—it propelled him to further greatness. He faced the same decisions any business owners face but he chose to turn them into positives.

RELATED: The Real Reason Businesses Fail

3. Don’t Double Down

Talk to any Wall Street investor and they will tell you the same thing—don’t ever double down on a bad investment. In other words, resist the urge to relaunch your company bigger and better. The chances of it working are very slim. Look elsewhere. Stay within your strengths but look to something different.

4. Give Customers What THEY want

Is it possible that you had a great idea for YOU but not for your customers? Did you conduct thorough market research the first time around? Next time, make sure your customers want it, they’re willing to pay for it, and the value they place on it is enough to make your business grow.

5. Be Willing to Let It Go

Maybe the first time around you did the research but it didn’t come back favorable. Instead of abandoning the idea, you moved forward anyway. The best entrepreneurs know that being too passionate about an idea is a recipe for failure. There are plenty of ideas to choose from. Pick one that both you and your customers love.

RELATED: The 7 Pitfalls of Business Failure and How to Avoid Them

6. Bring in Experts

You aren’t an expert at everything. In this highly competitive world, trying to be an expert marketer, web designer, manufacturer, manager, sales associate, and accountant isn’t going to work. Build a team of experts that will improve your execution the next time.

7. But Get Your Hands Dirty

If you’re going to land a deal with billionaire investor Mark Cuban you better be ready to get your hands dirty. He’s no stranger to selling door to door and in his mind, you’re never too big or powerful to remove yourself from the sales team. Cuban said, “I still work hard to know my business. I’m continuously looking for ways to improve all my companies, and I’m always selling. Always.”

8. Raise Enough Money

Some businesses require very little financial investment. If you’re in the consulting business, you might invest less than $1,000 in startup costs. But that’s not true of most businesses.

Did you have a great idea but simply ran out of money? Next time, slow down and raise enough money to buy the right equipment, rent space in a better location, and hire the right experts. When you appropriately investment in your startup, the chances of success are much higher.

9. You Weren’t Passionate

There are plenty of business opportunities with the potential of making you a lot of money but if you aren’t passionate about it, there’s little chance of success. Cuban says, “Love what you do or don’t do it.” It doesn’t matter if home automation is where the money is right now if you don’t care about it and have no experience in it. Follow what you know and love.”

10. You Didn’t Commit

There are plenty of businesses competing for your customers. Starting as a part-time endeavor works in some cases but don’t expect to make a lot of money. Other businesses require you to be all in. Did you pour yourself into your business? Was it more than a full time job or did life’s other responsibilities get in your way?

You’re competing against people who are working on their business non-stop. If you don’t have that kind of time, your might need to see your business more as a hobby than a full time endeavor.

Bottom Line

Thomas Edison said something better than his famous 10,000 failures quote. He said, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”

Whatever happened, don’t give up. As somebody who failed, you join the ranks of the most successful business leaders in history. The question becomes how will you respond? Will you learn from the failure or give up?

© 2015 Attard Communications, Inc. All Rights Reserved. May not be reproduced, reprinted or redistributed without written permission from Attard Communications, Inc.