Lean OUT

handshakeIf you’re a young woman interested in developing your role as a leader, it’s nearly impossible to avoid Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.

It’s everywhere.  So is she.  Her book is having a profound influence on how women view their careers and their choices.  I won’t be surprised if it becomes a catalyst for positive change so that workplace policies and practices support working women in ways they never have before.

I know one family, run by two brothers and two sisters, where taking time for childcare led to a huge conflict among the siblings. The brothers, both with wives who didn’t work, didn’t think it was fair for their sisters to adjust their schedules.  That adds another layer of complexity to the work/family issue.

I discussed Lean In recently with a group of daughters in family businesses.  One of them, who had worked for several years for a large corporation, suggested that we might learn from it.  Though a few of the daughters found it helpful, others could not fully relate to it.  The corporate culture that Sandberg writes about didn’t feel as relevant to them.  But they all agreed that working as a woman in a male-dominated industry can be challenging.  And that finding ways to balance work and family is not easy.

Being a pioneer, like Sandberg, takes guts.

The discussion with the group of daughters prompted me to think that perhaps some daughters in family businesses are so far “in”, that is, so intensely involved in their family’s business and in the web of relationships with their parents and siblings, that perhaps they should take the time to “lean out”.

By “lean out”, I mean finding time to connect with people in other businesses, family and non-family.

Working in a family business can feel claustrophobic.  You may not get the relief from family life that other people find at work. And you may not get the respect for your leadership that you might find somewhere else.

So getting outside the business, and talking with both men and women who work in other places, can feel like a breath of fresh air.

Not only will you learn about how work gets done in other places, but you may also get ideas about how other people develop their ability to lead, and to manage the choices and compromises that come from taking on a key leadership role.

Here are some ways to “lean out”:

1. Join

Join a group like “85 Broads”, a national organization devoted to supporting professional women. There may be a local chapter in your city, or you can check out www.85Broads.org. You can also apply to be a member of the National Association of Professional Women: www.napw.org, which also has local chapters in many cities.

2. Go

Go to a conference or industry meeting out of town:  It’s vital to get away, particularly if your business is in a small city.   Going alone to a conference is a great way to learn how to network and to develop your entrepreneurial skills.  Ask the people you meet how their organizations figure out ways to support working parents.  The time at the conference can also give you a chance to reflect more objectively about your business and the kind of impact you hope to have there.

3. Watch

Give Sheryl’s Sandberg’s book a second look.  There are some great lessons daughters in family businesses can learn from women in more traditional work settings.  Better yet, watch the videos on her website at www.leanin.com.  They cover a range of topics, taught by women who are experts on leadership development and on business.

You may find that with a few steps outside, you’ll be able to “lean in” once again-refreshed, renewed, and perhaps, standing a bit taller.

And, like Sheryl Sandberg, you just might become a pioneer, leading the way for other daughters who join the business, and perhaps for other employees as well.

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