E’ Pericoloso Sporgersi or Why Lean In Doesn’t Translate Globally

it is dangerous to lean out

Lean­ing in may lead you into lean­ing out and even­tu­ally falling if you export Sheryl Sandberg’s empow­er­ment bible out of Cor­po­rate America.

Why does it touch me?

As an inter­na­tional exec­u­tive coach and trainer in lead­er­ship and pre­sen­ta­tion skills, I have been guilty, in the past, of want­ing to preach the same man­i­festo as Sheryl Sand­berg. It’s a very good one, pos­i­tive, action ori­ented, empow­er­ing women to assert them­selves and speak with a pow­er­ful voice. I too believed that women needed to strengthen their con­fi­dence mus­cle, speak up, speak out and sit assertively at the males’ cor­po­rate board.

I very quickly dis­cov­ered, thanks to the inter­na­tional exec­u­tive MBA classes that I have been teach­ing at EM Lyon, as early as in the 90s, and then at Cran­field School of Man­age­ment until now, that lead­er­ship, power, and com­mu­ni­ca­tion took many dif­fer­ent shades across the cul­tures, across the gen­er­a­tions and depend­ing also on indi­vid­ual pref­er­ences and per­son­al­i­ties. I just could not teach the same way to Renault Samsung’s South Corean exec­u­tives, or Chi­nese Gen Y women entre­pre­neurs, or L’Oréal’s Brazil­ian exec­u­tives, just to name a few. Adding to that mix the cor­po­rate cul­ture plus the con­text, the map­ping of the stake­hold­ers, you sim­ply real­ize that no lead­er­ship size fits all!

Sheryl Sandberg’s lean in should be manda­tory for young pro­fes­sion­als, either men or women, at the first stage of the learn­ing. With the men­tion: “Be care­ful, only applies in cor­po­rate america!”

Body­build­ing ver­sus Zen Leadership.

It would be the equiv­a­lent of Body Build­ing for Lead­er­ship. You prac­tice and prac­tice weight-lifting and your mus­cles become harder and big­ger.  You grow self-confidence and you have the sat­is­fac­tion to fit in the anglo-saxon dom­i­nated man­age­ment cul­ture. Then, the best would be to “unlearn” these behav­iors. To stop and watch the world around you. To travel, live abroad. To learn new lan­guages and under­stand other people’s point of view. To chal­lenge your stereo­types and assump­tions. To learn to shift and adapt depend­ing on the cor­po­rate cul­ture you’re in, depend­ing on the dif­fer­ent national cul­tures, depend­ing on the mul­ti­ple gen­er­a­tions you’re deal­ing with at work, depend­ing on your own val­ues and moti­va­tions at work. That would be the Yoga of Lead­er­ship. The Zen of Lead­er­ship and Communication.

What’s in it for YOU?

Change is hard. Adapt­ing is tough. You can learn it on your own, via mis­takes, trial and errors, but you sel­dom are given a sec­ond chance. You need to embrace lead­er­ship as a global mind­set and get coach­ing from a global and open perspective.

This is why I’m an advo­cate for the SPM pro­fil­ing tool, rep­re­sent­ing 12 styles of lead­er­ship and com­mu­ni­ca­tion styles. Learn­ing to dance with dilem­mas.

Sheryl Sandberg’s role model typ­i­cally fits the Achiever, the Per­suader, the Pio­neer. They are 9 other styles, which you can dis­cover here. For Asia, the Mod­er­a­tor or the Main­tainer would be much more appro­pri­ate for example.

As multi­na­tion­als con­tinue to pivot towards the Asia-Pacific, with its grow­ing mid­dle class and hence grow­ing num­ber of highly edu­cated women, Ms Sandberg’s man­i­festo needs a cul­tural makeover. Bet­ter to embrace her aspi­ra­tional pitch, add some Chi­nese wis­dom, a pinch of humil­ity with a broader per­spec­tive, before spread­ing the gospel. If her goal is to impact half the world, she can­not talk the same as she does from her perch in Sil­i­con Val­ley.” Jane Horan.

Read Jane Horan ‘s arti­cle on why Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In may not res­onate in other parts of the world, and espe­cially not in Asia.

The Amer­i­can mas­cu­line ideal is not the Map of the world, but only a small part of it.

a man's world
”...to take this man­i­festo global, we need to re-define lead­er­ship, re-examine work and re-evaluate careers. We need to think and act inclu­sively. This means includ­ing work­ing women (not just the top tier) in the pic­ture, and much more engage­ment of mul­ti­cul­tural and multi­gen­er­a­tional work places. Jane Horan.

Thanks to Ali­son Maitland.


alison maitland tweetAli­son Mait­land wrote with Avi­vah Wittenberg-Cox the best seller Why Women Mean Busi­ness. She’s also the author of Future Work, how busi­nesses can adapt and thrive in the new world of work. I found Jane Horan’s arti­cle thanks to her tweet.


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2 Responses to E’ Pericoloso Sporgersi or Why Lean In Doesn’t Translate Globally

  1. Mar­ion — agree with you that although there are many ele­ments in the Lean In opus that do apply cross cul­tur­ally, there are cer­tain aspects that do not. Monthly cir­cle meet­ings and pot luck din­ners would be alien con­cepts in some cultures.

    I have won­dered pub­li­cally (http://3plusinternational.com/2013/03/leaning-in-sheryl-sandberg/) whether the suc­cess of the book and move­ment is due to Sand­berg lever­ag­ing her high pro­file to rebrand an exist­ing story. If the book had been writ­ten by some­one else would it have sunk with­out trace ?

  2. Paul "minutrition" McConaughy says:

    Hi Mar­ion… I’m about halfway through “Lean In” and so far I have found it to be an accu­rate por­trayal of the treat­ment of women in Amer­ica. When women I know find fault with the book it always seems like they are zero­ing in on one spe­cific point. Aren’t you doing the same thing? You’re say­ing the book doesn’t apply to every­one. Is that dif­fer­ent than any book? I hear Sheryl Sand­berg try­ing hard to acknowl­edge her advan­tages and to be as inclu­sive as pos­si­ble. Maybe being a man I just can’t under­stand it, but I’ll keep trying.

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