We’ve recently circulated Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg, current Facebook COO, around to our crew. Shannon, my partner and wife, read this book and politely (but firmly, and more on this below) placed it on top of my “must read” stack. Note to everyone: when your partner “asks” (but in actuality is telling you to read an article or book), do it. Sometimes the content will be about travel abroad or a fun community initiative but other times it’ll be about something you need to work on as partners, as your parents’ children, or as parents yourselves.
Lean In is about how our western culture, predominately the USA, and also, similarly, New Zealand, has created and supports internal and institutional forces that trip up not just ambitious women, but put barriers in front of almost all women, making it more difficult for them to simply see the opportunity to become leaders—in families, communities, companies, politics, etc... Sandberg’s book is witty, well researched, and cogent. As Shannon’s partner (and one that can improve), a father of two young daughters, and a teammate with several women, this book really made me think of what I can do better to not just support the women with me, but to stop upholding some cultural paradigms I’ve unfortunately accepted as “because that’s the way it is”. Come on Zach, step up your game and question more often.
When reading this book I consistently realized that indeed I was supporting paradigms Sandberg writes about—some of which are subtle, some outright blatant. Please keep in mind, depending on your context, and your openness, some examples don’t create epiphanies, but combined, and built together with their interdependencies, they did for me.
For example, Sandberg writes about how parents of a young girl read through her school yearbook, noting how several of the young boys, when replying to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, replied “President of the United States.” None of the girls did. I’m not saying that everyone should aspire to become President, but I found these results interesting AND, unfortunately, in-line with my upbringing, and a simple and straightforward illustration of how at an early age, boys and girls set off on different paths, mostly pre-determined by culture (us).
Sandberg references multiple studies in multiple industries showing women consistently underestimate their abilities and performance while men consistently overestimate their abilities and performance. I think most women can agree men are usually WAY overly confident! Men, including myself, should recognize this too. My overconfidence has certainly, more than once, burned myself and those around me.
Sandberg writes about the imposter syndrome-- capable people, both men and women, being plagued by self-doubt. However, women, studies prove, are much more susceptible to feeling they don’t “belong at the table” because they don’t think they’re capable. Sandberg points out that when men fail they’re more likely to cite their “not studying enough”, “not interested in the subject matter”, or, as I inferred, “the weather” to blame whereas women will cite an inherent lack of ability, that they simply aren’t good enough, “up to the job”, or, as I inferred, “didn’t plan/prepare adequately”. Summarized, men shrug off failure as an external factor, something they can tweak, or are fully in control of, and move on, but women experience a much greater drop in self-esteem and self-confidence, because they’re blaming themselves, which, cumulative over time, becomes a very heavy burden.
A core principle in Holistic Management (R), when making decisions that effect living (or actually any) complex systems, is to, after you’ve made your decision, to assume you’re wrong and then look for the first early warning indicators that indeed you were, then control and re-plan. Before reading this book, I intuitively believed women were better at assuming they were wrong (which, a weakness to manage, I held as an incredible strength). But I didn’t consider equally, as default, men are going to think they’re most always correct.
I’m the fifth generation of my family to manage our ranch, Twodot Land and Livestock. Before me were Bill and Bob Jones, Warren Jones, Robert Baxter, and E.C. Baxter. My dad and uncle, grandpa, great-uncle, and great-great-grandpa all had women (sisters, wives, and/or daughters) with them. Me too. But not yet has a women in our family been in the ranch leadership position. And none of them have explicitly made ranching/farming a career. Does this mean something about my family and myself? I don’t know, but I don’t think it’s just coincidental.
What can I and we, Grasslands, our company, do so we don’t inadvertently keep people (men and women alike) who are capable right now, or with unfettered opportunity in the future, to contribute and lead in their own way from every level? A good place to start for me, as Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter, at a conference in 2003, answered “the laundry” to the question of what can men do to advance women’s leadership. Or at least more of it! I read this book and recommend you do too. It’s an exceptionally approachable book on a topic that could easily make us uncomfortable, but not if we’re ok in assuming we’re wrong. Please ask Trace where a copy is and she’ll get it to you.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!