In today’s world, working women are inundated with empowerment messages. “Lean in” says Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. “Woman up!” says author Aimee Cohen. “Know your own value,” “Break your own rules,” “Be a #girlboss” … the list goes on. But what if instead of leaning in and playing the game men created, women learned how to win by leaning back? According to relationship expert Sami Wunder, leaning back is the key to success – both in business and in life.
So what does “leaning back” mean? It means acknowledging the hyper-competitive, achievement-at-all-costs model of traditional male leadership is fundamentally at odds with traditional feminine values of empathy, collaboration, and work/life balance. We need to acknowledge that the “feminine” values work best for women and men in the long run. So how can we embrace them to make revolutionary change in the workplace – and the world?
“We need to ask ourselves if we have stretched the ‘lean in’ masculine style of leadership too far,” Sami explains, “and if the costs of that model are too big for our generation of female leaders to be ignored anymore. In my opinion, there is a need to bring back feminine values of trust, receiving, non-competition, and balance into the workplace, and explore feminine styles of leadership that are not so rigid and do not value achievement over health and family life.”
Here are three ways to start “leaning back” in the workplace.
1. Focus on leadership, not gender.
If we define leadership by the following traits, we can see men don’t have an inherent advantage over women, any more than women have an inherent advantage over men.
- Thinking strategically and creatively
- Acting with clarity and decisiveness
- Envisioning alternative futures
- Offering inspiring direction
- Harnessing people’s motivational flows
- Cultivating collaboration and teamwork
- Fostering a culture of innovation
- Executing with strong business acumen and judgment
- Managing complexity and being comfortable with ambiguity
In November of 2017, Gallup conducted a research poll that asked American workers whether they’d prefer a man or women for their boss. For the first time since 1953, the majority of respondents didn’t report a preference. That means it’s possible employees are starting to understand that leadership has less to do with gender and more to do with the above listed skills.
2. Embrace your feminine qualities.
Men may not be better inherent leaders than women, but culture has us conditioned to think that way. Don’t let culture stop you from embracing feminine qualities that could put you in a position of leadership.
A Harvard Business Review study that looked at employee evaluations for male and female leaders found that women were rated higher in 12 of the 16 qualities identified for outstanding leadership. The qualities women had were integrity, a collaborative mindset, a problem-solving approach and more. The study shows these traditional feminine values don’t make women weak leaders – they make them strong.
“While being ambitious and using our masculine energy to get ahead will continue to be the cornerstone message for generations of women leaders to come,” Sami said, “incorporating feminine values of self-care, slowing down, prioritizing our health and private lives, and understanding that an overworked, burnt-out woman is of no help to anyone will ensure the longevity of success our female leadership creates and experiences.”
3. Don’t be afraid to create your own path to success.
A mark of many great leaders is they didn’t get to where they are the traditional way. If you’re leaning back, expect to get where you’re going by traveling through uncharted territory.
“We are taught to use our mind and not our heart when it comes to making career decisions,” Sami said to Forbes. “If you tried to rationalize a top economics student giving up her lucrative career as a consultant for international organizations, becoming a love coach and starting from scratch with nothing in her savings, [it] would appear crazy to you.”
Wunder’s success story is based on defying and rewriting the rules of the male-centric leadership game. By putting intuition over intellect, collaboration over competition, personal health and happiness over achievement, Sami is helping women pioneer new paths and redefine leadership on their own terms.