THE BLOG
07/22/2013 03:08 pm ET Updated Sep 21, 2013

Lean Back: Being at the Corporate Table Can Be Overrated

It's time to cheer on girls and women who want to sit at the table. We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in.

Sheryl Sandberg

I had the great fortune of being able to hear Sheryl Sandberg talk recently about her new book "Lean In -- Women, Work, and the Will to Lead" at an event hosted by the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. Her authenticity in sharing her own fears and trials in her own corporate career was just heart-warming. She also shared a lot of valuable insights to help women today who want to succeed in the corporate world. Sandberg provided great research data on why we still see low numbers of women in higher-level corporate and board positions, along with great strategies on how to overcome this hurdle.

While I love how Sheryl is encouraging more women to step up to the plate and play it big in the corporate world, I also think that we need to provide options and strategies for both women and men who have become battle-weary and recognize that leaning in and sitting at the corporate table might not be what fuels their own internal fire and is causing them to pull back. Here are some reasons we typically see people pull back:

  • Corporate Culture. The employee may feel stymied by the hierarchy or lack thereof, lack of flexibility, micromanagement, rigidity of corporate policies or missing diversity.
  • Lifestyle Needs. The money might be good, but the hours the company demands hinder the employee from doing what they want to for their family or friends.
  • Wrong Career Move. The person was always told that they'd be a great XYZ. Then after doing it for a while, she realizes that she's good at it, but hates it. But then she feels stuck.
  • Life Circumstances. Grief, divorce, or illness can all be major life events that make an employee question everything in life. However, our corporate models rarely have a "sabbatical" built in for employees to have time to deal with these life circumstances.

What steps can you take when you recognize that you are pulling back exactly for one of the reasons above and that being at the corporate table isn't feeding your soul?

  1. Truly lean back. This means either taking vacation time or erasing everything from your schedule in the evenings and weekends to give yourself space to lean back and get clear on what's really going on in your life.
  2. Write down your heart's desires. This might sound airy-fairy, but ask yourself what you really want out of life. What do you see as your purpose? If you don't know what your purpose is, then ask others what they see as contributions that you make.
  3. Acknowledge your fears. This is often the hardest part. We tend to suppress our feelings instead of saying that we're terrified about losing personal recognition, being seen as inadequate or not being able to meet our financial needs if we follow our heart's desires.
  4. Focus on fun and happiness. Now this might sound counterintuitive. You're thinking that you should be putting together some grand action plan or mapping your next steps. It's the total opposite. You first focus on elevating your spirits. Do things that make you feel good. Any action plan you develop should be coming from a place of inner happiness and joy.
  5. Plan out small steps. This isn't about throwing everything overboard or putting major pressure on yourself to come up with a solution overnight. For the next 30 days, write down one action item each day to test out what might take you closer to what makes your heart sign.

I want to leave you with another quote from Sheryl Sandberg "The time is long overdue to encourage more women to dream the possible dream." It's truly about both women and men leaning in to dream the possible dream in whatever form works for them and fuels their soul.

Visit my website to get more tips on how to lead with soul and purpose in life and business.