Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean-In is a welcome conversation starter to a topic that has stayed dormant for far too long in the context of women’s advancement in the workplace and in the world. For a few decades now, women (at least in the western world) have been enjoying the freedom and independence of the “shattered glass ceiling.”  We are now more educated than ever and have just as much economic buying power as men. On paper, the feminist movement has achieved most of what it set out to accomplish for women – equal rights, equal pay (well, almost), and reproductive rights and freedoms.

Blame it on getting too comfortable, or to a generation removed from the battles won by the feminist movement of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, or on sheer complacency, but for far too long women have been accepting the status quo, which in reality is far from perfect. Thanks to Sandberg, we are reminded that our work isn’t over. We as women still have challenges. By naming and defining a few of what those are, especially for women who want to have it all, Sandberg has opened up the conversation up for debate, and that can only be a move in the right direction when it comes to women’s issues.

As you’ve heard by now, Sandberg’s idea of “leaning-in” consists of a push strategy – one that has us thinking like a man about our career. She coaches us towards giving more to our careers, staying longer in them and persevering through the guilt, shame, and sheer exhaustion women experience when juggling family and career. Her mantras are “equal partnership”, and “don’t leave before you leave.” But are these real solutions to the real challenges for 99% of women who aren’t wired like Sandberg?

For decades since breaking the glass ceiling, women have pressured themselves to “be more like the boys” to compete in a man’s world. This strategy worked up to a certain point, helping us gain respect and prove that we were as competent, capable and intelligent as men in business. We decided to leave family out of the equation, not demanding that our work schedules or work environments adapt to our needs as mothers, caretakers, wives and so on.  We bullied on, left our emotions at home, and were thankful for small pittance, like 6 weeks of maternity leave or flexible working hours.  Somehow, we felt like we would be seen as “less than” a man if we asked for more or spoke up about what a woman really needs in juggling work and home life.

The silence continues to this day. Sandberg has missed a huge opportunity by shifting blame on women and demanding they step up and play like the big boys.  Here’s a thought: instead of trying the same old strategies of acting like men, how about we try something radically different and start acting like women?

Leaning-in for me means something completely different than Sandberg’s definition. I define it as a true lean-in – one that requires you to be both vulnerable and trust others. Imagine two people leaning into each other, facing each other with their arms stretched out, hands touching. It’s only a true lean in when both sides are giving of themselves and are willing to let the other support them.  For far too long, women have been conditioned to lean only on themselves and trust themselves – showing up as strong, independent and able to take care of themselves. Is that realistic, especially when we play so many roles and take on so much responsibility? Is the only solution demanding men split responsibilities at home and be equal partners?

I say it isn’t. Its not sustainable and we know it. Women are more burned out, stressed out and sick because of it. And we’re unhappy. If social equality and more freedom and independence were supposed to make us so happy, why aren’t we? What is preventing us from fully realizing ourselves?

 In my opinion, it’s mainly because of the way we’ve approached our predicament. We’ve gone about it the wrong way. Instead of embracing our natural capacities as women, we’ve shunned them. Rather than leaning into our vulnerability and using it as strength, we’ve become self-reliant and self-protecting. We’ve pushed ahead, mostly alone, instead of allowing our lives, especially our careers to unfold naturally and asking for help along the way. And most saddening of all, as women, we’ve been our own worst critics and have worked against each other for far too long. The result is that we feel unsupported, especially by each other. With few women role models who exemplify a true feminine, yet powerful style of leadership, we have taken on the characteristics of men.  Without supportive networks of women, we spend too much time competing. By compromising who we are, we’ve compromised our place in the world, and it’s working against us. The good news: it’s not too late. And Sheryl’s idea of leaning in, albeit slightly redefined version could actually help us get back on track.

The answers are staring us in the face. And they’re not hard.

Let’s begin leaning into each other as women, practicing kindness and compassion with one another. Let’s be kinder to ourselves and not put so much pressure on ourselves to have it all, right this instant. Let’s redefine success so that it encompasses all of who we are, and makes room for all of our hearts desires – career, family, fulfilling relationships, health, happiness. Let’s invite men to help us, allowing them to play their proper role in the equation. Most importantly, let’s lean in to ourselves – by breaking down our inner glass ceiling and stepping fully into our feminine, leaning into our vulnerability, trusting our intuition and opening our hearts. This is the real definition of leaning-in and I propose that we join this movement. And I invite Sheryl to be the first one to join the ranks.


AuthorMonique Tallon

The topic of women’s advancement in leadership is getting a lot of attention these days, thanks to Sheryl Sandberg courageously opening up the conversation and asking women to lean in, and Adrianna Huffington referring to this time as the coming of a second women’s movement, among others.  More and more people are sending a clear message – there is a real need for women’s leadership and feminine values in our organizations and in the world.

I recently ran across a Tedx talk by John Gerzema who believes that “femininity will be the operating system of the 21st century.” Yes, you read that correctly. He is a man who thinks the feminine values are the way forward, and talks about the Athena Doctrine in his new book. He surveyed 32,000 people on masculine and feminine traits as it relates to happiness, leadership, morality and success.

 What he found might be surprising for most. Through his research, he discovered the essence of a modern leader is feminine; a more expressive type of leader who shares their feelings and emotions more openly and honestly. Obviously, this is in direct contrast to what we find in traditional power systems. Those surveyed also preferred a leader who was capable of long-term planning for the future rather than thinking politically, aiming for short term gains. They valued leaders who were patient and reasonable, who could build consensus and get things done. Resilience and decisiveness were important, but so were being patient, passionate, loyal and selfless. He calls this Athena style leadership after the Greek mythological goddess.

Although slightly surprised that it took a man to come out of the closet on this, I’m glad he did. I strongly believe that if we are to tackle the big world problems of the 21st century, more women and men need to embody feminine values and principles. The hierarchical, top-down command and control approach just isn’t working anymore. Everywhere you look, systems are crumbling. Economies, financial systems, social systems are all breaking down. The world is aching for new, more balanced structures and values.

One of the most prominent thinkers and authors of our time, Charles Eisenstein, describes this as:

“The present convergence of crises––in money, energy, education, health, water, soil, climate, politics, the environment, and more––is a birth crisis, expelling us from the old world into a new.”

Whether we’re conscious of it or not, all of us are collectively engaged in birthing a new story of the people. Most of humanity knows deep down that a more connected, interdependent and collaborative society is possible, and really the only way forward toward a more sustainable future. The first step is to admit that our current systems are broken and need to be replaced. The second step is to begin visioning a more beautiful world we all know is possible.

Let’s explore what the new world could look like if we redesigned new structures based on the feminine.  We might see flatter organizations and less hierarchy, making it easier for collaboration and innovation to flourish. We might have more of a sense of community, going back to the concept of “ the village” where we trust our neighbors for childcare, as an example. Our collective value set would let us view success as how happy, healthy and creative we all are instead of the net worth of our 401K.  And we wouldn’t be worried just about ourselves, but realize that we are all somehow connected and need to take care of each other, as human citizens of the world.

Obviously, we would live in a much different world if it were based on a feminine outlook.

It’s time that we have this broader conversation about the world and society we live in.  It’s not just women who suffer, we all do. This impacts every single person living on this planet. The values that have helped us advance from the industrial age to the technological age are outdated. We need to begin seriously looking at our major institutions, challenging them to embody more balance. In order for this to occur, men have to begin thinking more like women, and women must re-learn how to express their natural, feminine qualities after decades of acting like “men stuck in a woman’s body,” trying to compete and succeed in a man’s world.

The values or qualities that can be characterized as more “feminine” – collaboration, connectedness, interdependence, sharing, inclusiveness – these are the values we need to build back into our leadership, our institutions and our society. Women mustn’t continue trying to conform and fit-in to the mold, instead they must be examples of this change by embodying their own intrinsic, natural capacities more boldly. Collectively, we must shift our values to include sharing of resources with each other, protecting the planet, and creating communities of sacred economies where our gifts have meaning and value. We must embody that change within ourselves and have the courage to go against the grain. Your future, our future, depends on it.

AuthorMonique Tallon

The way we work is shifting. We see that in subtle ways and other times in not so subtle ways.  Even traditional companies like Deloitte are investing in people development, realizing that it is the best resource they have to stay ahead of the curve. Those with a real competitive advantage intuitively understand innovation and creativity as essential to meeting market demands and crucial in facing our collective sustainability challenges.  The future of work as we know it is shifting from an outdated directive approach toward collaborative frameworks that inspire us to engage in new and different ways with our work and with each other.

This elusive concept has always intrigued and intimidated me, so I began to question my own assumptions I held about collaboration.  One of my current projects has given me an opportunity to explore and experience my own leadership in a collaborative environment.  For the last six months, I have been co-designing and co-hosting the Women & Power Leadership Forum, using collaborative processes based on Art of Hosting principles. Together with Kathy Jourdain (an experienced steward in the work of Art of Hosting), whom I thank from the bottom of my heart for embodying collaborative leadership so beautifully and supporting my discovery of this, as well as a wonderful hosting team, this experience has provided rich learning for all of us in exploring what it means to be collaborative and uncovering the traits required to cultivate it.

Decision by Consensus?

One of the big beliefs I made up about collaborative work was that one most come to decisions by consensus; if there were any outliers, you could not forge ahead. This seemed an exhaustive and almost impossible task when you think about how hard it is to get a group of people to agree on anything. Just look at what happened with the Occupy Movement  - decision by consensus just doesn't work especially when you're talking about scalability. To my relief, I discovered making the final decision wasn't as crucial as was the process in making the decision.  Team members must have a chance to voice their opinion through open and honest dialogue, and everyone must have an opportunity to explore the issue together. This process is integral to collaborative decision making (even though that term seems like an oxymoron!). Once you've gone through this exercise, themes and patterns emerge, and through collective sensing, a solution or decision emerges. Not surprisingly, the solution or idea is often better than what one person could have come up with just by themselves.

Leaning In vs. Leaning Out

Another assumption I held was that a strong vision was enough to inspire collaboration. Turns out, it's not enough. As leaders, we assume that leading means doing it all.  For many of us, fear of failing and embarrassment have us hanging on to control. We take on more than we should, we step on toes, and we micro-manage without meaning to.  Not surprisingly, the signal this sends is that "she's got it covered." Women tend to do this to a fault - we take on more than we can chew because we are good multi-taskers and want to prove our value, so we take it all on and in doing so, prevent others from stepping in. This is where the now proverbial "leaning in" approach is NOT effective. By "leaning out" as leaders, we give our people a chance to lean in. This creates an opportunity for them to take responsibility for the tasks at hand, to step in and contribute more fully and engages them in a way where their best ideas and input are brought forth. For perfectionists and control freaks like me, this can be one of the biggest challenges to overcome. Learning to let go and trust others is crucial to create the space for brilliance to shine.  Finding the balance is where this practice becomes an art form.

Vulnerability as Strength

The single most significant piece of learning for me has been around understanding how vulnerability is the key to success in any collaborative process. We've got it all wrong in our work ethos. We believe vulnerability is a weakness. We are afraid to admit we don't have the answer for fear of being seen as incompetent. Our need to prove our worth and value and the fear of shame all leads to creating separation.  What I have found over and over again in my  leadership journey is that when I am wiling to be vulnerable, share my true feelings no matter how embarrassing or weak I may be perceived, when I am able to truly listen to feedback and be willing to receive it without taking it personally, these acts are powerful beyond measure. This is a secret superpower that everyone possesses, but not everyone has the courage to enact.  It takes a willingness to fail and learn from your mistakes, to risk the shame that comes along with it.   But the rewards are bountiful. It's the quickest route to creating trust in any relationship or group process. It creates an environment where others feel able to open up and share their feelings, stimulating input, ideas, and solutions.  It allows us to be human, and realize that we are all in this together. It opens up our hearts and reminds us that it's not about the bottom line, or even the next big idea. It's about being in relationship; the learning and experiences that show us who we truly are.


I would not have had the chance to be in this learning process if it weren't for some pretty spectacular women.  I'm humbled by the experience of working in collaboration with women who have volunteered their time and energy for an idea I am deeply passionate about.  As challenging as it is at times for me, they always hold me up to my highest potential, give me honest feedback, defend me and believe in me.  Sometimes the best learning comes when others are courageous enough to voice their truth. I'm grateful for the opportunity to work with women who have the capacity to do that in a supportive way.  Learning to give credit and acknowledging your partners and team mates goes without saying, yet how many times do we just breeze over that?  Being humble, setting your ego aside, and letting go of the need to shine are unique aspects of collaborative leadership which are hard to learn, and hard to teach. For many of us, this is counter-intuitive to the competitive nature of business. But it's an integral part of how we operate as human beings and it's the key to collective success.

The Outcome

The proof is in the pudding they say. You might be wondering how this collaborative process worked out in the end.  We're still in the middle of it, yet what I can report is that we are successfully co-creating a first-time event which is almost nearly sold out (we still have a month to go), there is a buzz about it in Silicon Valley and support from far and wide.  As hosts, we will continue to practice these processes on the day of our event, as we co-host a day of deep dialogue for the multi-generational women leaders who will participate that day. We aren't attached to any outcomes. What we do know, however, is that our attendees will walk away having experienced collaborative process and leadership. And that alone will be a work of art.

AuthorMonique Tallon

If you’ve been paying any attention lately, you know that women’s leadership is a hot topic right now. It’s about time! I’m especially inspired by Arianna’s work with The Third Metric, which is adding a valuable perspective to this important conversation. As a woman’s leadership expert and coach, I’m passionate about helping women more fully embrace their natural strengths, namely their feminine capacity, as a key to success in business and in life.  Compassion, Empathy, Collaboration, Connection, Candor – these are examples of feminine traits that are preferred when it comes to success and leadership, according to a recent global survey. What would be possible if we based our definition of success and power on these values? And more specifically, what if women embodied these traits more fully?

My own experience working inside a Silicon Valley tech company taught me that contrary to popular belief, women were NOT exhibiting the character traits so commonly referred to as ‘feminine.’ To my shock and horror, most women were hiding their emotions, their passion, and compromising their ability to be collaborative and build consensus by showing up more like men. What I began to realize was that in order to stay competitive and be taken seriously in a business setting, women had been hiding their natural feminine gifts and abilities and adapting to a more male-centric model and approach. 

This presented a big problem for me when I was given the opportunity to step into a leadership position at the ripe old age of 25.  When I took a look around for a female role model I could look up to, all I saw were women acting like men, including our then CEO, Meg Whitman.  As an up and coming manager, I had to decide – was I going to lead like a man, or was I going to try something different? Being the rebel that I am, I opted for going against the norm and decided I was going to stay true to myself. So on the first day of my task force meeting with a group of executives, I walked in and declared “I have NO idea what I’m doing and I really need your help!” I was half expecting that statement to undermine my credibility and authority, but to my surprise, it had the reverse effect.

What transpired over the following year was nothing short of miraculous. Instead of controlling all the details of the project, I built trust with my team by asking for their help and empowered them to participate fully in taking ownership of their tasks. Instead of bottle-necking the decision making process, I empowered people to make decisions and got out of the way.  I inspired my team with a strong vision and built relationships with the main players, so if I ever had a problem, I knew who I could go to for a quick solution.  Through the courageous act of being vulnerable, I was able to successfully pull off one of the biggest challenges of my life: producing a 10,000 user- conference for eBay.

The icing on the cake for me was the end result. We had one of the highest attended conferences of all time, and my team came up to me afterwards and said how much they enjoyed working with me. Attendees at the conference said they felt cared for and how well organized the conference was. To me, this was validation that my experiment had not only worked, but it rocked! And that’s when it hit me. Instead of using a command control and authoritarian leadership style (more traditional, male-centric), my experiment to lean into my natural strengths as a woman are what led me to the biggest success I had experienced to date.

That’s when I came to the conclusion that the biggest obstacle to women’s advancement in business was the fact that we were trying to conform and adapt to an outdated model not very suited for the 21st century. I began to think what else might be possible if women stepped more fully into their authentic, feminine leadership.  And I began to get excited about the possibilities and impact that could have on business and in the world.

That experience is what led me to transition into a career that would allow me to help women realize this for themselves, without the pitfalls and risk-taking I had to endure.  And it’s what has led me to co-host the upcoming Women & Power Leadership Forum on June 7th in Silicon Valley - a first time conference I’ve been spearheading along with an incredible hosting team including Kathy Jourdain, Linda Guzzi, Regina Getz-Kikuchi and Suzanne Thompson. This forum will be geared towards bringing together top women leaders in Silicon Valley from different generations (C-Suite to Millennials) to engage in a day of deep dialogue about how we can redefine success and power so that it’s more sustainable for ourselves and for the planet.  Our vision and hope is that by closing the generational gap and building a community of women who truly support one another and embrace their feminine strengths, we’ll be able to bring back the balance this world so desperately needs.

Please leave your comments and thoughts as we’d like to engage you in this conversation as well.  What is your definition of success and power in the 21st century? What traits can women (and men) embrace to truly thrive?  What are actions you can take to create this shift in yourself? What type of community or network would best engage and support you in creating this shift?

AuthorMonique Tallon