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It seems as though everyone is reading Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In. Many, like myself , are men.
Recently, I went to a live video conference with Ms. Sandberg put on by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. She was compelling. It brought to mind a question: What big takeaways are there for men from Lean In? Two come to mind but they revolve around the same idea – that men should learn to Lean Out.
The first thought, which the evidence corroborates, is that men and future male leaders need to be more supportive of their spouses at home. A 2007 study of well-educated professional women who had left the work force found 60 per cent cited their husbands as a critical factor in their decision to leave the work force. In another 2009 study, it was found that in only 9 per cent of dual-earner marriages is housework shared evenly. Both studies were cited in Lean In.
At a senior level, money can help solve a considerable part of this problem by outsourcing virtually all the housework and much of the child care. Most of us, however, are not at these exalted levels of income. Though, in a two-income family, many can at least pay for a cleaning person for a few hours a week, which can make a huge difference. Many people prefer to provide as much child care as they can, given their work constraints – many of us, but not all, think that there is no one else like mom and dad, grandparents, or other relatives. A great husband of the future is one, who at the right times in his wife's career, is willing to Lean Out to support her.
One of the couples in our neighbourhood exemplifies this. A few years ago the Premier of Quebec asked her to run for Quebec's National Assembly. As a mother of four, two in their 20's, one at McGill University but one still a younger teenager, she wasn't sure. The willingness of her husband, himself a senior executive in one of Canada's biggest multinationals, to spend even more time chauffeuring their daughter to hockey and other extracurricular activities was the key factor to her deciding to run, she says. She did run and a recent Montreal Gazette article highlighted her as one six key players in the new cabinet. Her husband willingness to Lean Out a bit in his career was central to her becoming the important, well-loved provincial leader she is now.
The second thought, that men take too many risks and should Lean Out on career decisions, is rather different than Ms. Sandberg's message to women. She comments that "women need to be more open to taking risks in their careers" since "being risk averse can result in stagnation." But really, my suggestion is the other side of the same coin. Ms. Sandberg believes that women need to "overcorrect" to "find the middle ground" from their current risk-averse position. I believe that many men need to "overcorrect" from their excessive risk taking towards a more calculated neutral position.
I recently ran into a neighbour who was wrestling with whether she should take a promotion and whether she was up to the new role. I could not help reflect after the conversation that in all my years in various different positions I had at IBM, electronics maker Hitachi, and later at three universities, that I could not recall a time when I suffered from pangs of self-doubt – whether I felt I was up to a new position. In retrospect, this is immature.
Men can learn from women to have the good sense to actually question their ability to perform in a new position. Do we have the relevant experience or are we "biting off more than we can chew" is a highly germane question to ask. Here men should Lean Back and question themselves rather than let our typical male hubris rule.
Research in the last decade leads us to believe that men need to "overcorrect" from their excessive risk taking towards a more calculated neutral position. While this appears to be a function of our hard wiring, hormones and how we brought up as men, it may well be different for the next generation of men and women as they are raised differently. Time will tell. In the meantime, gentlemen, Lean Out.
Karl Moore (@profkjmoore) is an associate professor at the Destautels Faculty of Management at McGill University. Shaun Collins is one of Prof. Moore's students.