Lean In Leaders Conference

Why I Leaned Out

I’m a big fan of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In.

I read it on a flight to London in 2013 and it was a game changer. She started the conversation and left me in stitches. The one takeaway I got from her book was a powerful phrase.

What would do you if you weren’t afraid?

I actually got sick reading her book. I was bedridden for several days nursing my stomach with saltines and Sprite. Sheryl’s mantra for me was that you needed to lean in, take your seat at the table and do epic things. If you weren’t afraid, what would you do? What could you do?

That statement has come to me over and over again in the past four years. I launched a business, lost a house and office in Hurricane Harvey, and done many would-be “fearful” things since that fateful trip in 2013. But just as we have fears to lean in, we should also need to know that leaning out is an important part of leadership, too.

Leaning out is a sign of a strong leader.

In 2015 when I launched Pink Petro, I joined a Lean In circle. (I said I was a fan and I meant it.) I then started my own circle. Before you knew it, women and men in Pink Petro wanted to be a part of the movement too. At one point we peaked at 1500 requests for mentoring. Later that year, Pink Petro became a partner organization to Lean In forming Lean In Energy, a community of circles with the goal of one thing: mentoring.

Before I knew it, Lean In Energy became as crazy viral as Pink Petro. I needed to do something. So, I leaned in and asked Sheryl’s foundation for help. In 2018, we formed a 501c3 non-profit organization in the USA. Lean In Energy’s sole mission is to provide high quality mentoring. While I was president, we partnered with Seattle based Chronus technology to scale matching mentors and mentees. The Chronus algorithm allows small groups to be match and one-to-one matches to be made. It’s grown the platform and community to be measurable and global.

In April of this year I decided as the founder and chairman of Lean In Energy, it was my time to lean out. I stepped down in my role as Chairman and handed over the baton to an amazingly capable leader and engineering executive with HDR, Colleen Scholl.

People wrote me very kind letters. “It’s a shock to see you go.” “It takes so much courage to step down.”

That’s not courage. Leaning out is your job.

My belief is women are finally leaning in to take risks but many need to learn to know when to “lean out”. In fact, when we don’t lean out, we suffer from burnout, stress, or even worse, near-death experiences. I believe too often as women (and I would argue men too), we don’t realize our job isn’t to stay in one place. Your job is to grow with the flow and become a better version of yesterday and to help others rise.

Leaning out means letting go.

Leaning out as a leader is about grooming your successor. It’s about pulling up another and letting others own the reins. Any good leader knows he or she MUST build a sustainable path else what’s the point?

I knew a long time ago, well before we launched as a non profit that there would be a time when I would need to step aside from Lean In Energy and let my leadership rise to the top to take the organization to the next level.

Every good leader stalks out great talent.

Colleen Scholl, Lean In Energy President 

I jest but it’s true. When you spot a great person, you have to cultivate the relationship over time. I had my eye on Colleen for a while. We met at an executive retreat in New York a few years ago hosted by GE. We developed a relationship over time and I tapped her to be on my board. I knew she had what it took to lead a global non profit given her previous experience and I made a specific transition plan.

So when do you need to be thinking about leaning out? Are you holding on to something that could help another develop and grow? What are you doing to drive succession planning in your team?

Is it time to lean out so you can lean into new beginnings?

As for me, Lean In Energy will always hold a special place in my heart. As the Founder, I want to see it succeed and will continue to contribute financial support for its mission. To get more involved in Lean In Energy, read here or sign up to be matched.

Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in Diversity, Inclusion, and Ally-Ship, Storytelling & Personal Branding

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