Linda Brandt on Leaning In

When Sheryl Sandberg's book "Lean In" was published in 2013, it divided opinion. The lovers rejoiced in the message that women deserved to be at the metaphorical and physical career table. Those less enamored saw it as an elitist view that expected women to shoulder an even greater workload without "the how".

The book was just the beginning. Since publication, Lean In has grown into a global, practical movement working to empower women with tools, information and a network of support. 

We caught up with Minnesotan Linda Brandt - well known for her leadership of one of the nation's most successful Lean In Circles. We talked about success, the changing idea of feminism and tangible ways women can support each other. Onward.....

Three years ago you founded the Lean In Together Circle while also succeeding at your career. What drove you to take on the challenge of “Lean In?” 

“I was overjoyed to hear a powerful leader telling women not to settle.”

Before Lean In, I led a women's support group for six years. At one of those meetings we read Sheryl Sandberg's 2011 Barnard College commencement address. In this speech Sandberg says "don't leave before you leave."  Although she was talking specifically about women not scaling back their ambitions in anticipation of future care giving, I was overjoyed to hear a powerful leader telling women not to settle. I know that as females we are conditioned to put others first and, as a result, we get used to making lemonade and eating crumbs. 

When my support group assistant went to India in pursuit of her dreams, the support group ended. It soon became clear that life was better with a group of women who had my back. Thus, I chose not to settle and created a Lean In circle on the Leanin.org Website and started inviting people I admired to join.

Has the way you define success changed?

I've known for some time that, for me, being successful means being fully myself. In practice, however, I've tended to define my success by the quality and longevity of my relationships. In my experience, prioritizing relationships, rather than achievement, is common among people from poor or working class backgrounds. What has changed in the last few years is that I am now willing to end relationships when they aren't supportive of my growing toward being more fully myself. In practical terms, success for me now looks like risking pissing people off and taking bolder risks.

What’s the biggest misperception about “Lean In” that you’re working to change?

Lean In is for men and Lean In is for people who, like me several years ago, don’t understand what ambition is and why it’s important.

The biggest misperception is that the Lean In movement is just for ambitious and privileged women. Lean In is for anyone who wants to lead and have influence in the world and who also support women to pursue their ambitions. Lean In is for men and Lean In is for people who, like me several years ago, don't understand what ambition is and why it's important. Our group works to change this misperception of exclusivity by who we encourage to participate and to lead.

Recently, the word “feminist” has been under scrutiny by some who feel they don’t identify with it, although they support women’s rights. What is the difference?

Feminism is a word with baggage that is being reclaimed by activists who want to move toward gender equity and who see this label as a way to find others with the same goal. There is a history of division in the U.S. women's movement. One important division is based on the degree of "radicalness" and willingness to compromise in pursuit of common goals. For me, both Lean In and Beyoncé are following the tradition of women's suffrage leader Lucy Stone. We want change. We aren't purists. We're practical. We know that you can't go wrong with women uniting to support one another to act even more powerfully.

What five things can women do more of to support each other?

Women can support each other more by making a commitment to:

  1. Speak up on behalf of other women
  2. Model the pursuit of big, bold lives
  3. Negotiate with male partners so that more men "Lean In" at home 
  4. Speak up in support of parental leave
  5. Simply taking pride in being female. 

You can connect with Linda here

If you're in Mpls/St Paul, join Lean In Together here. There are also many fantastic resources on the main Lean In website