Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The 'I'm Awesome' Problem: Why Men Should Behave More Like Women and Not Vice Versa

"If you ask men why they did a good job, they'll say, 'I'm awesome.' If you ask women why they did a good job, what they'll say is: someone helped them; they got lucky; they worked really hard." -Sheryl Sandberg



If you're familiar with Sheryl Sandberg's LeanIn.org project, or have seen her talks, maybe that quote sounds familiar. 

Sandberg does not go on to say that women should say, "I'm awesome," more, but she does say that "no one gets to the corner office by underestimating their own success or not understanding their own success."

In my view, there's a big problem with the "I'm awesome" answer. It's cocky and very likely unrepresentative of the truth. People who attribute their success at least in part to luck, help, and hard work are being honest with themselves, their peers, and their bosses. 

Rarely does someone succeed without help and hard word, and certainly an ounce luck always plays into it. My partner likes to remind me that we're "lucky" to have been born U.S. citizens. We both reap a lot of privileges for being in the just 5 percent of the global population who are in North America. 

Sandberg often talks about what women as individuals can do to change the gender disparity in leadership and C-level jobs. She doesn't spend as much time on what men should do. 

In the "I'm awesome" case, I think men need to act more like women, and not vice versa. I believe more men should attribute their success to hard work, luck, and help, especially when that help comes from women. In politics, I think men need to act more like women, too. In fact, in many cases, I think the presence of more women alone helps men act with less extreme versions of their "maleness." By "maleness" I mean what research in behavioral studies has found to be how men do act and how men do think about themselves differently from women, the kind of research findings Sandberg alludes to in her talk. (You can view her book's notes, which contain references, on Amazon.)

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