Leaning In or Leaning Back

Seth Godin is my marketing hero. The author of a dozen or so books, including “The Dip” and “All Marketers are Liars”, Seth’s books and blog have been a constant source of insight and perspective since I first started looking into his stuff. One of the concepts I picked up out of the many ideas in his book, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, was this idea of leaning in or leaning back. It’s not even one of the big ideas in that book, but you never know where you’ll find something you can use.

Lean In

Come prepared and ready to engage. Ask questions. Provide answers. Be opinionated. Wave down people you think you might know and find out how they are. Don’t just ask, but actually find out. That’s leaning in.

Lean Back

Set the stage. Provide the tools. Invite people to come by. Then, just step aside and let the whole thing go where it’s going to go. Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, is the perfect example of a leader who leaned back. I attended a webinar recently where Duncan Wardle, from Disney, gave another example of an appropriate time to lean back. Disney released a personalized video in a couple of key spots, and then just let it go viral. Of course it took off. Who wouldn’t want to hear Goofy say her name in a news spot? (I included mine so that you can see it, at the bottom.)

Leaning back isn’t the same as doing nothing. The way I think of it, it’s more like supporting others to move forward. Encouraging others to contribute or share.


Engagement is hardly a new concept, but somehow the images that sprang to mind with this characterization really hit home with me. I started to wonder if I lean or if I float. How much do you want to lean forward, and how much do you want to lean back, and when? What is the right mix? Is it really enough to join a group, get a membership or take a class if you aren’t ready to lean in and get as much out of it as you can? Is simply getting the assignment finished enough?

I don’t typically think of myself as a leader. I’m not sure that I have a high-minded vision or direction that I’m headed in, and I’m not even that sure that I’d want a whole bunch of people coming with me. But I like the feeling of going where I want to go, and if I can share a story, and find some people that have similar interests, so much the better. So far, making the effort to either lean in or lean back has been incredibly rewarding, and I feel like I get more out of what is happening around me when I do it.

So, if you’re one of the 5 people who will read this, feel free to lean in a little bit. Leave me a comment, or drop me a line.

Theresa’s special day at Disney