Book Review: Lean In

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Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg. Reviewed by Louise Hilton.

Lean InI’m the first to admit I normally avoid many of the leadership and management books published nowadays with their tired clichés and all-too-often overblown hype, but I decided to give Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s new book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead a whirl. Unless you’ve been living under a rock lately, you too have probably caught some of the media blitz focused on the book, and I’m here to tell you it lives up to the hype.

The title comes from Sandberg’s encouragement to women to “lean in,” as in fully invest themselves no matter what they choose to do, to be “ambitious in any pursuit.” Her impressive résumé – chief of staff of the U. S. Department of the Treasury, vice-president of Global Online Sales and Operations at Google, and her current role as Chief Operating Officer of Facebook – lends her instant credibility and her down-to-earth writing style and frank admissions of numerous times in which she dropped the ball or felt inadequate make her surprisingly accessible.

One of my favorite anecdotes Sandberg recounts is of a talk she gave on gender issues to several hundred employees at Facebook. After her talk, a young woman approached to tell her she’d learned an important lesson: to keep her hand raised. Sandberg had announced she would only take two more questions from the audience, and after she answered them, all of the women put their hands down. Chagrined, Sandberg realized she continued to field questions from the men in the audience – they kept their hands up, after all. Noting the inherent inclination many women have to play well with others and follow the rules, Sandberg insists it’s important to fight these instincts from time to time, for “[i]f you do please everyone, you aren’t making enough progress.”

Other highlights are the chapters called “It’s a Jungle Gym, Not a Ladder,” in which Sandberg encourages her readers not to be afraid to advocate for themselves and the cleverly titled “Are You My Mentor?” in which she extols the importance of finding a mentor in your field. She also touches on the perennial dilemma faced by many professionals, that of finding a balance between work and family, and insists it doesn’t have to be an either/or decision. “For many men, the fundamental assumption is that they can have both a successful professional life and a fulfilling personal life. For many women, the assumption is that trying to do both is difficult at best and impossible at worst.”

Sandberg reaches out to male readers as well, acknowledging the only way to overcome gender inequality in the workplace is to work together: “Until women have supportive employers and colleagues as well as partners who share family responsibilities, they don’t have real choice. And until men are fully respected for contributing inside the home, they don’t have real choice either. Equal opportunity is not equal unless everyone receives the encouragement that makes seizing those opportunities possible. Only then can both men and women achieve their full potential.” For more on Sandberg and her Lean In movement, visit http://leanin.org/.

Although some business leadership books fall prey to the same old clichés and power statements, Sandberg’s voice remains sincere and passionate throughout. In a world where, no matter how many strides women have made towards equal footing in the workplace, women are still paid 77 cents for every dollar men make for the exact same job, and only 21 of the Fortune 500 company CEOs are female, Lean In is a quick, but vital, read. Oh, and ladies? Don’t put your hands down.

One thought on “Book Review: Lean In

  1. Good review! I loved this book too. I had worried it might be too “corporate” for my tastes, but it wasn’t – she emphasizes the importance of choosing your own path!

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