Lean In: my takeaways

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Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg is the ‘It’ book for women right now. I like to think of myself as a hip person (which is obviously not true since I just used the word “hip”) so I had to read it. Ok, I actually read it because my curiosity was piqued by the range of reviews – it’s great, it’s bad, it blames women too much, it is too idealistic, etc, etc, etc.   

My high-level review of the book is that I would give it 5 stars as an introduction to a topic that requires more depth. Sandberg keeps it high level and shies away from getting more specific about how women can really “lean in”.  What I’m hoping is this book is just a starting point for a more detailed discussion about women in the workplace.  The two most important points of the book for me were that: you still have to pursue the opportunity and women are too hard on each other (this isn’t a new learning for me, but it is always a good reminder to work against this phenomenon).

 

Connections are important, but you still have to do the work and pursue the opportunity.

It is easy to dismiss Sandberg’s success and, therefore, her advice because 99.9% of women can’t relate to her life. She is COO of Facebook and probably makes more money in one year than the average reader makes in 10 years. (sidenote: I just looked it up – her salary + bonus is probably 10x, but her stock options are akin to winning the lottery)  She has ‘made it’ – and she did so with an Ivy League education and a lot of connections along the way (seriously, who works at the White House while they are still in High School?!).

The reality is these are not good reasons to dismiss her advice.  She is where she is today because she was willing to leverage those connections and, most importantly, to put in the hard work along the way. Her connections and education opened the doors, but she still had to come up with the ideas and do the work that made her successful.  Networking and connections are very important, which I talked about in my last post (way back in February — don’t judge, I’ve been busy!).  But, they are like a resume. They will get you an interview and maybe a job, but they won’t make you good at the job. That is up to you.

I think the more important point she makes in this part of the book is that women tend to make career decisions in anticipation of future events, rather than waiting to see how events unfold. You need to build a good, authentic network and work hard, but first you have to be willing to even pursue the new opportunities. Women have the tendency to go for roles they believe will fit better with married life or family life. She provides an example where one female was worried about this before she had even had a boyfriend! The point she makes is: don’t limit yourself based on assumptions of what it will be like, because you don’t actually know until you try. I’ve worked with some amazing women leaders who also balance a family. It is hard and requires a lot of support from their husbands and family, but they make it work.   

 

Women need to stop being so hard on each other.

This is so true. This topic is worthy of having its very own chapter in the book. Sandberg covers two main competitions between women: as rivals in the workplace and the mommy wars.

In the first part of the chapter, Sandberg discusses and gives examples of women who undercut each other because they think there is only room for one of them to move up the ladder. I can honestly say I haven’t experienced this kind of female rivalry in the workplace. This could be due to the fact that, up until last month, I worked in a very male dominated function or because I tend to seek out people who have a more positive attitude. I don’t want to dismiss her examples because I’m sure this is true in some environments, but I’d say the rivalry for promotions is not gender specific.  

In the second half of the chapter, Sandberg discusses the divide between mothers who work outside the home and mothers who work inside the home. Once a day, I can count on an article in my Facebook news feed making one of these points: I’m not a bad mom for working outside the home, working inside the home doesn’t mean I just sit on the couch all day, people without kids don’t understand my life as a parent, and people with kids judge my decision not to have kids and don’t take my life seriously. If there isn’t judgment being passed about work choices, then it’s parenting decisions. I’m quite frankly amazed that we don’t have more criminals among us because that is obviously what the wrong sleep strategy or food regimen will create.

I’ll add a third group to what Sandberg discusses: females who aren’t mothers. I don’t have kids, but I have experienced the mommy wars. These are some of the most memorable comments I’ve received personally – “you want someone else to raise your kids so you’ll send them to daycare”, “it’s a fact that kids with two working parents just don’t turn out to be good kids.”, “you will change your mind about your career when you have kids.” Keep in mind that I don’t even have kids and people already have opinions about my parenting decisions that I haven’t even made… because, like I said, I don’t actually have kids (but I do want kids, if that counts). I’m sure these people believe they’re somehow preparing me for parenthood or giving me a different perspective to consider (or they really are just preemptively calling me a bad parent… who knows). 

To tie my tangent back to Lean In, Sandberg concludes the chapter by suggesting that women take life decisions made by other women too personally. I know this well and I’m sure there are a lot more women out there nodding their heads in agreement now. If a woman decides to work at home, it isn’t a reflection of what she thinks about the mom who works outside the home (or vice-versa). If a woman is happy being really good at her job, rather than striving for a CEO position, that decision should be supported and appreciated. The general message is this: rather than finding fault with one another, why don’t we seek to learn from the strengths of one another?

 

In summary… 

I suggest this book to everyone. Although it is a women’s leadership book, it transcends business and women. The ideas of being present, not being afraid to contribute ideas, and working together to make each other stronger are not gender-specific or business-only lessons. It is a quick and light read, but it forces you to ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I holding myself back because I’m making too many assumptions about what will happen? (just try it and see what happens!)
  • Am I contributing my ideas?
  • Am I building constructive, rather than destructive, relationships in my career and life?

One response to “Lean In: my takeaways

  1. Nice review- thank you 🙂

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