Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg; Alfred A. Knopf, 240 pages, $24.95, Hardcover; March 2013, ISBN 9780385349949
The COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg is one of the most powerful women in business, and as such is a leader not only at the top of her organization, but also to other women in business. Neither is an easy role, and Sandberg gets criticized for her work in both spheres. (The amount of media chatter about this, her first book, is cacophonous.) But she also reaps the benefits, and is the first to say that her advantages are exactly what behooved her to write this book.
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead is a pragmatic, and even sometimes anthemic, book that began as a TEDTalk in 2010. The same intelligent and intimate voice she employed in her talk drives this book as well. Sandberg doesn’t hesitate to share from her life the stories and struggles she has both observed and experienced as one of the few women in such organizations as Google and Facebook—as well as during her time at the World Bank and the Treasury Department. From her seat on the front lines, Sandberg acknowledges the generally female-unfriendly culture of boardrooms, but makes a credible argument for women to take control of what they can change: themselves.
Lean In begins with a chapter titled, “What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?” Sandberg believes that it is fear that causes women to undermine their own ambitions:
Fear is at the root of so many of the barriers that women face. Fear of not being liked. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of drawing negative attention. Fear of overreaching. Fear of being judged. Fear of failure. And the holy trinity of fear: the fear of being a bad mother/wife/daughter.
To nullify that fear, Sandberg compels women to “Sit at the Table,” “Don’t Leave Before You Leave,” and “Make Your Partner a Real Partner.” Every well-researched chapter focuses on one change of behavior that can shore up a woman’s will to strive. In “Seek and Speak Your Truth,” after a rather self-deprecating story about crying while talking with her boss Mark Zuckerberg about a personal affront, she hints at the way in which women make things harder for themselves than they need to. Often, women feel like they need to leave their home lives at home or their emotions tucked away, but Sandberg thinks that is not the case.
It has been an evolution, but I am now a true believer in bringing our whole selves to work. I no longer think people have a professional self for Mondays through Fridays and a real self for the rest of the time. That type of separation probably never existed, and in today’s era of individual expression … it makes even less sense.
If the chapter titles and the passage directly above sound like some practical advice for all working people, it’s because it is. Lean In, despite being obviously directed toward helping women succeed, is, at its core, simply a book about success… for both genders. And is, in fact, a book that can and should be read by both.