Sheryl Sandberg — Lean In Book Review & Key Takeaways In The Spotlight
Sheryl Sandberg was the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Facebook, one of the world’s most powerful women according to Forbes, and the bestselling author of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. The book has so much valuable insights about career women, women in leadership and moms with careers that it remains valuable to me to this day. Here is a brief book review of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg.
Sheryl Sandberg is a world-class business leader who has thought deeply about how to be successful in the workplace, with a particular focus on what it is like to be a woman in business.
She takes an even-handed approach by both describing the structural factors for why it is difficult to be a woman in business and advocating for women to aspire to be leaders. In this book, she succeeds in both providing practical knowledge for women navigating the workplace and educating men who are interested in empowering women in business.
Sheryl Sandberg begins Lean In by saying that women need to internalize the revolution.
Women face many external barriers. However, they also face many barriers internally. These internal barriers can be broken for women who make the conscious effort to change. When women stop unintentionally holding themselves back, a world of possibilities can open. Sheryl does not suggest that this is a fix-all for the many problems women face, but it is a great place to start.
Lean In explores the professional, personal, and societal hurdles holding women back from leadership roles.
To get more women into leadership positions and make true changes, Sandberg urges women to “lean in” to their careers, taking risks and being ambitious in their professional goals, while demanding more help at home. That said, her focus is less on the female race forming a collective to break through social barriers and more on improving individual performance to reach the top.
I loved the book, so let’s take a look at my top 5 takeaways from Lean In.
There is plenty to learn throughout the pages of Lean In, but in the interest of keeping things short and sweet, I am sharing my Top 5 Lessons I Learned from Lean In. Let’s take a break from all things beautiful and delicious and have some real talk. The book is called Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead; and you should read it, like, yesterday.
Takeaway #1: Sit at The Table
With each step in our career, we are going to have a panicked “I can’t do this” moment — women especially suffer from this. You don’t need to know everything right now in order to flourish in future roles. As I get older, I have realized a lot of our managers don’t know the right answer to different questions. The important part is that you empower yourself to learn from situations as they arise and surround yourself with a great team who can give you honest feedback.
Many women are plagued by “impostor syndrome,” held back by self-doubt and insecurity.
They feel like a fraud and underestimate themselves, taking negative feedback and stereotypes as truth. Women can fight impostor syndrome by understanding this feeling is a distortion of reality. When they’re feeling self-doubt, they can remind themselves of their intelligence and past successes; when self-confidence wanes they can act confident, even if they don’t feel it. Self-confidence is critical for workplace success because it allows you to reach for new opportunities — something women need to do much more of.
Sheryl Sandberg states that all too often women are concerned with the fake it ‘til you make it concept.
She writes that sometimes we don’t have enough belief in ourselves because we are conditioned to under sell ourselves in favor of a male counterpart. She argues we should make more time to find true belief in ourselves, because it won’t come from anyone else before it comes from you. We won’t always find it in every situation, but it’s important to know what that your input is valid and valued by your peers. If women internalize positive thoughts, they will become more confident. Their actions will portray that confidence. And, maybe then, more women will sit at the table.
Sheryl Sandberg believes that women are partially responsible for their own under-representation in high-profile and leadership roles.
The reason is that they literally hold themselves back and make the decision to stay where they are. Sandberg explains that many women feel as if they are undeserving or unworthy of the top jobs, and in the rare case that they secure one of these positions, they are left feeling guilty and as if there has been a mistake. Sheryl Sandberg explains that women are hard-wired to underestimate themselves. Women can be incredibly tough on themselves, and are likely to be kinder to their male colleagues.
The implication of this is that women tend to undersell themselves.
While it is institutionally difficult for women to climb the ladder in the workforce, we can sometimes be denying these opportunities to ourselves by not showing that we deserve it. I found this influential because it motivated me to reconsider my own actions and thoughts about myself. Working on not underselling yourself is something that girls and women alike can be taught before setting foot into the workforce.
Takeaway #2: Stop Trying to Please Everyone
Sarcasm aside, the fact that women want to please and be liked is an issue, and it becomes a greater issue for women who want to achieve success in some way. Sheryl Sandberg explains that many studies have expressed that for men, success and likability go hand in hand, they are positively related. Whereas for women, the two are much less likely to occur at the same time, they are negatively related. If a woman is successful, her male and female colleagues are less likely to ‘like’ her. And if a woman is extremely likable, she is less likely to succeed.
The takeaway: men can be decisive and driven and remain likeable, but women are punished for acting the same way. Society expects women to act in a nurturing and communal way.
This bias hurts women financially. This is called the “gender discount problem.” Because women are seen as communal, they are often expected to help coworkers and take on additional projects without additional reward. Negotiating for a raise or compensation is another aspect; both men and women react unfavorably when a woman advocates for herself. To overcome this, women fare better in negotiations if they come across as concerned about others, offer a valid explanation for the negotiation, and mix persistence with niceness.
For much too long women are taught that in order to be successful you must be likeable.
There still exists this archaic ideology that women should be nice in order to get what they want, whether that be asking for a promotion, a pay rise, or more recognition for their contribution to the business. This epitomizes the age-old stereotype that women cannot be successful without being unpleasant and men rarely face this problem as their success is nearly always celebrated and not used against them. Sandberg argues that women should break through this stereotype and not be hesitant to ask for what they want; they don’t need to beat around the bush and win the affection of their employers, but rather show what they are made of and why they deserve what they are asking for.
If a woman is competent, she does not seem nice enough. If a woman seems really nice, she is considered more nice than competent.
You might have definitely struggled with this thought before, and I thank Sheryl for putting it into words. How do you appear both competent AND nice as a woman? It can definitely seem like the only way to get by in the tech is by “being one of the boys.” You need to strike a balance and realize that it isn’t an anomaly when a female coworker is both nice and competent. The key is how you view assertiveness. When a man is assertive, it is seen as normal and even encouraged, pointing to hyper-masculinity. When a woman is assertive, she comes off as brash, abrasive — a number of negative descriptors. The key comes on both sides. You need to be more comfortable with assertiveness from women, and not make it an expectation for men.
A strong desire to be liked by everyone can hold women back.
When making decisions, not every stakeholder can be pleased. Those decisions might lead to necessary changes, though. If women try to please everyone, they might not be making the best decisions. That said, women can advocate for themselves with a communal approach. Teams work better with communal leaders and team members. Cohesive teams will outperform teams that do not work well together. Therefore, having more women at the top of organizations could translate to more leaders, both men and women, acting communally to create high-performing teams and organizations.
Takeaway #3: The Career Jungle Gym
We are in a society where career improvement means moving up. Career moms often get asked, “how do you do it all?” Sheryl Sandberg, in her book, described careers more like jungle gyms and not a straight corporate ladder. With jungle gyms, there are more paths to the top and these paths can be more inclusive of women in all levels in their careers.
It’s pretty common to hear people referring to moving up the career ladder.
However, Sheryl Sandberg doesn’t think that a ladder is an accurate depiction of the current working climate. She prefers to refer to a career as a jungle gym. She explains that there is not one single path from the bottom to the top as a ladder would suggest. Rather there are multiple ways, some go directly up, and some take a longer route often facing setbacks, detours, and even dead ends. Sheryl explains that rather than being intimidating, the jungle gym concept should be comforting in the current job climate. It means that people on the job hunt may have to accept a job that is not quite what they hoped, but they can be comforted by the fact that there are multiple ways upwards from there.
This concept should really hit home with you because there is a LOT you might want to do with your career, and not all of it follows a straight, perfect line.
Maybe you want to try things out, explore, and see where life takes you. In a world where we don’t know what tech will look like a year from now, it’s hard to imagine what our careers in tech are going to look like once we enter the workforce. Plan to take steps against being afraid of an opportunity to learn, even if it means less seniority. In the end, it’s all about feeling happy and fulfilled in your career, not the title you get from it. The jungle gym model benefits everyone, but especially women who might be starting careers, switching careers, getting blocked by external barriers, or reentering the workforce after taking time off.
Currently, there are not as many “lifers,” or people who stay at one company for their entire career.
Even if an employee wanted to be a lifer staying with one company, a career can still be a jungle gym. But how should women go about managing their careers? First, women should be more open to taking risks. External pressures sometimes force women to “play it safe.” Stretch assignments are great learning opportunities and development tools, but women often avoid these assignments out of fear that they will not be able to meet the challenges presented. If women were to view stretch assignments as more of a learning experience instead of an insurmountable challenge, they would expand their skill-set and prepare themselves for promotions and leadership roles in the future.
Both women and men should have long-term dreams and realizable short-term goals.
Sandberg gives an example of having an 18-month plan where she sets goals on two fronts. She sets goals based on what she wants her team to accomplish. Additionally, she sets more personal goals. These could be anything from learning new skills, conquering fears, or correcting bad habits. Setting short-term goals that play into the bigger picture of long-term dreams, allows you to better focus on the direction you want to go to reach the top of the jungle gym.
Takeaway #4: Don’t Leave too Soon
The best way to wrap up the lessons from the book really revolves around this: don’t measure your career and life with other people’s rulers. There isn’t one golden path to you have to take in order to achieve your goals, and no one has the right to judge you for how quickly or slowly you take steps toward YOUR future. Sheryl suggests taking a moment to map out what you want your future to look like in the next 18 months and over the next couple of years — from there talk with a mentor and devise a realistic plan on how to achieve it.
It means to not leave your job before you actually need to leave it.
Hold your breath and if you are willing to have a baby or planning it, keep your foot on the gas pedal until your decision must be made. Do not slow down. Anyone lucky enough to have options should keep them open. Don’t enter the workforce already looking for the exit. Don’t put on the brakes. Only a compelling, challenging, and rewarding job will begin to make that choice a fair contest. Sandberg shares accounts of some young girls who consider giving up promising career options over fears they won’t be able to raise a family in the future because of work. As a hiring manager, Sheryl Sandberg states she often asks women if they plan to have a child. Not because she wants to discriminate, but rather she wants them to feel comfortable taking on a role even when they are looking to start a family.
Women leave the workforce slowly, making small decisions to benefit future families, such as refusing promotions and declining to reach for new opportunities.
But these decisions can backfire, stranding them in unfulfilling jobs. When a woman has a child, she then returns to a job she doesn’t love and is more likely to leave the workforce entirely. Sheryl Sandberg says the months and years leading up to having kids are the time to lean in and build a woman’s career. After having kids, she returns to a rewarding job she loves. She is then less likely to leave the workforce; with senior position and pay, she has more options and flexibility as a parent to create a workable situation to balance family life.
One of the biggest ways women can hold themselves back is leaving before they leave.
If we encourage more women to stay in the game longer even with the expectations of having children in the future, more women will want to continue working toward the top of the jungle gym or at least staying on it. The years leading up to having a child are a crucial period to be leaning in, not leaning back. This enables women to return to work at a higher position where they might feel more valued. Of course, returning to work after having a child might not be the best choice for every woman since each has unique circumstances. But until it is time to make those decisions, women need to “keep their foot on the gas pedal.” They need to lean in more than they ever have, so they can return to a place where they want to be.
Besides, you need to encourage men to lean in to their families.
Lean In isn’t just a message to all the women at work, it’s a message to everyone. While women need to take a seat at the table and lean in more at work, men need to lean in to their families and take a seat at the dining table. This means working to achieve more of a 50/50 split of household tasks. This will not only help women lean into their careers, it will also set a precedent for children. Children of heterosexual couples in the next generation can see mothers and fathers taking equal roles in the family, and be more encouraged to do the same when they have a family of their own.
Takeaway #5: Having It All Is a Myth
Maybe you feel pressure to do it all. Be the perfect career woman, the perfect mom, the perfect wife…all at the same time. Sandberg politely tells you, you cannot do it all. She also tells us it’s OK because nobody can do it all. You need to accept imperfection in certain areas and allow others to help you even though they might do things differently.
Having a perfect balance between a rewarding career, great marriage, and happy children is a myth.
Pursuing a professional life and a personal life is an attainable goal, but it won’t be perfect; it requires adjustments, compromises and sacrifices every day. Striving for perfection is a recipe for disappointment that may lead to women leaving the workforce entirely. While you can’t do it all, you can do what’s most important for you and your family. Identify your real priorities at home and work; aim for “sustainable and fulfilling” instead of “perfection.”
Sheryl Sandberg states that we all want to believe we can do it all and keep our sanity at the same time but unfortunately no one is superwoman.
The all-important work-life balance will likely be unattainable for most of us during our career, there will always be one side that takes over for a while and then falls behind. She goes on to say that this is totally fine. No one gets through this life by doing it all on their own. That’s why we have each other; friends, family, colleagues, partners. Going to work means that women will not be at home, and spending time with family means not taking as much time for themselves. The key to managing the organized chaos of life is deciding what is most important to you and your family, and what is not.
Sheryl Sandberg tells a story from her summer internship at McKinsey & Company.
Employees came to her boss when they wanted to quit. The predominant reason for leaving was burn out, being tired of working the long hours and exhausted from traveling. Her boss did not understand why all of these employees had unused vacation time. They did everything demanded of them, but did little for themselves. Women should exert more control over their careers. The demands of the workplace will never stop, but a line needs to be drawn somewhere. To balance life and career, women must make deliberate choices by setting limits and actually sticking to them.
You don’t need to be perfect and good on everything!
Stanford professor Jennifer Aaker’s work shows that setting obtainable goals is key to happiness. Instead of perfection, we should aim for sustainable and fulfilling. Success is making the best choices we can … and accepting them. Here I let you my advice: do not compare yourself to others. Other people will do the same thing you need to do, but in a different way. Do not let you down if someone is better than you in some area or have a skill that you want to develop. Focus on your main priorities, for you.
Overall, after reading this book and learning from the panel, you can began applying these lessons into mapping out what your future could look like, but most of all, you can embrace the mentality of not letting fear deter you from your dreams. Leadership skills are acquired over time, but they don’t only exist in the hands of women of a certain age. They existing in the hearts of people who want to learn them.
All the different ways women have opportunities to lean in should be a source of inspiration to both men and women around the world.
Whether a woman’s sole job is being the best mother she can be, the best senior trader at a firm, or the best executive at a multinational corporation, she can be an inspiration to others. Whatever you do day-in-and-day-out, do it with “your foot on the gas pedal.” Do it with confidence. Sit at the table, whether it be in the kitchen or in the boardroom.
You only have to look in the news to see that times are changing, especially in the technology industry.
More and more people are becoming aware of the female presence in tech and that they can do the job as well as men can. You can start in a field that, in the digital age, impacts nearly every other field. You can work to close the gender gap in technology and redefine the way women are viewed in tech, and it will soon pervade to other fields, seep into your home lives, and eventually you can minimize the implicit biases that exist within you about your identity and what they mean in society.
So, ladies (and gentlemen), see you at the top?
Whatever you do as a woman today, whether you are a stay-at-home mom, a mid-level manager or an entrepreneur, this book is for you. Get your copy, learn from the research and take your own lessons to heart. And if you don’t get a seat at the table, bring your own folding chair!
Digital Dandy. Hacker From Heart. Workaholic. Coding Artist. Self-made.