Warning: This is not a hashtag worthy political statement. This is a book review! #nothashtagworthy. My goal, consistent with one of the author’s goals, is to inspire you to great leadership.
The book Lean In: Women, Work and The Will to Lead was written by Sheryl Sandberg. The book was purchased because I was interested in reading it. However, being honest, it was read with a skeptical eye. What was her message? Was this woman of privilege going to tell us how easy it was to have-it all? What challenges could this Harvard graduate-Google-FB-C suite-woman have possibly faced? And, would they be relatable to the challenges faced by us regular nanny-less, economy seat people?
Overall, think: A rising tide lifts all boats. While one of Sandberg’s goals was to encourage more women into leadership roles, she realized the path to attain this goal included raising awareness as well as continuing to develop our current leaders into great leaders.
Although reading the book was effortless, this review was somewhat challenging to write. As I read the book, I found myself taking notes on almost every page, as each page was filled with interesting and intriguing information. There were many relevant stories and some surprising statistics which made it difficult to select tidbits to share. Sandberg relayed revealing experiences of hers as well as those of other women. Some eye-opening stories. Many of the anecdotes were followed by a footnote or referenced a research study that informed us the story was likely not the exception but the norm. Within the first two chapters, Sandberg cited over 50 footnotes; giving credit to as many or more other literary works. The Notes section at the end of the book extended over 30 pages!
The book was an easy read with entertaining stories and some surprising information. She wrote with a light, warm tone and was remarkably candid. Early in the book Sandberg acknowledged that she is fortunate and does not face some of the issues other women and mothers face. She confessed this fact graciously and humbly.
The book began with an introduction written by Sandberg. On page one she grabbed my attention with an experience at Google during her pregnancy. She wrote that with her weight gain of 70 pounds, her feet grew two sizes. This made walking difficult. The story ended with her waddling, Sandberg’s word, not mine, into the Google founder’s offices and announcing they needed designated parking spots for pregnant women. Although the tale was shared in a light-hearted, self-deprecating manner, she admitted feeling embarrassed that it required her to become pregnant before she ever considered challenges pregnant women face.
There were many dynamics shared by Sandberg that are consistent with the ten leadership competencies identified in Tim Schneider’s book Lead Well. Her stories and lessons illustrated topics taught throughout Aegis’ Leadership Development programs.
In Sandberg’s chapter titled “Sit at The Table” she shared her discomfort at receiving positive feedback. After years of rebuffing compliments, Sandberg learned to respond by simply saying “Thank you”. In this chapter, she also wrote about internal barriers or blind spots that hinder or limit our success and the importance of making the effort to self-improve to over-come them.
In “Success and Likeability”, Sandberg reminded us that leaders won’t please everyone all the time. When faced with vocal to the point of being vicious critics, she reiterated to be aware of your emotional composition and then get back to work.
There were several facets of the “Are You My Mentor?” chapter. However, primarily, she reminded us the benefits of developing leaders through mentorship and the value of peer coaches.
“Seek and Speak Your Truth” was centered around the importance of authentic communication and how it is necessary for successful relationships. This chapter included the skills of listening, soliciting and providing feedback as well as the power of empathy.
The chapter entitled “Don’t Leave Before You Leave” discussed the phenomenon when women self-limit themselves in the workplace. According to Sandberg, this is done in the anticipation of having a family and the assumption that women need to choose between leadership and a family. Women do this one small decision at a time. Taking smaller projects, not seeking promotions, etc.
Because this isn’t another you-are-woman-and-can-have-it-all books, Sandberg has a chapter dedicated to the “Myth of Doing it All”. One suggestion she made was to utilize a skill like Time Management for Guilt Management. Sandberg closed this chapter quoting Journalist Mary Curtis with the best advice anyone can offer “is for women and men to drop the guilt trip…The secret is there is no secret – just doing the best you can with what you’ve got.”
Sandberg suggested that while we have supported women with the ability to choose between working at home or outside the home, we have overlooked encouraging them to become leaders. Additionally, she wrote that until we respect men who work within the home, neither will really have a choice.
“I do not pretend to have perfect solutions to these deep and complicated issues. I rely on hard data, academic research, my own observations and lessons I have learned along the way…I hope (this book) inspires men as much as it inspires women.”