Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg

Finding a mentor at work is difficult. However, having Lean In in your book shelf is the equivalent of having a mentor that will not only guide you through the political landscape of the workplace but also to inspire you to pursue personal growth.

Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead was published in 2013 and it has been praised as the workplace manifesto for women because of its radical and transformational idea that women can thrive and succeed in the workplace. It is authored by Sheryl Sandberg who is currently the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook. Prior to joining Facebook, she was the Vice President of Global Sales and Operations of Google and she was also the Chief of Staff at the United States Treasury Department. She earned both her Bachelor’s degree in Economics (Where she graduated as summa cum laude) and MBA (With Distinction) from Harvard University .

Out of all the available self-help books in the market, you may wonder why I chose this. Personally, it was the opportunity to learn from a highly accomplished woman that led me to buy it when I was browsing through the shelves of Fully Booked in Deira City Centre, Dubai, UAE. Plus, it was also part of a promo where I could buy three books for the price of two!

Lucky me! Three books for the price of two!

In the book, Sheryl shares her personal stories and offers practical advice to help women achieve their goals based on her own experience. The book has eleven chapters and each chapter has a powerful take-away for the reader that they can also apply in other areas of their life. I particularly like how concise she is in delivering her message, making the book just 183 pages long. Eventhough there are 243 pages in total, pages 184 – 243 are no longer part of the story as it consists of acknowledgements, notes and the index.

Another point that I enjoyed is that she supports her advice with facts and delivers it through a friendly, conversational approach. While I was reading the book, I did not feel that I was experiencing information overload simply because it is written in a language that is easy to understand. Furthermore, the facts we’re so well interweaved in her personal stories that it felt like I was reading a personal journal instead of a self-development book.

Lean In is a great book to read because of its transformational approach in empowering women to progress in their careers. It changes the perspective of what women can’t do into what women can do which is a powerful step towards creating a better world with equal opportunities for both genders. I particularly admire how she achieves this through a non-confrontational tone considering that gender equality in the workplace is a rather sensitive topic.

I enjoyed it so much, it inspired me to make a book journal where I can chronicle learnings from books read.

However, as much as I enjoyed reading this book, it is also important to take the advice that has been provided with a grain of salt. The advice from Lean In is based on the personal experience of Sheryl Sandberg who comes from a privileged family and she was also exposed to many opportunities that are not accessible to the general public. Her advantaged background was highlighted by many critics of the book, accusing her advice to be elitist. However, this is a weakness that many self-help books have in which the advice is based on the author’s experiences and the author does not have a personal relationship with their readers, therefore the advice is not tailored uniquely for the individual reading it. Reading advice from this book is unlike attending a personalized coaching session where the coach is capable of adapting their advice or approach according to your specific situation or needs because they know you well.

Therefore, as a reader, it is important to be able to decide which of your learnings are applicable to you and to have a realistic expectation on how applying these lessons will improve your life. For example, in the first chapter she advises the reader to be fearless and writes: “Career progression often depends on taking risks and advocating for oneself”. Though this advice is useful, it isn’t applicable to everyone. Making risky career decisions is good advice for individuals who have a safety net to fall back on or for those who have minimal responsibilities but this isn’t very practical for bread winners who have a family to feed.

 Yet, despite this, the knowledge and lessons learned from this book are still valuable. Though it is targeted towards women, the advice is also applicable to men and it is a useful source of insights for companies on how they can further improve the workplace because of the challenges faced by women that the book highlights. However, it is also important to filter through the advice and decide which ones will work for you. Overall, this book is a gem that will help you improve by arming you with the knowledge necessary to Lean In and I highly recommend reading this book

Quotable Quotes:

“A lack of confidence can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.” – Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In

“In negotiating, I think personally and act communally. WE not I.” – Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In

“Careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder.” – Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In

“Setting obtainable goals is the key to happiness.” – Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In

“We all want the same thing: to feel comfortable with our own choice and validated by those around us. So, let’s start by validating one another.” – Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In

Useful Links:

Lean In website: https://leanin.org/

Sheryl Sandberg Ted Talk “Why we have too few women leaders”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18uDutylDa4

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