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Speed Review: Lean In

Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

by Sheryl Sandberg

Speed Review: Lean In
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A Closer Look at a Controversial Must-Read

In her controversial best-seller Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Facebook Chief Operations Officer Sheryl Sandberg suggests that many women react to the substantial challenges they face on their career paths by choosing to be self-limiting. When faced with pivotal turning points that could affect their ability to achieve the highest levels of leadership, a large percentage of women step back rather than take Sandberg’s suggestion to lean in.

Sandberg’s decision to focus on women’s internal struggles has drawn criticism that she does little to offer solutions for the institutional problems that present the most apparent barriers to the goal of creating more female leaders. A closer look at Lean In reveals that Sandberg is fully aware of the barriers women continue to face on the path to power. She simply prefers to attack them by helping women achieve leadership positions. This would enable women to have a more substantial stake in the decision-making processes that shape (and will ultimately smash) the current obstructions.

The Personal and the Professional

The self-help process provided by Lean In is contained in a series of chapters that interweave advice for a better career with relevant research and personal anecdotes from the author. Sandberg’s stories are likely the material that is doing the most to fuel the book’s fire as a topic of conversation.

Some tales, such as the story about Sandberg asking a private equity fund’s senior partner for directions to the women’s restroom, combine a pinch of humor with a strong dose of reality about the state of gender equality in the 21st century. Other incidents, such as Sandberg’s discovery that her daughter had lice while the pair were guests on the private plane owned by eBay, unintentionally provide more talking points about the growing concern over economic inequality in the United States.

Solid Advice for Everyone

Despite the protests, many of the core messages in Lean In have genuine merit for workers of both genders. She recommends that people have a short-term plan for career and personal advancement (Sandberg prefers an 18-month plan). She also addresses the importance of stretching one’s abilities by taking assignments that, while not directly labeled as a promotion, offer better opportunities to expand one’s skills.

Sandberg also deftly provides guidance from expert sources. One of the book’s best takeaways for readers is the advice Sandberg received from current Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt. While Sandberg debated the merits of working for the nascent tech giant, Schmidt pointedly told her that the only deciding factor for choosing where to work is whether or not the company would rapidly expand. “When companies grow quickly,” Sandberg writes, “there are more things to do than there are people to do them.” Schmidt summarized the philosophy by saying, “If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, you don’t ask what seat. You just get on.”

The problem, in Sandberg’s opinion, is that too many women either choose to get off the rocket just as its countdown nears launch or, worse yet, never get on at all. She spends a good portion of the book attempting to resolve the tug-of-war between career and family that she feels stops many future female leaders in their tracks. While her opinions in this area are left for readers to debate, there is enough good content in Lean In to make it a worthwhile read for men and women alike.

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