1-1-1 Book Review: Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg

April 5th, 2013 Karine Joly 11 Comments

I read my fair share of books about digital marketing, web design, content strategy, social media, business and communication. If a non-fiction book doesn’t fall into these pre-defined reading buckets, it usually won’t cross my path.

Lean In by Sheryl SandbergBut, it’s been impossible to ignore Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, since its launch a few weeks ago.

As the COO of Facebook and a high-profile leader in Silicon Valley, Ms. Sandberg doesn’t blend very well in the very male world of technology companies. Her critics (or “nemeses” by the type of comments written about her book) also point out she is coming from a world of privileges and didn’t have to struggle too hard in her life, which should have prevented her, according to them, from writing anything of value for other women.

Having rarely seen a non-fiction book surrounded by so much controversy for the past couple of years, I had to read it for myself. So, I did last weekend while relaxing after some serious museum hopping during the day with my 7- & 4-year old sons and their dad.

So, here’s my 1-1-1 Express Book Review of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg.

1 thing I liked

While I’m no Sheryl Sandberg by any standard (professional success, celebrity status, net worth, location, clothes, hair style and hopefully enemies), this book really talked to me. Despite all the critics saying Ms. Sandberg was out of touch, the arguments, pieces of advice and stories she and her writing partner, Nell Scovell, included in the book really struck a chord. From the quasi-denial of the changing world the first few months after the birth of her first child to the unpredictable situations kids can put you in, I was surprised that such a high-profile woman would be faced with the same issues and doubts I often deal with.

I also liked the fact that Sheryl Sandberg chose to get out of the “working-mother closet” to help start conversations about important issues in the workplace (and made me realized it was ok to mention my kids in a blog post ;-).

1 thing I didn’t like too much

I really like this book as it has already had a noticeable effect on how I look at things as a mom, an entrepreneur, an educator and an individual. But, as you might know if you’ve read a few of my book reviews, they are short but try to offer a balanced view. So, here it is: I would have loved to read a few more personal stories.

1 big take-away from the book

There are a few strong messages for women in this book, but my big takeaway was to realize how women are rarely successful and liked at the same time.

While successful men can be liked, there is a strong bias toward successful women based on the perception that they can only be successful by being mean. It seems that harsh criticism comes with the job description for successful women. This bias toward women in leadership positions exists among men and women alike (as demonstrated in academic research studies).

On a personal level, I would say that my favorite piece of advice was to try to find where perfection matters first, and then strive to do things 100% right only where it matters – at work and at home. For anything else, “done is better than perfect.”

If you want a better idea of what the book has to offer to women (and men alike as Sandberg is advocating for them to have the right to choose a more balanced life between work and family as well), take 10 minutes to watch her TED Talk that started it all in December 2010.

BONUS: My big “Lean In” moment

In the spirit of getting out of the “working-mother closet,” here’s the story of my big “Lean In” moment.
Please share yours (at work or at home if you’re a man) by posting a comment below!

In the summer of 2006, Andrew Careaga from Missouri S&T offered me to present about Web 2.0 (yeah, that’s how we called social media in 2006) and crisis communication in a networked world at the CASE Annual Conference for Senior Communication and Marketing Professionals in mid-September that year.

Andy told me I had been recommended by David Jarmul, AVP at Duke University, and offered me to co-present the sessions with Joe Hice, AVP at the University of Florida at that time. I was really thrilled and frankly scared that these 3 recognized higher ed leaders had invited me to “sit at the table” as Sandberg would put it.

I had never presented at a conference before, let alone been invited to do so. And, if you’ve met me, you know that I have a very noticeable accent that made me feel very self-conscious back then (I still have the accent, but I’ve learned it doesn’t have to define me as a speaker ;-).

This was a great opportunity, but there was a catch. If I accepted the invitation to present, I would have to leave my breastfed 6-month old baby boy for 4 days for the first time ever, thus automatically earning my bad “mother of the year” card by current parenting standards.

I had all the right excuses to decline this speaking offer.
And, I would have if my husband hadn’t told me I HAD to go and that he would take care of our baby son while I was away.

I went to the conference, and this opportunity has led to many more.

Without the 5 men (Andy, David, Joe, my husband and my son) in this story who let me (or helped me) lean in, I’m not sure things would have been the same professionally for me.
And, that’s why I’m very thankful to them.

This was my big “LEAN IN” moment, what’s yours?