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?

11 Responses

  1. Lori Croy says:

    Loved this blog post. Thanks so much for writing it. I, too, have had to make choices. As the mother of 6, finding the right balance between work and home has always been a challenge. I have been fortunate to have had offers to speak, similar to yours, offered to me. This started with my dear friend and colleague, Michael Stoner, almost 15 years ago now. Choices have been hard (leaving for a CASE conference in San Diego the night after my son received a sports injury), but, I think it’s also important to remember that our children have two parents. Sometimes I think that by my being gone for brief periods of time, it allowed my husband to bond more closely with the kids and allowed the kids to learn to be responsible thinkers because I wasn’t always there to answer their questions. Fortunately, I was rarely criticized for making these choices, but, was often asked how I managed to fit it all in.

    Thanks again for the great post and I hope many other young women take a moment to read it and feel supported as they manage ALL the important parts of their lives.

  2. Karine Joly says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us, Lori!

    You’re a great role model for your kids and for younger women in higher ed :-)

  3. Years ago one of my longest partners and collaborators, Leslie Petrovski and I were on the road visiting a client and having a wonderful dinner together. I was telling her about my work to build up a new area of business for the company she made an observation that still shapes how I approach our work today. She said, “Look at you! You’re running a business!”
    Seems simple, but until that time I hadn’t taken the ownership I needed to move us to the next level. Working for a company can muddle that sometimes. Sure enough, Noel-Levitz has given me amazing career opportunities and the chance to create something completely new. All of the work my team does needs to reflect well on our wonderful company. Until I repositioned my thoughts about my “ownership” of the business, I was leaving a lot of opportunity on the table.
    As the mother of three, I long ago accepted my role as co-leader of our tribe with my husband, Lewis. I’ve been able to take some of the things I’ve learned about leading a family back to the office:
    1. Listen. Great ideas, troubleshooting and better relationships will emerge.
    2. Understand what makes your team and your services great and play to those strengths.
    3. Make choices about what you want to do in the future, but be open to a little serendipity, too.
    4. Lead with the concept of partnership on your team and with your clients. Everyone has something to offer and something to learn.

  4. Karine Joly says:

    Thanks for sharing and setting a great example, Stephanie!

  5. When my almost 16-year-old Marley was born, my mother told me, “You owe her two solid years of complete devotion. Then, you owe her the chance to see you as something other than a mother.” She also told me, “See, it’s not like having a doll” – that’s another story entirely.

    Every mom has had to make choices that are hard, but I’ve always felt that one of my responsibilities to my daughter is to show her that we (meaning women) can successfully manage both our families and our work.

    When Marley was born, I began working in the newsroom at night, staying at home with her during the daytime. Thankfully, I was in a business that seldom required being in the office from 9 to 5. Thankfully also, I was surrounded by supportive men and women who knew the important thing was maintaining talent in the newsroom, not maintaining a rigid adherence to business hours and office spaces. I was also lifted up – and pushed forward – by a husband who is a great dad for Marley.

    I did have to do daytime interviews sometimes – apparently the people you’re writing stories about are only awake in the day! I lugged a car seat through offices and gardens and galleries; Marley sat by me as I wrote. She learned how Pagemaker and QuarkXPress worked by the age of 4. The sound of the printing press always lulled her to sleep.

    I’d like to think that – because she was reared in the newsroom in part – Marley was enriched by relationships with many different individuals. She had tons of moms and dads and aunts and uncles and cousins… she has always been raised by an awesome village.

    As an older mom now, I understand that that’s part of our job as women in the workplace. We have to support, uplift, and listen. We have to set an example and be available as a shoulder, as a friend. We can’t criticize moms – no matter their decisions on child-rearing issues.

    I hope I can do all these things with a cheerful heart. And I hope – oh God, I hope – that I’ve shown Marley that she can do *anything* that’s important to her. Period.

  6. Karine Joly says:

    Thanks for sharing, Tonya! I didn’t know you were also an ex-journo. It all makes sense now :-)

  7. Karine – Thanks so much for sharing your lean-in moment! I’m so glad I got to meet you in person at that conference, which seems so long ago now. (I remember “live-blogging” some of the sessions. None of us was using Twitter yet in those days.) I’m honored to be spoken of in this post, and even more honored to call you my friend and colleague. Keep doing amazing, innovative and entrepreneurial stuff, Karine. You are an inspiration to many.

  8. Lauren Smith says:

    Fabulous book! I read it and loved it! Love the comments here as well. It’s nice to see other women have the same ups and downs as I do. Another book that has motivated and uplifted me is called, ” Stop Playing Safe: Rethink Risk. Unlock the Power of Courage. Achieve Outstanding Success” by author Margie Warrell. I felt so motivated after reading it! She teaches great points like, “Define your sense of purpose and pursue more inspiring goals,” and “Embrace a ‘Courage Mindset’ to speak up with confidence in every situation.” Both books are AWESOME! Very inspiring!

  9. Karine Joly says:

    Thanks, Andy!

  10. For me, I think having a supportive work environment has made such a huge difference to me and my confidence in being able to balance work with the commitment of being a mom. Tonya’s point is spot on about lifting mom’s up in our workplaces and never criticizing their decisions. Motherhood is a wonderfully personal journey I’ve found, not a one-size-fits all proposition.

    My son has been a fixture in my office when snow days or when school holidays have required. I’d like to think that opportunity has let him see me not only as Mom, but also as someone who is respected on my campus for the work I do and the ideas I have.

    When one of his friends commented not too long ago on how my job must be like playing a video game all day, my son told him that he has seen “the code and stuff that goes into a web page and it isn’t pretty!” He also still talks about the time he was asked by one of our VP’s to weigh in as to which design he preferred since he was the closest to our target demographic in the room.

    I hope these experiences will continue to shape his opinion that you don’t need to be a dad or a mom to fill a role, what counts is your passion and commitment.

  11. Natalie says:

    I had my first child at the beginning of my PhD. Getting a PhD was hard, and I would come home every so often and cry, telling my husband that I couldn’t hack it, and I didn’t know if I could finish.
    He said:

    1) That’s BS. A PhD is hard for everyone. You just have a child to pin it on.
    2) If you finish, you’re showing your daughter that she can do the same if she wants to.

    A few years later, I finished on time, received a few awards, published a few papers, presented at international conferences, and had a second daughter around the time I defended my dissertation and went on to work at a federal lab. today, i have 2 daughters that are very proud to say that their mommy is a scientist and engineer.

    I couldn’t have done it without the support of my husband.

Got a question or comment?