Book Review: Lean In – Women, Work and Will to Lead

Sheryl Sandberg, the COO (Chief Operating Officer ) of Facebook has presented her thoughts clearly with anecdotal evidence and well found research in her book “Lean in – Women, Work and Will to Lead”, published by Alfred A Knopf publishers.

A light read littered with gems on leadership, this book seems to be coming-of-age for Ms Sandberg. Having accomplished professional and financial success at a young age, she has realized that she has power to influence the national conversation.

Feeling a sense of responsibility and a desire to help, Sheryl Sandberg has used her personal experiences to offer profuse advice to women at all stages of career.

She graciously attributes leadership lessons she has learned to various mentors and sponsors she has met along the trajectory of her career from the Treasury department in Washington DC to California’s technology driven Silicon Valley.

In this 172 page manifesto, there is an array of sound leadership advice that crosses the gender lines.

  • Do not be running around to every senior person you meet and ask “Will you be my mentor?”
  • Social gains are never handed out. They need to be seized. One way to seize them is not to be afraid and to ask yourself at each juncture when faced with fear “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”
  • When feeling unsure of yourself “Fake it till you feel it”.
  • Since most opportunities require ability to learn quickly and deliver results, “Jump at any opportunity offered to you and have confidence that you will make it”.
  • Consciously manage your work life balance since the companies will never stop demanding more from you.

Ms. Sandberg also provides suggestions that are geared specifically towards women. While they are well-intentioned and worked for her, they require pre-requisites that are not available to most women.

—> Lack of support which is a prime issue for most women who quit work and do not go back in spite of having stellar qualifications was not an issue for her.

She had physical and emotional support from the family she was born in as well as the one she married into. Close proximity of family members who can bail you out during times when you are stuck in a meeting late at night or at a time when you get a call from your child’s school to pick up your sick child, is not an option for most middle class mothers.

Women who have high powered jobs and abundant money may be able to buy that support, but most women do not have the stars aligned for that type of success.

—-> Earning wages that are barely enough to pay for the babysitter with some spare change, is not an attractive option for working mothers.

To consider it as an investment in the future, as Ms Sandberg suggests, is a gamble for them.

In spite of making sacrifices, one can still be stuck in a job where the salary growth is meagre and a chance of promotion slim.

The balance for these women often times ends up tipping in favor of not leaving their child crying in a day care.

—-> Taking risks.

The point that is missed here is that when a woman is working to sustain her household, all she cares about is keeping her job.

While a lucky few get job satisfaction and monetary bounty as a result of their hard-work and intelligence, for others who are trying to get through each day, it is unimaginable to consciously seek and take on a 24 hour leadership position.

—-> Sheryl Sandberg rightly talks of internal and external barriers that a woman experiences.

She considers the solution to be focussing on overcoming internal barriers to smooth out the external barriers, while working on overcoming both.

In my opinion, the solution needs to be the other way round.

Removal of external barriers will facilitate removal of internal barriers for women.

  • Government needs to mandate that all work places have day cares with nurses so that a sick child does not necessitate a parent to take the entire day off.
  • Government needs to mandate that all workplaces make available part-time opportunities to women/parent returning to work after having a child.

I believe that once these initiatives are in place, there will be a gradual stream of women trickling into the workplace and aspiring to a leadership position, a goal that Ms. Sandberg and most women aspires to.

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