Book Review: “Lean In”

I don’t think ‘getting ahead” is a gender-specific issue. If you work hard, success should come. I know it’s not that easy. That said, here are my thoughts, as a man who just read a book written for women by a successful businesswoman.

lean in book coverFirst, let me say, this will be a mixed review of this highly publicized book. Sheryl Sandberg has undoubtedly had success, first with the U.S. Government, then at Google, and now as COO at Facebook. So, she can provide inspiration for young people in business school. However, as a reader of many, many books on leadership and inspiration, I will say this was one of my more difficult reads.

I applaud Sandberg’s urging of women to “ask for a seat at the table.” Her position is one that women often accept being relegated to a chair in the corner as a minutes-keeper rather than fighting for a position alongside decision makers. as a decision maker themselves. But, why single out women? I feel we should be urging ALL with talent and motivation to try to rise up. I don’t believe poor business is related to gender, rather it’s often reflective of poor decisions by decision makers of various genders, races, etc.

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Next, the book is written with a ton of footnotes but few substantive details. I was most eager to hear of the obstacles she has faced and how she overcame them, but those details were largely lacking. If anything, she’s been better off than most of those she’s trying to influence, more on this in a minute. Additionally, her attempt to paint a picture implying women have more obstacles is nonsense and contrary to her aim of empowering. Isn’t the use of broad brush stereotyping (of women) exactly what she is trying to move beyond?

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Her advice is well-intended, but doesn’t account for her own access to resources not afforded to all. Her ability to hire a nanny and praise of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer for taking just two weeks maternity leave really invalidate her connection with the common woman she is trying to empower. Her praise of a girlfriend’s dating technique of making a man travel to her (in Sao Paolo) is awesome…if your judgment of people is based on their ability (i.e. deep pockets) to be globetrotting for a date. Also, she revealed she dresses her young children in school clothes the night before as a way of saving time in the morning. That’s right, her kids spend Monday night sleeping in clothes to be worn at school on Tuesday. I understand multi-tasking and the need to maximize time, but this made me uneasy. I don’t think many moms would be comfortable with, or praised for, implementing such an approach.

I admit there are things in business that are unfair, unequal, and make the road difficult for some. Life in general can be summed up similarly. I liked her idea of creating a group (a Lean In group) with similarly thinking ambitious individuals. I agree that those who speak up are most likely to be heard. Overall, though, I disagree with her presentation of what she is trying to accomplish with this book. As a man, I read the book hoping to understand her career path and advice of meeting obstacles head on. If you are looking for the same, this selection is not for you. Like beauty, the effectiveness of Sandberg’s writing is determined by the eye of the beholder.

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