A Review of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

[Disclosure: Links to Amazon are affiliate links. Here is my review policy. I did not receive a review copy of this book, but bought it myself.]

Lean in book cover

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead is by Sheryl Sandberg, published by Knopf in 2013. I thought this was a positive and inspiring book in many ways. I’ve read reviews by other women who criticize Sandberg for being too rich or too privileged, or too whatever for them to learn anything from her. I don’t want to do that here. What I am going to do is share some of the positive things about the book that I think do apply to all women.

My biggest takeaway from this book is that Sheryl Sandberg is everywoman. She has the same struggles, worries, and concerns that we all have. She isn’t some other species who somehow magically became a success through no effort of her own. What she does have is the fact that she’s smart, she works hard, and she takes the risks she needs to take in order to achieve.

I’m going to let Sandberg speak for herself by quoting some of the things from the book I found particularly powerful. Instead of blockquoting them all, I’ll just make a list. These are all direct quotes.

  1. When a girl tries to lead, she is often labeled bossy. Boys are seldom called bossy because a boy taking the role of boss does not surprise or offend.
  2. For women, feeling like a fraud is a symptom of a greater problem. We consistently underestimate ourselves. Multiple studies in multiple industries show that women often judge their own performance as worse than it actually is, while men judge their own performance as better than it actually is. . . . I learned over time that while it was hard to shake feelings of self-doubt, I could understand that there was a distortion. . . . I learned to undistort the distortion.
  3. Research backs up this “fake it till you feel it” strategy. One study found that when people assumed a higher-power pose (for example, taking up space by spreading their limbs) for just two minutes, their dominance hormone levels (testosterone) went up and their stress hormone levels (cortisol) went down. As a result, they felt more powerful and in charge and showed a greater tolerance for risk. A simple change in posture led to a significant change in attitude.
  4. I believe this bias [Ed.: we evaluate people based on stereotypes] is at the very core of why women are held back. It is also at the very core of why women hold themselves back.
  5. Owning one’s success is key to achieving more success.
  6. People expect men to advocate on their own behalf, point out their contributions, and be recognized and rewarded for them. For men, there is truly no harm in asking. But since women are expected to be concerned with others, when they advocate for themselves or point to their own value, both men and women react unfavorably.
  7. Women need to shift from thinking, “I’m not ready to do that” to thinking “I want to do that – and I’ll learn by doing it.”
  8. I am now a true believer in bring our whole selves to work. I no longer think people have a professional self for Mondays through Fridays and a real self for the rest of the time.
  9. What I am arguing is that the time to scale back is when a break is needed or when a child arrives – not before, and certainly not years in advance. The months and years leading up to having children are not the time to lean back, but the critical time to lean in.

There’s a lot in this book to inspire women to take the lead in their own lives and in their careers. I suggest that all people (not just women) should read it. I recently read books about Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, which were both enlightening and fascinating. Lean In however, is an example of how a woman can succeed in a very male industry. Both men and women need to be aware of what their female colleagues think and do (or don’t do) in order to advance in their careers.

Summary: An inspiring guide to how a woman can become a leader.

A review by Virginia DeBolt of Lean In: Work, Women and the Will to Lead (rating: 5 stars)

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