Part 2: An E-Reader’s Review of ‘Lean In – Women, Work And the Will to Lead’ by Sheryl Sandberg
In my previous blog on the book “Lean In” written by Sheryl Sandberg, I talked about the different perspectives I have when I read the book. Sandberg explores so many issues that the book is like an onion with multiple layers ready to peel back. The career woman in me reads so much into the advice she offers. The mother in me is struck by the revelations Sandberg uncovers about my role in my daughters’ lives. The working mother in me appreciates the honesty Sandberg dishes. Let’s see if we can go through these various perspectives and issues of this onion without shedding any tears!
For Part 2 of this blog post, I read the book as a career woman. As such, I appreciate the credibility supporting Sandberg’s advice. Sandberg is obviously a very accomplished business woman and her stories – both failures and successes – offer so much insight. The advice Sandberg offers is truly advice I wish I had been given a decade ago. The differences between men and women are amplified in the work place. The problem of course becomes that we can’t be stereotypical women, but we also cannot mirror men. Both of these extremes will work to hinder our career growth.
Sandberg highlights the contradictions and dichotomies we face, and challenges head on the uncomfortable question: what’s a woman to do as she tries to become a leader?
What I get from reading Sandberg’s book is that to break free of the chains of gender discrimination and to grow as a leader, women need to accept gender differences and women need to learn to deal with them. Take for example, the expectation of advancement. Sandberg writes “[h]ard work and results should be recognized by others, but when they aren’t, advocating for oneself becomes necessary”. This quote rings close to home for me. I have historically believed that a strong work ethic brings its own reward; unfortunately that is not how the world works. Hard work alone will not guarantee the offer of a promotion, the opportunity to work on a high profile assignment, or the chance to participate in a major business development trip.
Sandberg also writes that “[i]t’s a cliché, but opportunities are rarely offered; they’re seized.” This quote reminds us that women tend to sit back and wait instead of being proactive in taking charge of a situation. Women need to take the opportunities when they are presented.
All good tips, right? But at this point, I really want to say “Thanks, Sheryl. But how do I advocate for myself, how do I seize the opportunity, how do I achieve growth without risking the stigma of being labelled?” Thankfully, Sandberg didn’t leave me hanging. She offers what I consider to be the number one, all-encompassing advice:
“The goal of a successful negotiation is to achieve our objectives and continue to have people like us”.
Sandberg teaches that women must come off as both ‘nice’ and ‘legitimate’. To me, this is the heart of the issue; balancing assertiveness with likeability. Allow me to sum up her sage advice in one word: smile. Assert yourself, with a smile. Offer a contradictory opinion, with a smile. Voice your idea, with a smile.
The book is full of great strategies for a junior woman to employ. These are no holds barred tactics that maneuver around the political facts of career life.
While there is so much about this book I love, I have to admit there is one assertion Sandberg makes that I have an issue with. She writes “[r]ecognizing the role emotions play and being willing to discuss them makes us better managers, partners, and peers.” Note that I didn’t say I disagree with Sandberg on this point. I agree with her; I believe emotion and empathy can improve relationships and are critical for enduring success.
That being said, my concern is that a junior career woman could consider Sandberg’s statement as permission for emotional freedom in the office, and in doing so may find herself being negatively labelled. Sandberg has had amazing male leaders that embrace emotion in the workplace. Hopefully one day, with continued evolution, we will all enjoy the benefits of such enlightened leaders. But for now, in my opinion, this is not a fight for a junior woman to take on.
To me, Sandberg’s statement is a call to action for established women leaders. If women in senior positions can prove to male leaders that emotion and success are not mutually exclusive, then perhaps the landscape will evolve. But until that happens or unless one is in such a culture already, I do not believe junior women should be emotional within office walls.
Perhaps it is just another truth we just need to accept and deal with: women should not exhibit too much emotion in the office. Is it really unlike accepting that a woman must be likeable when being assertive?
What other advice does Sandberg offer female senior leaders? Talk about the issues. Encourage change in the office to support your junior women. Enlist the cooperation of your male colleagues.
If you’ve read the book and have put into practice any of Sandberg’s advice, let me know. Share your story about what has worked or what did not work. After all, as Sandberg writes “[t]he more women help one another, the more we help ourselves”.
E-reader’s Opinion: If you are a junior career woman, you will find something of use in this book. From hard-hitting truths to specific guidance, I am sure you will finish this book feeling at least a little more empowered. But I think those that will get the most out of the book are those already in senior leadership roles, male and female. Enduring change will trickle from the top. As wonderful as this book is, I really hope that in 40 years there is no need for someone else to write another book like it.
Your E-reader reviewer is Hetal Kushwaha, Liaison – International Practice, Marks & Clerk Canada. She would like to emphasize that this is just her personal opinion and it is not intended to represent the views of Marks & Clerk Canada. She can be reached at