Book Review: Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg

For our Student Leadership class this semester, our professor has assigned a few books for us to read in addition to our textbook. The purpose of these supplemental books is to gain different perspectives on leadership and put them in the frame of reference of higher education and student affairs. The second book we read for class was Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will To Lead by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. I felt as though I should share my thoughts about my experience reading the book. I will do so in a way that only covers some of the high points of the book without giving away everything that is in the book.

This book has been praised by readers, critics, and business people alike. On Amazon if you look at the book’s page you can see that it is still on the bestseller list or at least marked as a bestseller. When I bought the book for the class my initial thought was “great, mandatory reading I won’t be interested in.” I was not sure how I would or would not relate to the perspective of the book. I made this judgment solely on the book’s title when I was ordering it. Not only was I wrong, I was really wrong.

This book was hard to put down. Sandberg’s writing is appealing and engaging. The book reads like a conversation; a style of writing I prefer. I find that too often we try to write professionally and academically in a way that can alienate rather than educate. Throughout the entire book, I understood everything Sandberg wrote and felt like she was speaking directly to me. In addition to the welcomed writing style, Sandberg clearly explains her goals for the book and why she is writing it: something else I like. (In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I like it when things are made really clear to me.) Her goal for this book is to start a conversation that can be had regardless of sex, gender, ethnicity, race, or anything else that we can distinguish ourselves by. Her bottom line: there needs to be more diversity at the top of every field in order for our companies, governments, schools etc., to function efficiently and creatively. As the title implies, Sandberg’s focus is on why women are not rising to the top of their fields and what she describes as the leadership ambition gap.

Sandberg uses a combination of personal stories and hard facts to illustrate her points. This is very effective. I felt what she was saying. More importantly Lean In made me reflect critically on the important women in my life. My mother, my sisters, my grandmothers, and my girlfriend all come from different places and have had different experiences with their respective fields. However, I have seen evidence of them not leaning in and I failed to recognize why before. I have always wanted them to lean in and rise to the top but sometimes just couldn’t understand what was holding them back. As a man, I understand what Sandberg was talking about when she wrote about the need for men to lean in differently. Finding a partner in life is just that, finding an equal partner. I also recognize that I need to be cognizant of the gender stereotypes out there and work to make things more equitable for all. In Lean In, Sandberg stresses the little things we can do to change the culture. I always think of Mother Theresa when people talk of doing little things. Mother Theresa said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” I think little things and starting on a small level are incredibly important. Start at the grassroots level, water and nurture said grass, and watch it grow. When I have children, I want them to lean in all the way.

My only criticisms of this book is that Sandberg writes generally about women but fails to take in consideration the perspectives of women of color. While there is very little in the book about women of color, I recognize that Sandberg writes from her personal experience and cannot speak to experiences she has not lived. The other criticism I have is that sometimes I felt that her descriptions of men were sweeping. I read the book and didn’t see myself described. I am hoping this is because I was raised with strong women role models in my life and the descriptions of the gender stereotypes were evidence that I come from a different mold.

I see the value of what Sheryl Sandberg is writing about. I agree we need more women at the top. I agree we need more men leaning in at home and being comfortable bucking the status quo. I agree we need to start small.

I think you all should read this book. There is a lot in this book that I did not write about simply because I do not want to deprive anyone of the opportunity to discover it on their own. I highly suggest reading this book.

KB

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