Lean In – Sheryl Sandberg – 7/10

“Then, as the years ticked by, I started seeing female friends and colleagues drop out of the workforce. Some left by choice. Others left out of frustration, pushed out the door by companies that did not allow flexibility and welcomed home by partners who weren’t doing their share of the housework and child rearing. Others remained but scaled back their ambitions to meet outsized demands. I watched as the promise my generation had for female leadership dwindled. By the time I had been at Google for a few years, I realised that the problem wasn’t going away. So even though the through still scared me, I decided it was time to stop putting head down and to start speaking out.”


Fraught topic, this one. In the interests of disclosing my personal biases: I work in what used to be, and still is at senior levels, a male-dominated professional services industry. 14% of the partners at my firm are women. I haven’t encountered much sexism at work although I’ve encountered the odd isolated incident. I’m pretty introverted and “head down and work hard” is my Plan A for anything. I’m not sure I want to lead anything (I’d much rather be y in “behind every successful x is a y”) but I’m not willing to rule it out. Oh, and I’m closely related to a bona fide glass-ceiling smasher.

Sandberg examines any number of areas where she feels that Women (I capitalise to indicate my scepticism about this kind of generalisation) are sabotaging their futures through various innate or culturally-trained personality aspects. My favourite chapter was “Don’t Leave Before You Leave” – stop turning down fantastic opportunities or actively backing away from opportunities because they might conflict with your future priorities.

The writing is at an appropriate register – approachable without being overly simplified. I can’t find any references to a ghost writer and it feels quite personally open. Sandberg digs out plenty of anecdotes (which, in my humble opinion, make any kind of non-fiction psychology/management book much more readable), a decent proportion of which would have caused me great embarrassment to have on the printed page! There is also plenty of common sense in here, some of which surprised me, some of which struck me as blindingly obvious. So lots of decent “life in business” tips for people from pretty much any background.

Somehow though, even though I read it straight through on a Friday afternoon, this is lacking something. I don’t know whether it’s because I’m not sure I have the Will To Lead of the front cover, or whether I found this, like corporate life today, fails to acknowledge that some exceptionally talented people may not want to make it to the top for prominence and recognition, but rather to leverage their talent in some other form of reward. Sandberg is so busy saying “you can do it” that there is no room for anything else. There is a deeper lesson here though, which gets lost in the bullish “you can do it” – which is the perhaps more-commonly heard “do your best”.

This is refreshingly honest, an important book to be out there, and full of helpful thoughts, but somehow not as life-changing as I thought it would be. (I thought the same of Quiet).

Additional information:

Copy bought for me by The Book Accumulator on an expensive family trip to Waterstones Piccadilly.
Publisher: WH Allen, 173 paperback pages 
Order Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Leadfrom Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting

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