Lean In

"Our culture needs to find a robust image of female success that is first, not male, and second, not a white woman on the phone, holding a crying baby."

- Lean In, page 49

We might be decades past the Women’s Rights Movement and the Roe v. Wade decision, but Sheryl Sandberg believes that we are at the precipice of a new women’s movement and it’s happening in offices across the globe. In her book Lean In, Sandberg tackles issues of gender inequality in corporate leadership, but her stance on this issue might take you by surprise.

Drawing on personal experience as well as stories collected from other women, Sandberg tells the tale of how women unintentionally hold themselves back in their careers. The result of which is that women make up less than 14% of executive officer positions and 18% of congressional officials. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead is the antidote to this imbalance. It is a handbook complete with steps that women can take to achieve both professional and personal fulfillment, and stop holding back.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

We hold ourselves back

"Internal obstacles are rarely discussed and often underplayed."
- Lean In, page 9

Sandberg is certainly not the first woman to take on the issue of women in leadership, but she does so in such a counterintuitive way that you can’t help but pay attention. She proposes institutional barriers will be torn down once women are in more leadership roles. And, in order for women to get those leadership roles, women must start with themselves. Marianne Williamson once said, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.”  I can think of no better quote that captures the essence of what Sandberg is suggesting.

Some of the internal barriers that women commonly face are: lack of self-confidence, having unattainable standards, trying to do it all yourself, not living in the present and achieving authenticity. Sandberg says that when women overcome these barriers they can fully “lean in” to their careers and become comfortable with ambition. This is an interesting, yet not entirely new concept in the personal development world. Anthony Robbins has certainly capitalized on the debilitating effect fear can have on an individual. This made me wonder if the issues Sandberg discusses really are exclusive to women, or if there’s some universal truth to them.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Success is Making the Best Choices ... and Accepting Them

"When I remember that no one can do it all and identify my real priorities at home and at work, I feel better, and I am more productive in the office and probably a better mother as well."
- Lean In, page 138

As a mother with two children, Sandberg is very familiar with the challenges working mothers face. Even for women who are not mothers, there are some takeaways from this GEM. Chiefly, that no one can do it all and maintain sanity in the process. To combat this lone and perfect ranger syndrome, Sandberg suggests the following:

  • Accept what you can do: Understand what you enjoy doing and can reasonably get done in the time allotted. This is really a process of coming to terms with our natural limitations.
  • Do it well: Once you’ve committed to what you can do, commit to doing it with excellence and integrity.
  • Outsource: Seek help for tasks that can easily be done by someone else.
  • Share the load: If you have a spouse, ensure that they take part in running the house.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life


"Don’t wait for power to be offered. Like that tiara, it might never materialize."
- Lean In, page 63

One of the lessons that surfaces throughout the book is that women don’t ask nearly enough. We don’t ask for help. We don’t ask for raises. We don’t ask for flexibility. The list goes on. Yet, anyone who has experienced some degree of success will tell you that they didn’t get there alone.

At first, I thought this was about asking for permission, which I don’t necessarily agree with. But I came to realize and appreciate that Sandberg is encouraging women to take action; asking is merely the means to the end. She encourages women to be open to taking risks in their careers and also taking opportunities when they are available. “[T]here is no perfect fit when you’re looking for the next big thing to do. You have to take the opportunities and make an opportunity fit for you, rather than the other way around”.

Lean In offers readers a wealth of interesting stories and advice from a woman who has clearly conquered corporate America. But what’s more is that this conversation about women’s leadership can be enhanced further if men understand the scope of the issues. Lean In is a book that anyone will benefit from reading.

In what ways do you hold back in your career? What can you do to “lean in?”

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Vanessa Chase

ABOUT Vanessa Chase

I am a fundraising strategist and copywriter, and run the non-profit resource website, Philanthropy For All. Through my work, my goal is to help passionate non-profit folks better articulate their non-profit’s impact and work is a way that translates to engaged philanthropic communities...
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