How to: Lean In

Before my trip to St. Maarten last month, I was gifted with a little vacation reading material from my boyfriend’s parents. The book: Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. Yes, they’ve got me figured out.

Part memoir (even though she lightly denies it) part career advice, Lean In is a must-read for any woman in the workforce (and the men who want to understand them). I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from the book, but I certainly wasn’t expecting it to have dozens of pages of sources and an index. Everything Sandberg talks about is meticulously backed up by research – something I can’t help but appreciate.

I began reading it poolside on our last day, with a little munchkin in my lap, and devoured it. In three words, Lean In is practical, relatable and inspiring. Here are three key lessons from Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg.

Lean In Review - Sheryl Sandberg - Leopard is a Neutral - Stephanie Fusco

How to lean in:

  1. Say goodbye to the corporate ladder: it’s more like a jungle gym.

    “Ladders are limiting – people can move up or down, on or off. Jungle gyms offer more creative exploration. There’s only one way to get to the top of a ladder, but there are many ways to get to the top of a jungle gym” (53).

    In my first job, I was continuously nervous about my next move. I was lucky enough to start my career off with a great title, well “above” where most of my peers began. However, starting off at the middle of the ladder made me fearful. What I feared most was not a lateral move, but one that would appear to be a step down. In the end, I took that “step down” on the ladder, but across on the jungle gym and couldn’t be happier. Sandberg makes the point that corporate ladders are a thing of the past. Sure, you’ll advance in your career and take on new challenges, but they may no longer be in the straight, vertical way you once expected. Instead of mapping out your career from the start, you can rest assured that every detour and even a dead end is still an opportunity to move in a desirable direction.

  2. Diagnose your Tiara Syndrome + step up to the plate.

    “In a perfect meritocracy, tiaras would be doled out to the deserving, but I have yet to see one floating around an office. Hard work and results should be recognized by others, but when they aren’t advocating for oneself becomes necessary” (63).

    No, Sandberg isn’t accusing women of acting like princesses at work. Instead, she’s referencing Carol Frohlinger and Deborah Kolb, the founders of Negotiating Women, Inc. Frohlinger and Kolb describe Tiara Syndrome where women “expect that if they keep doing their job well someone will notice them and place a tiara on their head” (63). The reality is that many women are afraid to ask (or don’t think they should ask) for the very things that men would ask for in a heartbeat: a raise, a promotion, simple recognition. I know that I’ve found myself in this situation before and have even defended my position to others. “It doesn’t work that way,” I would say, “I shouldn’t have to tell someone how awesome I am. If I do a good job and people see that, I’ll be awarded with the milestones”. Note: this is not a winning career strategy. I’m happy to say that since reading Sandberg’s book I’ve doffed my tiara (at least most of the time). I’m working on asking for what I want and need, even if I need a little kick in the pants (like the much-needed one I recently got from a colleague) along the way.

  3. Be open to a partner (and pick the right one).

    “When it comes time to settle down, find someone who wants an equal partner. Someone who thinks women should be smart, opinionated and ambitious. Someone who values fairness and expects, or even better, wants to do his share in the home” (115). 

    This advice from Sandberg hit home for me and I hope it does for you, too. Even with changing norms, many women believe they’ll either have to do it all or choose between family and career success. When you have a partner who considers you their equal, you don’t have to choose. This isn’t an excuse to fall into the trap of being a woman who “has it all” and does it flawlessly (note: these people aren’t really real), but it is a plea for women to partner up with someone who wants to be in a partnership. When you have an equal partner, childcare (or “who works”) becomes less of a thorny issue. Who makes more is less of an issue (or a non-issue altogether). Whose career matters doesn’t come down to a patriarchal default. Sandberg wants women to know that they don’t have to choose between moving up and starting a family.

Poolside Reading - Leopard is a Neutral

Learning to Lean In poolside with a future leader

If you’ve been waffling about whether or not to read Lean In, do yourself a favour and pick it up. Whether or not you agree with Sandberg, her musings are thought-provoking. I, for one, am more than ready to lean in to my career.
Lean In