Thoughts on “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg

I recently finished reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In.  The book has received both praise and criticism and it motivated me to take action.  Sheryl states in her book, “Let’s begin a dialogue.”  One of my colleagues at work, Debra Gmelin, says “Let’s create a movement.”  Regardless of the terminology, I’m in and willing to take some steps to start something.

For years, I have been passionate about professional development for women and am choosing to go ‘bigger’ if you will, in engaging a broader audience.  Given the fast pace at which the health industry is anticipated to grow over the next few years, what better place to begin than with you, my industry peers.

To begin, in each of the next few weeks, I will review a section of Sandberg’s book, provide my perspective and welcome commentary from others.  I’ll build off of the comments and questions I receive and we’ll take it from there.  Feel free to share this link with others who might find it to be of interest.  I look forward to co-creating a conversation that helps more women become successful business leaders.

Speak loudly, step boldly!


Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
The introduction to Sandberg’s book makes it clear – two barriers inhibit women’s ability to become powerful leaders: institutional and internal barriers.  Sandberg acknowledges the institutional barriers; however, her focus throughout the book is on the internal barriers.  Sandberg refers to these barriers as “ … barriers that exist within ourselves.  We hold ourselves back.  In ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands and by pulling back when we should be leaning in.  We internalize the negative messages we get throughout our lives – the messages that say it is wrong to be outspoken, aggressive, more powerful than men.”1

The decision to focus on the internal barriers came with criticism.  Some detractors felt that by not focusing on the institutional obstacles, Sandberg was putting struggling women in an even more challenging position.  Sandberg views the issue not as an ‘either or’ but as an ‘and’.  I agree.  Our dialogue should involve both the internal and institutional challenges including ideas on how to tear down any barriers so women aren’t climbing over them while men are sprinting down a less rocky path.

Other criticism was directed at the fact that Sandberg is wealthy and can afford to pay for the help needed to manage a household and career at the same time.  Can Sandberg really relate to women who are struggling to make ends meet or who have partners that are not willing to pitch in and do their fair share of work?  With whom does a single mother share duties?  While Sandberg does not provide explicit tactics, she shares enough insights that we can translate to our own situations.  For example, I recall as a former single parent leaning on and supporting other single mothers I had befriended, whether we were providing last-minute child care services or taking another child to soccer practice.  When I decided to go to grad school, my father drove 20 miles out of his way once per week so I could take a statistics class prior to gaining acceptance.  If we get a little bit creative, we can determine how to get and give support to help ourselves and others.

Finally, I applaud Sandberg for sharing her personal experiences: failing to raise her hand, not tooting her own horn when warranted and listening to those inner voices telling her she was a fraud even though she was as qualified as others for her position.  As I read through the book, I could relate to the fears and concerns and to being told I was too aggressive.

I look forward to sharing my views on additional chapters over the next few weeks and hope you will join me in the journey and become part of the dialogue. 

 1Sandberg, Sheryl, Lean In (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013)July 12th, 2013 9:58am women in leadership sheryl sandberg lean in Beth Bierbower