11 Highlights You Should Know From Sheryl Sandberg’s Bestseller: Lean In

“A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes.” That, according to Sheryl Sandberg would make our world a better place. Throughout her book, she shares tips, inspiring quotes and her experiences that revolve around the theme of women empowerment in the workplace that aim to inspire women to get rid of all the internal barriers that is critical to gaining power and being successful leaders. This book is her contribution to the revolution towards a shift to a more equal world, as she aims to inspire all woman to lean in and help them increase their chances of making it to the top with their full potential.


Each chapter of Lean In comes with its own message and advice for women, and while the book comes in 11 chapters,  I’d like to quote some highlights from each chapter that I find inspiring and beneficial.

Highlight #1 – Do what you would if you weren’t afraid

Fear is at the root of so many of the barriers that women face. Fear of not being liked. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of drawing negative attention. Fear of overreaching. Fear of being judged. Fear of failure. And the holy trinity of fear: the fear of being a bad mother/wife/daughter. Without fear, women can pursue professional success and personal fulfilment – and freely choose one, or the other, or both. At Facebook, we work hard to create a culture where people are encouraged to take risks. We have posters all around the office that reinforce this attitude. In bright red letters, one declares, ‘Fortune favours the bold.’ Another insists, ‘Proceed and be bold’. My favourite reads, ‘What would you do it you weren’t afraid?'”

Highlight #2 – Take the opportunities in front of you and make them fit you

“Padmasree Warrior, Cisco’s chief technology officer, was asked by The Huffington Post, ‘What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from a mistake you’ve made in the past?‘ She responded, ‘I said no to a lot of opportunities when I was just starting out because I thought, ‘That’s not what my degree is in’ or ‘I don’t know about that domain.’ In retrospect, at a certain point it’s your ability to to learn quickly and contribute quickly that matters. One of the things I tell people these days is that there is no perfect fit when you’re looking for the next big thing you do. You have to take opportunities and make an opportunity fit for you, rather than the other way around. The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.”

Highlight #3 – Be confident with yourself and avoid self doubt

“If a women pushes to get the job done, if she’s highly competent, if she focuses on results rather than on pleasing others, she’s acting like a man. And if she acts like a man people dislike her. In response to this negative reaction, we temper our professional goals. Author Ken Auletta summarised this phenomenon in The New Yorker when he observed that for women, ‘self-doubt becomes a form of self-defense.’ In order to protect ourselves from being disliked, we question our abilities and downplay our achievement, especially in the presence of others. We put ourselves down before others can.”

Highlight # 4 – Explore new options for you career and don’t be afraid to take risks

“The most common metaphor for careers is a ladder, but this concept no longer applies to most workers. As of 2010, the average American had eleven jobs from the ages eighteen to forty-sixe alone. This means that the days of joining an organisation or corporation and staying there to climb that one ladder are long gone. Lori often quotes Pattie Sellers, who conceived a much better metaphor: ‘Careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder.’ As Lori describes it, ladders are limiting – people can move up or down, or 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.”

One reason women avoid stretch assignments and new challenges is that they worry too much about whether they currently have the skills they need for a new role. This can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, since so many abilities are acquired on the job. An internal report at Hewlett-Packard revealed that women only apply for open jobs if they think they meet 100 percent requirement of the criteria listed. Men apply if they think they meet 60 percent of the requirements. This difference has a huge ripple effect. Women need to shift from thinking ‘I’m not ready to do that’ to thinking ‘I want to do that-and I’ll learn by doing it.'”

Highlight # 5 – Be yourself, excel, then you will find a mentor

“Studies show that mentors select proteges based on performance and potential. Intuitively people invest in those who stand out for their talent or who can really benefit from help. Mentors continue to invest when mentees use their time well and are truly open to feedback. It may turn into a friendship, but the foundation is a professional relationship. Given this, I believe we have sent the wrong message to young women. We need to stop telling them, ‘Get a mentor and you will excel.’ Instead, we need to tell them, ‘Excel and you will get a mentor.'”

Highlight # 6 – Be honest and open to people you work with to foster a closer work relationship

“Sharing emotions builds deeper relationships. Motivation comes from working on things we care about. It also comes from working with people we care about. To really care about others, we have to understand them-what they like and dislike, what they feel as well as think. Emotion drives both men and women and influences every decision we make. Recognising the role emotions play and being willing to discuss them makes us better managers, partners and peers.”

“People often pretend that professional decisions are not affected by their personal lives. They are afraid to talk about their home situations at work as if one should never interfere with the other, when of course they can and do.”

Highlight # 7 – Plan ahead, but not too far

“As I’ve mentioned, I’m a big believer in thoughtful preparation. Everywhere I go, I carry a little notebook with my to-do-life – an actual notebook that I write in with an actual pen. (In the tech world, this is like carrying a stone tablet and chisel.) But when it comes to integrating career and family, planning too far in advance can close doors rather than open them. I have seen this happen over and over. Women rarely make one big decision along the way, making accommodations and sacrifices that they believe will be required to have a family.”

“What I am arguing is that the time to scale back is when a break is needed or when a child arrives-not before, and certainly not years in advance.”

Highlight # 8 – Choose a partner who understands your goals and supports you all the way

“I truly believe that the single most important career decision that a woman makes is whether she will have a life partner and who that partner is. I don’t know of one woman in a leadership position whose life partner is not fully – and I mean fully – supportive of her career. No exceptions. And contrary to the popular notion that only unmarried women can make it to the top, the majority of the most successful female business leaders have partners. Of the twenty-eight women who have served as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, twenty-six were married, one was divorced and only one had never married. Many of these CEOs said they ‘could not have succeeded without the support of their husbands, helping with the children, the household chores, and showing a willingness to move.'”

“As more women lean in to their careers, more men need to lean in to their families. We need to encourage men to be more ambitious in their homes. We need more men to sit at the table … the kitchen table.”

Highlight # 9 – Nobody can “do it all”, so don’t worry about making some mistakes here and there

“Trying to do it all and expecting that it can all be done exactly right is a recipe for disappointment. Perfection is the enemy.”

“I know that I can easily spend time focusing on what I’m not doing; like many, I excel at self-flagellation. And even with my vast support system, there are times when I feel pulled in too many directions. But when I dwell less on the conflicts and compromises, and more on being fully engaged with the task at hand, the centre holds and I feel content. I love my job and the brilliant and fascinating people I work with. I also love my time with my kids. A great day is when I rush home from the craziness of the office to have dinner with my family and then sit in the rocking chair in the corner of my daughter’s room with both of my kids on my lap. We rock and read together, just a quiet (okay, not always quiet), joyful moment at the end of their day. They drift off to sleep and I drift (okay, run) back to my laptop.”

“Stanford professor Jennifer Aaker’s work shows that setting obtainable goals is key to happiness. Instead of perfection, we should aim for sustainable and fulfilling. The right question is not ‘Can I do it all?’ but ‘Can I do what’s most important for me and my family?'”  

Highlight # 10 – It’s alright to openly acknowledge about gender inequality and calling yourself a feminism

“But while gender was not openly acknowledged, it was still lurking below the surface. I started to see differences in the attitude towards women.”

“I know it isn’t easy. Anyone who brings up gender in the workplace is wading into deep and muddy waters. The subject itself presents a paradox, forcing us to acknowledge differences while trying to achieve the goal of being treated the same. Women, especially those at junior levels, worry that raising gender issues make them appear unprofessional or as if they are blaming others.”

“There is so much fear that speaking up will make the situation worse or even result in being penalised or fired. It seems safer to bear the injustice.”

“Shutting down discussion is self-defeating and impedes progress. We need to talk and listen and debate and refute and instruct and learn and evolve.”

Highlight # 11 – Reaching true equality is a joint effort between both men and women

“So how do we move forward? First, we must decide that true equality is long overdue and will be achieved only hen more women rise to the top of every government and every industry. Then we have to do the hard work of getting there. All of us – men and women alike – have to understand and acknowledge how stereotypes and biases cloud of beliefs and perpetuate the status quo. Instead of ignoring our differences, we need to accept and transcend them.”

“Until women have supportive employers and colleagues as well as partners who share family responsibilities, they don’t have a real choice. And until mean are fully respected for contributing inside the home, they don’t have a real choice either. Equal opportunity is not equal unless everyone receives encouragement that makes seizing those opportunities possible. Only then can both and men and women achieve their full potential.”


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