Lean In Summary: Sheryl Sandberg

Lean In Summary

Lean In Summary provides a free book summary, key takeaways, review, top quotes, author biography and other key points of Sheryl Sandberg’s book. It shows you how senior executive Sheryl Sandberg dealt with family versus career struggle.

This book Lean In written by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg became popular even before its release. The book is about females in the workplace. Many critics had their share of premature worries. For example, a white billionaire female exec putting the burden of inequality on low-income females. They thought that she might not distinguish between privileged, educated females. And, also the ones who do not have the same luxury of choice. But, the subject of the book should not have been a surprise to readers. And, even the early critics. After all, it was her subject for the 2011 commencement speech at Barnard College. Also, it was the topic of her famous 2010 TED Talk. This video now has over 6 million views.

“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” 

Maybe Sandberg predicted such criticism. That is why she included disclaimers all through the book. She even recognizes that not every woman shares her ambition or advantages. We believe that her classic touches every right stone.    

Many may have been jealous of Sandberg when her book published in 2013. But, they may have empathized with her when her husband died in 2015. She has spoken on many times about how she coped with this loss. Of, how she refocused on her kids and her job. Sandberg gave an inspiring commencement speech in 2016 at the University of California. She said, “during tough times, I hope you remember that inside you, is the ability to grow. You do not have a fixed quantity of resilience. Instead, it is like a muscle. You can build it up when you need.”

“Done is better than perfect.” 

Lean In Summary

Before “Lean In”

Sandberg is a Harvard graduate. She was first working at World Bank for her mentor Lawrence Summers. Then she went on to earn her MBA. After, that she spent a year at McKinsey. But, she again joined her mentor as his chief of staff when he was Treasury Secretary. She was later the VP of global online sales and operations at Google. Her most recent position is that of Facebook COO. Facebook became the medium for her book.

The huge uproar before and after Lean In’s release proved a key point. That is, women’s role in the workplace is an emotional subject. It touches many sensitive nerves. For example, the tension between stay-at-home and working moms. Or, the disadvantages females face for prioritizing families overwork. The examples also include sexism at work. It even stresses one of the main claims of Sandberg. That is, the lack of women in senior roles puts the few ones under high scrutiny. This turns them into a representative of their whole gender. Regardless of their intention to take up this role. Consider Marissa Mayer, CEO, and President of Yahoo. She was highly criticized when she said she would work during her maternity leave. Sandberg confesses that she was not ready to talk about gender issues initially. She knew that this would place her under a harsh spotlight.

Her friends also warned her of the likely consequences. They feared she would be typecast as another vocal feminist exec. And not be known as the COO of Facebook. Plus, speaking from the platform exposed her to criticisms. The ones which every female who dares to talk about inequality at work face. Ignorant men may typecast her as man-hating, humorless woman. Someone who is threatening a suit or seeking special treatment.

“In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.” 

Climbing the Leadership Ladder

The main subject of Sandberg’s bestseller though controversial is unarguable. There is a lack of women in senior leadership roles in government and corporates. In 2007, females held little less than 17% seats on the Board of Directors in the US. The percentage was similar to female managers who got promoted to execs.

It is true for the government sector too. In 2013, females only had 18% seats in the Congress. These figures beg to ask the question Sandberg tried to answer. Why? What is about the USA that makes it tough for females to get promoted. Especially to senior leadership positions.

Sandberg cleverly finds and explores the factors which keep females out from top-leadership. Despite the initial response to the book, her findings are not controversial. Nor are the especially revolutionary.

But, sadly, the factors limiting females’ rise to the top still exist. And, the worst of all, there is no improvement. Every day in workplaces globally, females face direct/indirect harassment, inequality, and sexism. Options for flextime and child care are still limited. This forces women to pick between their careers and families. Plus, it is tougher for females to find mentors relative to men. And, they should also work harder to get the same recognition.

Suggested Reading: Good to Great Summary: Jim Collins

Suggested Reading: Outliers Summary: Malcolm Gladwell

Are You Blocking Your Own Progress?

Sandberg warns that women also create barriers for themselves in the workplace. But, she also mentions that even she had the same behavior. She writes in general that women lack self-confidence. Hence, they tend to undervalue themselves. They are even less assertive and hesitant to self-promote and negotiate. Plus, they want everyone to like them. This, Sandberg says, can weaken their authority.

Sandberg gives many suggestions for how to beat their internal barriers. She asks females to sit at the table. To not be hesitant to lean in and speak up. Sandberg says once she did not take her seat at the conference table at a meeting. The meeting was on an unfamiliar topic. And, instead, she sat in the corner of the room. She also says that women execs who speak up pay a big price. Peers and seniors may recognize the achievements of such women. But they typecast them as too political or aggressive. Or someone whom they cannot trust. The irony is, men with the same qualities are respected everywhere.

Sandberg encourages the equal division of labor at home. She urges females to make their partner an actual partner. Studies show some disturbing findings. Females working full-time still do the major part of the household chores. This includes childcare too. Sandberg observed one common phenomenon among her women staff who were planning families. They started leaning back. That is, they rejected offers of extra responsibilities at work. They even refused promotions. And all of this even before they became pregnant. This hampered their professional growth. When you got to leave, leave. But, before that, be fully involved.

“We cannot change what we are not aware of, and once we are aware, we cannot help but change.” 

What She Didn’t Say

Sandberg’s suggestion on fighting internal barriers is convincing. But, most of it can come from any knowledgeable, feminist social scientist. She does not cite the benefits companies get if they have more females in leadership roles. Also, readers may want to know how Sandberg reached the top of the corporate ladder. What are the strategies to use in the corporate USA to ensure gender equality?

But, readers will see that Sandberg’s examples relate to them. They will connect with many working females’ lives. Especially the ones who have to balance work and families. Even her critics would admit one thing. Having a visible COO speak up about workplace sexism is an essential conversation starter. Sandberg has moved up the ladder. Hence, she gives the outlook of a seasoned fighter looking from the top.

Suggested Reading: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Summary: Stephen R. Covey

Suggested Reading: Think and Grow Rich Summary: Napoleon Hill

Lean In Review

From a reader’s perspective, the book reads like a write-up which has been written too soon. Sheryl Sandberg is thinking out loud. She jumps from one idea to the other, replete with positive intentions but brimming with anomalies. Speak up for yourself, but do not upset the boos. Seek assistance from an experienced female, but do not look for a mentor. This appears to be a prescription for how to stand up for yourself until you implode from exhaustion.

Sandberg’s approach to the subject, in general, is calmative, deftly inoffensive. She always jumps in with what she does not mean, always the first to explain what may become a criticism against her.

Sandberg makes some interesting and incredible points for the ones who are climbing the career ladder, particularly before planning families. The first half of this handbook is surely illuminating. However, the second half of the book where she talks about balancing work and family life, may not be relatable to many readers. It is because she writes for a highly limited audience.

Having said this, this bestseller still makes for a good read because as Sandberg said, “Done is better than ideal.” This book is worth a read because of Sandberg’s observations about internal sexism are sadly true. Lean In carries the potential to be an essential handbook if an extensive gamut of females than the ones talked about in its pages begin hashing out the best ideas of Sandberg. It is refreshing and heartening to have a female with such a podium, talk about sexism. In a world replete with crude and at times aggressive misogyny, Sandberg follows the first axiom of corporate organizing: Begin where you are. So, let the conversations begin in families and organizations all around the world.

Suggested Reading: The Power of Habit Summary: Charles Duhigg

Suggested Reading: The Tipping Point Summary: Malcolm Gladwell

Lean In Quotes

“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” 

“Done is better than perfect.” 

“When looking for a life partner, my advice to women is date all of them: the bad boys, the cool boys, the commitment-phobic boys, the crazy boys. But do not marry them. The things that make the bad boys sexy do not make them good husbands. 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. These men exist and, trust me, over time, nothing is sexier.” 

“In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.” 

“We cannot change what we are not aware of, and once we are aware, we cannot help but change.” 

“Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.”

“Careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder.” 

“There is no perfect fit when you’re looking for the next big thing to 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.” 

“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” 

“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.” 

“Fortune does favor the bold and you’ll never know what you’re capable of if you don’t try.” 

“But the upside of painful knowledge is so much greater than the downside of blissful ignorance.” 

“I hope you find true meaning, contentment, and passion in your life. I hope you navigate the difficult times and come out with greater strength and resolve. I hope you find whatever balance you seek with your eyes wide open. And I hope that you – yes, you – have the ambition to lean in to your career and run the world. Because the world needs you to change it.” 

“Success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively for women. When a man is successful, he is liked by both men and women. When a woman is successful, people of both genders like her less.” 

“I have never met a woman, or man, who stated emphatically, “Yes, I have it all.'” Because no matter what any of us has—and how grateful we are for what we have—no one has it all.” 

“Motivation comes from working on things we care about. It also comes from working with people we care about.” 

“She explained that many people, but especially women, feel fraudulent when they are praised for their accomplishments. Instead of feeling worthy of recognition, they feel undeserving and guilty, as if a mistake has been made. Despite being high achievers, even experts in their fields, women can’t seem to shake the sense that it is only a matter of time until they are found out for who they really are- impostors with limited skills or abilities.” 

“When woman work outside the home and share breadwinning duties, couples are more likely to stay together. In fact, the risk of divorce reduces by about half when a wife earns half the income and a husband does half the housework.” 

“I realized that searching for a mentor has become the professional equivalent of waiting for Prince Charming. We all grew up on the fairy tale “Sleeping Beauty,” which instructs young women that if they just wait for their prince to arrive, they will be kissed and whisked away on a white horse to live happily ever after. Now young women are told that if they can just find the right mentor, they will be pushed up the ladder and whisked away to the corner office to live happily ever after. Once again, we are teaching women to be too dependent on others.” 

“We compromise our career goals to make room for partners and children who may not even exist yet” 

About the Author

Sheryl Sandberg was the chief staff in the US Treasury Department. She was also Google’s VP of global online sales and operations. Now she holds the position of Facebook’s COO.


Having read this Lean In Summary, what do you think? Do you have any thought you would like to share with us? Please feel free to do so. We are happy to further discuss with you!

Suggested Reading: Who Moved My Cheese Summary: Stephen Johnson

Suggested Reading: David and Goliath Summary Malcolm Gladwell



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here