by Amy Ostrowski
Alright, I’ll admit it: I was hesitant to write this post. As COO of Facebook, Sandberg does work within the technology field, but she does not write about tech. On a selfish note, I was flat-out scared of being labeled a man hater for even bringing up this book, let alone suggesting any sort of praise for Sandberg’s words (for the record—and all cited scientific studies aside—I have studied with, and worked alongside and under, extraordinarily talented women and men who have supported my career growth and personal development).
But as I wrapped up Lean In, I knew that not writing this post wasn’t an option. Yes, this book has been the subject of widespread criticism, and there are parts that simply are not immediately relevant to me given my age, experience, marital status, etc. But what I believe have been glossed over (and please note that I’m not claiming to have read every review of this book—there are simply too many) are the thoughtful truisms and mantras for both sexes that Sandberg presents. Her manifesto is largely about the dynamic between women and men in the workplace and in the home, as well as her own experiences of gender discrimination, but it does not have to read as a book that is solely about women, for women, and by a woman. Sandberg offers invaluable advice for anyone—female or male, in tech- or non-tech-based fields.
A simple blog post isn’t sufficient for covering every point I bookmarked, but it’s a good place to start. And with that, I present to you three key, non-gender-specific takeaways from Lean In:
1. “Leadership roles are not the only way to have a profound impact” (27). Being junior in an organization can be scary, but regardless of your age and experience, you can make an impact. As Sandberg suggests, get good at receiving, and eventually delivering, feedback early on (a skill which will help you immensely in progressing your career). Raise your hand to help your manager; how can you make his or her life easier and more productive? Tout the work of your peers; everyone loves a team advocate, and others might be too shy to speak to their own their own achievements. Lead from within.
2. “Every job will demand some sacrifice. The key is to avoid unnecessary sacrifice. This is especially hard since our work culture values complete dedication. We worry that even mentioning other priorities makes us less valuable employees” (164). This is a toughie, but I’m glad Sandberg brought this up. Throughout my life, I’ve been told (or warned, rather, by my parents, peers, professors, etc.) that I’m a workaholic in the making; for example, for years I chose being in the office or near my computer versus stepping away to hit the gym. I literally didn’t work out for a year and half, even though I’d been an avid runner since high school. I felt lazy, sure, but all was right because I was available to my team and my clients at a moment’s notice—right? WRONG! The truth of the matter, I finally learned, was that not only is there no formula, but the two don’t have to be entirely separate entities, if I don’t want them to be (I also learned that it can be pretty concerning, and even annoying, to others when I’m responding to client emails at midnight). Does it make me more comfortable and productive to know that if I leave work every day by a certain hour, I might need to log in later but I’ll also get my daily workout in? Yes, yes it does. Does anyone hold it against me? Not that I know of, no; in fact, I’ve received very positive feedback from others who have noticed that I’m actively working to make my personal life more fulfilling, and I’ve even found that my productivity and output have positively increased with this change. In fact, I think everyone has breathed a sigh of relief.
I’m in no way suggesting that it’s my way or the highway for everyone—you need to find the best mixture of work and life for you—but I promise you, as does Sandberg, that actively aligning the interplay of the two according to your needs is a step in the right direction.
3. “Finding a mentor is not a magic solution; the mentor does not do the work for you, nor do they solve all your problems. That is not their job (as much as you might wish that it was—how much easier would life be?) (75).” Have you ever been to a presentation where the speaker has attributed much of their success to having great mentors, and you’ve immediately thought “(expletive), I don’t have a mentor—MUST. ACT. IMMEDIATELY=FIND. MENTOR!”? Well, I have. But that is not how it works: not only do you not just “find” a mentor at will, but also you cannot expect that said mentor will immediately be your personal advocate and sponsor, and boost you up your career ladder/across your jungle gym/etc. “Mentors” aren’t just floating around the office, waiting for you to come find them; this I know from attending one of the largest public universities in the U.S., and also having worked at a company with tens of thousands of employees. What has served me best is building relationships, networking, and maintaining genuine contact with those folks—male and female—who I “know” are compatible with me. Have I asked my manager for recommendations for whom to meet when I’m visiting other offices (and felt extremely awkward through the first few conversations)? Of course! Have some relationships lasted longer than others? Sure thing. And that’s okay; not everyone you meet will be your mentor, and you have to work to make this an effective, two-way relationship. Quality over quantity isn’t Sandberg’s key takeaway, but it’s been a good lesson for me, and one that might be applicable to you.
The above is not an exhaustive list; I firmly believe that Sandberg offers many more nuggets of advice for both men and women (gender dynamics aside) regardless of the stages of one’s career and personal life. But the above truly struck a chord with me, and I would encourage anyone—whether you’re a female in technology or not—to consider Sandberg’s words. She’s certainly a force to be reckoned with, but she’s had her missteps along the way, as we each have had, and will continue to have. And just as Sandberg challenges others to reflect, I encourage you, reader, to do the same—and make the changes you feel are needed to make your path in the “real-world” the best it can be.
For more information, check out leanin.org