Leaning In

I just finished reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In…. twice over. And I think I can read it again and continue to have insights into what she’s communicating in it.

I haven’t read a book that so clearly and effectively articulates the multi-dimensional issues that women face not just in the workplace but also generally in modern society today. I like to think of myself as a leader that works hard to create an equitable environment for all of my team members and appreciates the phenomenal problem solving capabilities and creativity of a diverse team. I also like to think of myself as a spouse that treats my partner as an equal with regard to both career and child care. But Sandberg’s personal examples as a spouse and mother from her time at Google and Facebook make me realize that there’s much more than I should be doing — both in terms of an example that I set at the office or at home and the environment that I can create at the workplace to help my team members.

But the most interesting insight for me was Sandberg’s career advice to Lean In is directly applicable to my own career. So what I took away from it regarding being a leader or regarding my personal career is as follows….in no particular order:

  • Take risks. This isn’t a new insight for me but a reiteration that nothing great ever comes from being risk-averse. This isn’t to say that we should start playing Russian roulette. But in life, personal or work, taking risks comes with phenomenal rewards (or richness of learnings)
  • Perfection isn’t necessary: Sandberg makes mention of a poster at Facebook that says “Done is better than Perfect”. Enough said.
  • Prioritize what’s most important in life or work. The 80–20 rule is best applied liberally to ensure that you have the right amount of focus on the most important things.
  • Keep learning. It’s not particularly important to stick to a functional area or go broad into multiple functions from a career perspective. The important thing is to find yourself continuing to learn. Constant learning is to the key to a fulfilling and successful career.
  • Support your partner. Give your partner (male or female) the latitude to Lean In. Whether that’s by being a good listener, a career mentor or by being an equal child care provider, career and family success do not have to be mutually exclusive.

In spite of the last bullet point above, I do think that practically achieving the harmony of twin career and family life successes is very hard. Sandberg and her husband were a rare breed. We can each probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of executives that we know that have a spouse with an equally successful career. More often than not, couples come to the conclusion that one must take a back seat in order to allow the other to truly achieve their career potential.

Here’s hoping that more couples find a way to both Lean In — in the personal and professional space.