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Book Review: Leaning Back and Reading Sheryl Sandberg

During Spring Break I read Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. I was going to do a video review of it because everything that could be written about it has been. It’s a book that will either inspire or tire you out. It wore me out but you might be surprised why.

Sandberg is unlikeable in her book. I understand that in order to make an omelet you’ve got to break a few eggs but this book is over the top filled with advice that makes no sense to anyone who doesn’t want to be a C level executive.

Worth noting is that most of the world does not want to be a C Level Executive. I love advice about taking up space and not sitting in the back of the room when men take the table. I actually had that happen recently at NBC when they invited a bunch of bloggers to their news room. The conference room table (which probably seated 20 people) was filled not just with NBC staffers but with all male NBC staffers and standing behind them around the room were guests. It was strange to me that they wanted to make a good impression on the community but they weren’t concerned enough to give up their seats at the table.

So yeah, when Sheryl Sandberg says that women should sit at the table she is not speaking figuratively and we women should listen.

Sandberg talks about the import of picking a great spouse. Check. Done. That’s a totally different book with a boat load of chapters.

Sandberg asserts and reasserts that women in the workplace are unlikable if they have strong personalities. The subtext of this is that not liking a powerful woman (like Sandberg) is an antifeminist statement and part of the patriarchy.

When Sandberg talks about corporate culture, parking for pregnant women, maternity leave and things of that sort I agree with her but I don’t know that I have to give up my life and be a COO, CEO, CFO or CMO of a Fortune 500 company to get those tasks accomplished.

When Sandberg drones on and on about the multitude of ways she is a fantastic wife and mother all because she works I tune out. I’m not tuning out because I think she’s a bad mother. I’m tuning out because I now recognize that this book is her absolution  She’s tired of people calling her bitchy and she’s tired of people calling her a bad mother so the running theme of the book is to insert random studies that tell you working mothers are the best mothers and anecdotes that make you a bad person if you think a woman who happens to be in power is unlikable.

This brings me to my two major problems with the book. Sandberg wrote a book for people who want to be C Level Executives, not just women but people. A very small percentage of the population want to be C Level execs at huge corporations. When I look at Sandberg, Richard Branson, Kevin Mansell, or Larry Page I don’t look at their lives with envy. I don’t look at them with pity either. Their lifestyles, their goals and their achievements are as relevant to my life as building an igloo, training a seal or digging a coal mine. I never want to give up that much of my life for anything. I don’t want a marriage like that or a family like that. Most of the people in America aren’t interested in a Fortune 500 CEO/COO lifestyle. Not most of the women, most of the people.

This doesn’t mean I’m not ambitious or that most of America isn’t ambitious but my life’s goals won’t be met at a publicly traded company. So yes, I lean back, not in.

Lean In is manipulative. The thread running through the book about how bossy little girls are really just great leaders might be true (it also might not) but there’s another saying that Sandberg forgets to mention: “It’s lonely at the top.” This has nothing to do with gender and everything to do with that fact that people don’t like taking orders from people day in and day out. People don’t universally love their bosses and it has nothing to do with XX or XY chromosomes.

Lean In was written in a defensively first person tone and I found myself not liking Ms. Sandberg much. I don’t like the way she writes, I didn’t like that I spent money on a book that should have just been an essay and I really didn’t like that she knew people wouldn’t like her and set it up so that critics would automatically be the bad guys because no one likes a strong woman.

I can’t even be bothered with the parenting advice from this one. Peppered throughout the book are references to the fact that she almost always has dinner with her kids. Which is awesome. Kids are totally looking for dinner companions.

If you’ve heard Sandberg speak you’ve read the book. There are no nuggets of wisdom hidden there unless you’re looking for her job, in which case you should totally buy the book.