10 Things Sheryl Sandberg Gets Exactly Right In ‘Lean In’ (part 2)

I believe that personal motivation is an incredibly complex thing, molded by our internal will but also strongly influenced by the parenting we receive, the peer group that surrounds us as we grow, the educational opportunities we get, the connections we make, as well as the expectations and prejudices of those around us.

Sandberg agrees, at least in part. She cites more than a dozen studies that underline the obstacles women face. One of the most compelling, though 10 years old, still rings true. She calls it the Howard/Heidi study.

Two professors wrote up a case study about a real-life entrepreneur named Heidi Roizen, describing how she became a successful venture capitalist by relying on her outgoing personality and huge personal and professional network.

The professors had a group of students read Roizen’s story with her real name attached and another group read the story with the name changed to “Howard.”

Then the students rated Howard and Heidi on their accomplishments and on how appealing they seemed as colleagues.

While the students rated them equally in terms of success, they thought Howard was likeable while Heidi seemed selfish and not “the type of person you would want to hire or work for.”

Sandberg’s conclusion: when a man is successful, he is well liked. When a woman does well, people like her less.

Sandberg writes about the conundrum this presents for women. Most of us want to be liked. But if our success means that others don’t like us, how motivated are we to do well? Sandberg admits that she has undermined her own accomplishments for fear that others would be turned off.

Then she exhorts women to overcome the Howard/Heidi stereotype and advocate on their own behalf. She tells a concise story to illustrate her point: At her first performance review with Zuckerberg six months into her job at Facebook, he told her that her desire to be liked by everyone was holding her back. If you please everyone, he said, you won’t change anything.

“Mark was right,” she writes. “Everyone needs to get more comfortable with female leaders,” she insists, “including female leaders themselves.”

  1. She makes a strong contrarian point about mentors.

“Don’t Ask Anyone to be Your Mentor,” is the title of one of Sandberg’s chapters. Instead, she advocates asking people both senior and junior to you for specific advice to solve a problem.

This will engender much more productive relationships than a simplistic, general plea for mentoring.

  1. Women should ask their partners to do at least half the parenting work.

Sandberg stakes out controversial ground on this point as well. She says women have to stop being “maternal gatekeepers” and both insist their partners do more parenting and housework and stop trying to control the way their partners do those jobs. She acknowledges that this is difficult but makes a convincing case about how necessary it is if women are going to pursue demanding careers. She also writes about “the myth of doing it all.”

Despite my impression that Sandberg believed women could be corporate titans while somehow magically parenting their kids perfectly at the same time, she writes affectingly about how tough it was for her to find a balance that worked, restricting her time in the office to 9 am to 5:30 every day, having dinner with her kids when she isn’t traveling, and working from home after they go to bed.

  1. It’s important to have this conversation.

Sandberg understands that many women don’t want both a career and family, and that others don’t care about ascending to a power position.

She gets that the majority of working women must struggle to meet monthly expenses and to put food on the table. She acknowledges that she is preaching to the privileged few who have the education and the connections to make it to positions of power.

But she insists that increased numbers of women in leadership roles will help the status and opportunities of all women. She wants women to talk about getting ahead and what it means to seek leadership roles.

  1. Sandberg has written a compelling, readable book.

Though she could have made this volume more preachy and less substantive, Sandberg has achieved the opposite, a book that has a powerful message but that is also full of personal vulnerability and first-hand anecdotes, packed with statistics and footnoted studies that back her points.

She writes about her divorce in her 20s and how she felt it signified a personal failing, about how, as a girl, she felt ashamed when people called her “bossy,” and how she was racked with self-doubt while a college student, even though she was near the top of her class at Harvard.

Along with the Howard/Heidi study, she writes about a 2002 survey of medical students in a surgery rotation showing that women gave themselves lower scores than the men even though faculty evaluations gave the women higher ratings.

A 2012 study of thousands of political candidates revealed that the men were 60% more likely to say they were “very qualified” to run for office.

A 2004 assessment of Harvard law students found that in skills related to practicing law, women gave themselves lower scores than men. Those are just a few of many examples.

As a Forbes editor, I was most charmed by an anecdote Sandberg shares about how she reacted to the August 2011 Forbes list of the world’s 100 most powerful women.

That year we ranked Sandberg No. 5 on the list, ahead of First Lady Michelle Obama and Indian politician Sonia Gandhi. “Far from feeling powerful, I felt embarrassed and exposed,” she writes, adding that she told colleagues that she thought the list was “ridiculous.”

Until her longtime executive assistant, Camille Hart, pulled Sandberg aside and suggested Sandberg was handling the publicity poorly.

With this anecdote Sandberg again shows her vulnerability and underlines how tough it can be, as a woman, to accept praise.

Her assistant’s advice: lean in to the ranking and when people paid her a compliment, simply say “thank you.”

This year Sandberg dropped to No. 10 on the list, though she is still above the president of Argentina and the CEOs of Xerox, Hewlett-Packard and IBM. By now my guess is she feels comfortable being near the top.

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