Why I Had to Lean Way Out to “Lean In” to Sheryl Sandberg’s Book

I abandoned any traditional page-turning for this “read," and put in the earbuds

Woman leaning back in chair with her eyes closed

I’ve wanted to read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg for a long time. I was excited to crack the cover and quickly dismayed that I couldn’t get past the first couple of pages without falling asleep. 

I wasn’t particularly tired, but I couldn’t keep my eyes open no matter how hard I tried. This book should be a riveting page-turner for any female leader looking to move up the corporate ladder. 

The trouble is it’s a yawn. I know there’s a compelling story in these pages, but if I’m going to discover it, I will have to do something different to uncover the value of turning these pages. 

As any parent knows, sometimes you have to get radical and lean out in order to Lean In. That’s exactly what I had to do to read this book. I had to lean way out so that I could Lean In(to) the message Sandberg shares in her book. 

Otherwise, this is going to be a dust collector on the shelf. I abandoned any traditional page-turning for this “read," put in the earbuds, and queued up the audio version while hitting the nature trail. Without first leaning way out, I’d never have leaned into the story. To sit down with this book, at least for me, is to tune out. Hello, Sleepyville. 

Maybe Michelle Obama was right. According to Vox, Michelle Obama declared in front of a stadium-size audience:

“And it’s not always enough to lean in, because that shit doesn’t work all the time.”

Not so fast, Michelle. I think Sandberg got a lot right.

I had some preconceived notions that the book would be strongly feminist in nature and was pleasantly surprised to find that Sandberg struck a chord of familiarity with any woman who had children and wanted to get ahead in her career. 

I hoped the book would provide some personal inspiration and would be one I recommend to my little women who I believe have some of the same spunk and fortitude to get ahead in their careers. Sometimes, as women, we give off the wrong signals. Sometimes we are detrimental to our own cause to get ahead. 

Her TedTalk focuses on these important points:

  • Sit at the table

  • Make your partner a real partner

  • Don’t leave before you leave

Sit At The Table

Yes. This. Sit at the table, but not just anywhere. First, don’t just join in the back of the room where there is no doubt you will be overlooked. Also, don’t just find your way to the table. Don’t sit at the foot either. And three-quarters of the way up won’t work either. 

When you sit at the table, sit at the front of the table so that you can make eye contact with the speaker, leader, or person in charge. Put yourself in a position to be noticed — and encourage your daughters to do the same. 

Make Your Partner a Real Partner

Sandberg says that if a woman and a man work full-time and have a child, the woman does twice the housework and three times the amount of child-rearing the man does. 

Who do you think will stay home when the kid gets sick? 

Yep, the woman. 

And, there’s the problem. The expectations between genders are out of balance.

Let’s even things out. Taking care of the house and the kids is not only women’s work. Some amazing stay-at-home dads are not the losers portrayed on television. When dads turn out at the kid’s functions, be sure to include him in conversations about frustrations at home. 

Give your partner grace and try to even the household and child-rearing responsibilities. Let’s be real. It took two people to make these kids. As long as you’re still together, it should take two people to raise them as well.

Don’t Leave Before You Leave

You don’t have to bow out gracefully before you leave. If you plan to leave the workforce or have a child, often you start making room for your exit well before you are actually ready to leave your position. 

Women lean back instead of leaning in. Often, she stops raising her hand, stops taking special projects, and stops stepping into the challenges that get her noticed in her career, even if she has months or years left before she actually leaves. 

Your job needs to continue to be challenging and rewarding until you’re ready to leave. Keep stepping on the gas until the very moment you’re ready to leave. Don’t give up the drive that got you where you are. Stay accomplished until you’re ready to leave. 

When you quietly lean back, you become bored and unfulfilled. You have time to relax after you leave. Until then, keep your focus. 

Negotiation Is Critical

In the book, Sandberg talks about her interview with Facebook. She wanted this job, and her husband encouraged her to negotiate for her salary. I’m sure every woman who reads this part cheers Sandberg on. She asked if the offer would be the same if she was a man. Zuckerberg revised his offer to make it even more lucrative.

I’m going to use that line someday.

Men do this all the time, but women don’t often. CNBC says 60% of women have never negotiated their salary. Instead, women will leave their current job to accept a salary bump at a new one. If you haven’t negotiated a salary, it’s time. Dust off your skills, and negotiate a salary, especially if you enjoy the job you’re in. 

You don’t have to leave your position to balance the pay scales. Perhaps you just need to negotiate instead. 

Get A Grip

Success tends to be positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. Revenue gaps exist between genders. These things are sad realities of where we are, and we still have plenty of work to do. 

The workforce is changing in a post-Covid world. It’s time, past time, for women to sit at the table, make your partner a real partner, not leave until you’re ready, and negotiate. 

While you’re in the workforce, don’t forget to keep your hand up, that is to say, make your efforts available for continued growth in your career. Mamma, lead by example and encourage your daughters to advocate for themselves too. 

A final note to Michelle Obama: Nothing works all the time. Sandberg’s message is not shit.



Nicole is the founder of Publishous, an online publication. She is a writer, editor, and mother of 2 beautiful girls. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking and traveling. Follow her on her website and on Medium