Standing Up for ‘Lean In:’ What’s Wrong with Managing Your Career?


Sheryl Sandberg got it right. In Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Facebook’s COO offers a compelling view on how women managers can empower themselves in today’s workplace.

Sandberg does not complain about the “glass ceiling” or “the old boys club.” Instead she gives straightforward advice on how to focus on things you control: developing individual leadership skills; seeking critical feedback; and, most importantly, reminding women to have the courage to “lean in,” even if it feels scary to do so. Most of the advice would be helpful to men too. However, she effectively packages her book with personal anecdotes that highlight the particular challenges that women face in navigating the corporate environment where senior women leaders are still hard to find.

Her messages resonated with me and I found myself nodding in agreement as I read. The whole book is worth the read, but I feel compelled to highlight some of the chapters that I found consistent with my own experiences.

Seek and Speak Your Truth. Feedback truly is a gift. Find bosses and colleagues who will speak honestly to you so you know what and how to improve. I am fortunate to have had some great bosses who told me the hard truth even when it hurt to hear it. Without honest feedback, we are often blind to our own areas for growth.

Further, don’t be afraid to tell people the truth as you see it. In my first CEO role, I had to tell the company founder and our venture board that the company didn’t have what they thought they had. I recommended that we shut the company down, return the remaining capital, and all move on. It wasn’t easy, or a popular message to deliver, but it was the right thing to do. This transparent approach gave me credibility with the board and opened new doors that led to my next CEO role at Calistoga Pharmaceuticals.

Success and Likeability. Sandberg notes that research shows that success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. “Tough” businessmen are admired while “tough” businesswomen are often denigrated. Highly effective leaders find the right balance of toughness on individual accountability while providing positive motivation to inspire the team. Sandberg gives some great insights on navigating this dilemma. Her solutions should resonate with any leader, regardless of gender.

The Leadership Ambition Gap: What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid? No one can predict the twists and turns that ultimately define a career. I have worked for eleven companies. Five were acquired, merged, or reverse-merged during my tenure. I didn’t plan or expect so many changes, but change often offers opportunity. All these changes gave me the courage to walk through new doors. Sandberg encourages us to not be afraid to take the leap. After all, what is the worst that can happen?

Some have raised the criticism that the book does not address the key issues of societal and corporate norms that hold women back. Sandberg states that this is not the purpose of her book. Rather, the book provides concrete advice to women on the hard work of becoming better leaders within the real world of today’s corporate culture.

American business embraces free will versus determination. Isn’t this at the heart of American innovation and entrepreneurship? Each of us through hard work can pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps (or high heels) and make a difference in the world. Whatever your gender, becoming a great leader is hard work. Nobody said it was easy. Sandberg’s insights are spot on.

Carol Gallagher is a partner with New Enterprise Associates. She is a proven entrepreneur, operator, and investor, with more than 25 years of experience in commercial, drug development, and business development roles in the life sciences. Follow @

Trending on Xconomy

By posting a comment, you agree to our terms and conditions.

2 responses to “Standing Up for ‘Lean In:’ What’s Wrong with Managing Your Career?”

  1. Carol – I would love to hear your thoughts on women in science roles in the Seattle marketplace. Some of my colleagues who attended the play, “Photograph 51” at Seattle Rep shared comments that the atmosphere can be toxic in research. But your positive view here is at odds with that. I will give link to Twitter discussion at The Seattle Times today by Sharon Chan.

  2. Thanks for writing this Carol. The backlash is a big part of the problem, isn’t it??