Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg Book Summary and PDF

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg [BOOK SUMMARY & PDF]

Lean In is written by Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook. The book is an interesting examination of the current workplace and women's role within it. She identifies a need for women to be in leadership roles and explains the reasons why women both hold themselves back, and are held back. Sandberg includes many examples from her own life, specifically working with Mark Zuckerberg and emphasises the importance of men supporting women in the workplace, and women supporting women. We all need to lean in.






Who is this summary for?

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg is an interesting examination of the current workplace and woman’s role within it. A great read for any working woman or man to expand their understanding of the current working climate. Sandberg identifies a need for more woman to be in leadership roles and she explains the reasons that woman both hold themselves back and are held back. Sandberg draws upon examples from her own working life, specifically her time working with Mark Zuckerberg. Sandberg makes a real effort to emphasise the importance of men supporting woman in the workplace, and woman supporting other woman.

About the author

Sheryl Sandberg is the Chief Operating Officer at Facebook and was the first woman to be elected to their board. Zuckerberg actually hired Sandberg after meeting her at a party, he was not specifically looking for a COO but Sandberg fit the bill. Before joining Facebook, Sandberg graduated from business school and spent time working at Google and was part of the launch of the philanthropic google.org. Time Magazine included Sandberg in their list of most influential people in 2012 and Fortune Magazine listed her as the 5th most powerful woman in business.

In this summary

We’ll start the summary by discussing Sandberg’s thoughts on the difference in woman’s place in schooling and the workplace. Next, we’ll move on to discuss Sandberg’s stance on why women hold themselves back and the differences between success and likability. We’ll cover why Sandberg thinks that one’s career can no longer be referred to as ‘climbing the ladder’ and the role of mentors in the workplace. Finally, we’ll cover the subjects of motherhood in the workplace, supportive partners and the concept of ‘leaning in’.



Multiple studies show that statistically, at school age, girls outperform the boys. This carries out through higher education with woman accounting for 57% of graduating undergraduates and 60% of those receiving masters degrees. For this reason, Sandberg sees clear evidence that women are entirely capable of taking leadership roles in the workplace, they clearly have the education and the skills required.

However, despite clearly displaying the knowledge and skills required, women are often not seen to be in the leadership roles. There are a few reasons for this but Sandberg believes that girls are not encouraged to take risks or advocate for themselves. And these two characteristics are crucial in developing ones career. Sandberg explains that entry-level jobs are overloaded with women, however, has roles progress, the women seem to drop off and we end up with the overwhelming majority of leadership roles being filled by men.

”When jobs are described as powerful, challenging, and involving high levels of responsibility, they appeal to more men than women. Even among highly educated professional men and women, more men than women describe themselves as ambitious.”


Sandberg believes that women are partially responsible for their own under-representation in high-profile and leadership roles. The reason is that they literally hold themselves back and make the decision to stay where they are. Sandberg explains that many women feel as if they are undeserving or unworthy of the top jobs, and in the rare case that they secure one of these positions, they are left feeling guilty and as if there has been a mistake.

” Despite being high achievers, even experts in their fields, women can’t seem to shake the sense that it is only a matter of time until they are found out for who they really are—impostors with limited skills or abilities.”

Sandberg explains that women are hard-wired to underestimate themselves. Women can be incredibly tough on themselves, and are likely to be kinder to their male colleagues. Studies have proven that women judge their own performances at a much higher standard than necessary and constantly believe that they are doing a worse job than they are. On the other side of the scale, men constantly perceive their own performance to be better than the reality. Sandberg points out that unfortunately, women aren’t the only ones who judge themselves in this way. Male colleagues and any media outlet are always looking to credit a woman’s results and achievements to other outside factors. It’s as if women are incapable of achieving the same results as men without outside help.


Sandberg explains that multiple studies performed in the workplace have expressed that for men, success and likability go hand in hand, they are positively related. Whereas for women, the two are much less likely to occur at the same time, they are negatively related. If a woman is successful, her male and female colleagues are less likely to ‘like’ her. And if a woman is extremely likable, she is less likely to succeed.

Sandberg explains that this clearly exemplifies one of the main reasons that women hold themselves back, and are held back by others. For a male, he will be liked more and more as he moves through his career reaching more and more success. Whereas women will have the opposite experience. And in order to avoid being disliked or dissed in the workplace, woman will downplay any achievements or stop striving for more altogether.

“For the time being, I fear that women will continue to sacrifice being liked for being successful.”

Opportunity for negotiation

We’ve all heard the saying “think globally, act locally” before. Sandberg recommends that when facing negotiation surrounding pay you “think personally, act communally.” She explains that when facing an opportunity for negotiation, women should acknowledge the fact that they are aware that women get paid less than men. Let your employer know that you are not going to accept the original offer on this basis, but you are willing to negotiate. Sandberg also stresses the importance of replacing the word ‘I’ with ‘we’. Connecting oneself to a larger group can have a good impact in these situations.

However, Sandberg explains that women need to do more than just act communally, they also need to legitimise their request for a negotiation. She explains that it’s expected that men look out for themselves, therefore, they have no need to justify a negotiation. However, women are expected to provide a legitimate reason. Sandberg recommends explaining that a senior colleague encouraged you to go ahead and request a negotiation. This will clearly explain to your boss that there is someone else batting for you.

”Real change will come when powerful women are less of an exception. It is easy to dislike senior women because there are so few. If women held 50 percent of the top jobs, it would just not be possible to dislike that many people. Everyone needs to get more comfortable with female leaders—including female leaders themselves.”

'Real change will come when powerful women are less of an exception.'Click To Tweet

Working at Facebook

Sandberg reflects upon her time at Facebook, after working alongside Zuckerberg for about six months they sat down for a formal review. Zuckerberg explains that one of her biggest weaknesses was that she wanted everyone to like her. He explained that this was destined to hold her back. Sandberg had to realise that she couldn’t please everyone and if she was, she clearly wasn’t doing her job or making progress.


It’s pretty common to hear people referring to moving up the career ladder. However, Sandberg doesn’t think that a ladder is an accurate depiction of the current working climate. Sandberg prefers to refer to a career as a jungle gym. She explains that there is not one single path from the bottom to the top as a ladder would suggest. Rather there are multiple ways, some go directly up, and some take a longer route often facing setbacks, detours, and even dead ends.

Sandberg explains that rather than being intimidating, the jungle gym concept should be comforting in the current job climate. It means that people on the job hunt may have to accept a job that is not quite what they hoped, but they can be comforted by the fact that there are multiple ways upwards from there. If you can remain focused but also flexible, then it should be reasonable to expect to move up the jungle gym. Sandberg explains this nicely with a rocket-ship metaphor, explaining that if you were ever offered a seat on a rocket-ship, you’re not going to question which seat you are assigned. You’re simply going to board the ship and get going.

Setting goals

In these situations, Sandberg recommends adopting two different goals, one being an eighteen-month goal, and the other being your long-term dream goal. Sandberg explains that eighteen-months is the ideal range to aim for, because 12 months isn’t quite enough to make significant changes and moves, but two years is too long to wait. She also explains that your long-term dream doesn’t have to be specific and detailed. It can be a broad dream, just use it as something to work towards.

”Women need to shift from thinking “I’m not ready to do that” to thinking “I want to do that—and I’ll learn by doing it. One reason women avoid stretch assignments and new challenges is that they worry too much about whether they currently have the skills they need for a new role. This can become a self-fulfilling prophecy since so many abilities are acquired on the job.”


Sandberg believes that mentors absolutely have their role in the workplace and in woman lives. She appreciates that mentorship plays a critical part in the progression of people’s careers. However, she believes that when woman are told that finding the right mentor is the key to moving forward in their career, what they are really being told is that they need to be dependent on someone else, and have someone else to credit for their hard work.

When looking to select a mentee, Sandberg explains that mentor’s look for good performance, potential, and people who stand out. They also consider a mentees ability to take on feedback and act upon it. For this reason, it becomes clear that mentors are looking for people who are currently excelling in their field. Sandberg explains woman need to stop being told that getting a mentor will help them excel. Rather they need to be told that by excelling, they will be rewarded with a mentor.

Male mentors

It’s a well-known fact that older, male mentors are much more likely to mentor younger men, someone that they feel like they can see themselves in. Sandberg explains that this has a negative effect for women. There are more men at the top of industries, looking to mentor younger recruits, and therefore, the old-boys club continues to grow. Unless some of these men decide to mentor younger women, there is never going to be enough support for women to work up to leadership roles. Sandberg stresses the importance of highlighting this imbalance to current senior men and encouraging them to mentor younger women.

”Any male leader who is serious about moving toward a more equal world can make this a priority and be part of the solution. It should be a badge of honour for men to sponsor women.”


Sandberg emphasises the importance of communication in both personal and working relationships. Sandberg explains that honesty is probably the most important aspect of communication, yet she believes that people avoid honest in situations whether it be to protect themselves or someone else. She explains that avoiding honesty is never a good idea and usually encourages problems and issues. Telling the truth and communicating openly with someone takes bravery, we need to stop avoiding it whenever possible.

”Being honest in the workplace is especially difficult. All organiSations have some form of hierarchy, which means that someone’s performance is assessed by someone else’s perception. This makes people even less likely to tell the truth. Every organiSation faces this challenge.”


Sandberg reminds us of the two components of effective communication. First, you need to remember that there are two points of view involved, yours, and someone else’s. It’s important to know that these may not align and that there is very rarely an absolute truth. Recognising this is the first step to undertaking effective communication. Acknowledging that your perspective filters everything you see will mean that you will learn how to share your views without being preachy or threatening. You should be able to share your opinion non-aggressively and understanding that others may not share the same views.

”Being aware of a problem is the first step to correcting it. It is nearly impossible to know how our actions are perceived by others. We can try to guess what they’re thinking, but asking directly is far more effective. With real knowledge, we can adjust our actions and avoid getting tripped up. Still, people rarely seek enough input.”


Sandberg draws attention to the importance of emotions. Emotions literally influence all of our decisions, perceptions, and points of view. An important aspect of communication is to care about and understand others. It’s important to know what makes a person tick, what their likes and dislikes are and the way that they see the world. By understanding people better, you’ll improve your communication skills and improve your relationships. Sandberg recommends attempting to understand your colleagues, seniors, peers, and partners better.

”Research suggests that presenting leadership as a list of carefully defined qualities (like strategic, analytical, and performance-oriented) no longer holds. Instead, true leadership stems from individuality that is honestly and sometimes imperfectly expressed. Leaders should strive for authenticity over perfection.”

Sandberg explains that this shift to authenticity is something that women can celebrate. It means that women can stop trying to hide their emotions in the workplace and stop trying to come across as more stereotypically male.


Something that is repeatedly portrayed to women and girls is that they cannot succeed at work and be a good mother. The overwhelming message is that the two are mutually exclusive. Sandberg explains that it’s very common for girls of college age to be considering their options and contemplating what trade-offs they will need to make between having a career and pursuing the role of motherhood.

”Women rarely make one big decision to leave the workforce. Instead, they make a lot of small decisions along the way, making accommodations and sacrifices that they believe will be required to have a family. Of all the ways women hold themselves back, perhaps the most pervasive is that they leave before they leave.”

Sandberg explains that by leaving before they truly leave, women prevent themselves from progressing. Well before they have handed in their resignation, women will hold themselves back, avoid pursuing new opportunities and decline offers presented to them. This often starts in the years leading up to a women becoming a mother. Sandberg explains that holding themselves back for this length of time can be damaging to one’s career, woman will miss out on opportunities and fall behind the times.


Sandberg identities a significant difference in the way that woman are treated when they announce a pregnancy versus how their male partners are treated. She explains that men are met with a simple “congratulations!” Whereas women are met with a brief congratulations promptly followed with questions regarding plans to work. The reason this happens is that society commonly assumes that women will be giving up work to raise the child. Nobody ever questions the man’s intentions to slow down or give up work.

Sandberg identifies multiple influencing factors in this situation including societal conventions, family expectations, and peer pressure. If a woman is financially stable enough to not need to work, she will be encouraged by everyone she knows to stop work and raise the child, regardless of her wishes. However, Sandberg explains that the cost of childcare is another contributing factor. Many women are aware that childcare isn’t cheap, and they often opt to drop out of work feeling like it’s pointless to simply earn enough money just to pay for childcare. However, Sandberg encourages women to question this, by dropping out of the workforce for a number of years you are quickly falling behind and will struggle to fit back in. Don’t consider your current salary as the decision maker, think about the effect it will have on your future salary.


On the otherwise of the spectrum, Sandberg believes that not only do women need to be more empowered in the workplace, but at home, men need to be more empowered too. She explains that it’s common for women to be overbearing at home and not allow their partners to contribute as much as they can. Many women believe that they are the only ones who can do the household jobs and therefore end up doing it all themselves.

The other area this can become an issue is in parenting the child. Mothers have an intense maternal instinct, especially in the early years. But Sandberg explains that it is up to the mothers to empower the father and encourage their involvement. By trying to handle everything on their own, women became overloaded and men become frustrated at their lack of responsibility at home. Sandberg stresses the importance of best partners being equally capable and sharing the roles.

When a woman tries to run the household and raise the children almost on their own, then it’s inevitable that having a career at the same time is going to be near impossible. Women need to let their partners in and ask for support.

”The single most important career decision that a woman makes is whether she will have a life partner and who that partner is. I don’t know of one woman in a leadership position whose life partner is not fully—supportive of her career. No exceptions.”

Dads at work

Sandberg explains that both men and women will face difficulties at work when they are seen to be prioritising their families. But she acknowledges that men can sometimes pay a higher price. If a male is to take time off work in order to look after their sick child from time to time, this will likely be a negative sticking point with senior colleagues. They may face criticism, teasing and will be less like to be considered for future promotions and raises.

It gets even worse for fathers who intend to be the sole child career and quit work all together in the early years. Sandberg explains that men will be faced with criticism and social pressure if they choose this path. And for this reason, Sandberg highlights that only 4% of full-time parents are men. Men are likely to feel outcasted and isolated if they choose this life.

Successful husbands

Sandberg identifies another gender based career issue. She explains that a man’s success is often perceived only in relation to their wife. If they are perceived to be more successful than their wife, then the couple can be considered balanced and happy. However, if a wife has a job that is considered higher-status or better-paying, then a male is perceived as weaker and less successful, regardless of what he does.

So not only do women have countless career battles when it comes to success from outside sources, they also have to consider their husband’s ego and perception of success. Sandberg explains that this does nothing to aid the hope to live in an equal world. However, the reality is that a happy couple can both work, earn equal amounts and share the household duties.

”When women work outside the home and share breadwinning duties, couples are more likely to stay together. In fact, the risk of divorce reduces by about half when a wife earns half the income and a husband does half the housework.”


“It is time to cheer on girls and women who want to sit at the table, seek challenges, and lean in to their careers. None of this is attainable unless we pursue these goals together. Men need to support women and, I wish it went without saying, women need to support women too.”


Key takeaways

  • Although girls tend to outperform boys at school, this doesn’t seem to translate to the workplace.
  • Women hold themselves back by feeling undeserving and by underestimating themselves.
  • For men, being successful is linked to being more likeable. However for woman, the more successful they seem, the less they seem to be liked.
  • Women often hold themselves back, choosing being liked over achievements.
  • Sandberg describes a career as a jungle gym, not a ladder. There are multiple ways to reach the top, often with dead ends, set backs and detours.
  • Women are told that in order to excel they need a mentor. Reinforcing the concept that they need to rely on someone else. However, women should know that if they excel, they will get a great mentor.
  • Men should be stepping up and mentoring young women, they need to stop focusing primarily on younger men.
  • Communication, the truth and emotions play a really big part in both personal and professional relationships.
  • Women are often told that they have to choose either a career or motherhood, that they cannot have both. This should not be the case.
  • Women should not feel guilty about returning to work after having a child.
  • Men need to be more empowered at home, woman need to share the work with the better so that woman can feel more supported to return to work if they wish.
  • Currently, husbands feel the need to be more successful than their wives. This needs to be stopped in order to empower women on their path to success.

Further reading

If you enjoyed reading from a strong female voice then definitely check out You are a Badass by Jen Sincero. This is an entertaining read with plenty of real-world advice. Her book aims to empower any readers and teach you how to stop doubting yourself and get stuff done. Sincero helps to identify key problems in everyone's life, she then explains how best to combat these hurdles and live the best life you can. Whether you want to start a business, learn how to make extra money or get another job this book is an excellent guide!

#GIRLBOSS is written by Sophia Amoruso, the successful owner of popular brand Nasty Gal. She tells the story of her road to becoming a GIRLBOSS, and aims to teach you how to learn from your own mistakes and from other people’s mistakes. To help you realise when to quit and when to ask for more. To encourage you to ask more questions and when to either follow the rules or re-write them. A guide to becoming a boss from a women’s perspective that is equally relevant in the man’s world.

The Obstacle is the Way is a fantastic and instructive read all about how to overcome any obstacle or challenge and turn it into an advantage. From author Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle is the Way draws on key historical figures and stoic philosophy to communicate its message. No matter what background you come from, your area of expertise or goals for the future, everyone can learn a valuable lesson from this book.

Guidelines is my eBook that summarises the main lessons from 33 of the best-selling self-help books in one place. It is the ultimate book summary; Available as a 80-page ebook and 115-minute audio book. Guidelines lists 31 rules (or guidelines) that you should follow to improve your productivity, become a better leader, do better in business, improve your health, succeed in life and become a happier person.

Action steps

  • As a woman, empower yourself and other women, especially in the workplace.
  • Consider the gender stereotypes you witness and feel subject to on a daily basis. Work towards stopping these.
  • Don’t succumb to societal pressure.
  • As a woman, don’t be afraid of success, even if you feel like colleagues don’t like you as much. You are as deserving of that success as any male.
  • As a male, you should empower women in the workplace. Provide them with the support and opportunities that they need to succeed.
  • Download the complete book on Amazon.

This summary is not intended as a replacement for the original book and all quotes are credited to the above mentioned author and publisher.