Lean In

by Sheryl Sandberg

Troy Shu
Troy Shu
Updated at: March 12, 2024
Lean In
Lean In

What are the big ideas? 1. The Double Bind of Success and Likeability: This book highlights the unique challenge women face in the workplace where they are penalize

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What are the big ideas?

  1. The Double Bind of Success and Likeability: This book highlights the unique challenge women face in the workplace where they are penalized for acting both too competent and too nice. Unlike other self-help literature that focuses primarily on building confidence or developing skills, this book explores how societal expectations impact women's willingness to negotiate for themselves and the gender discount that results from their collaborative nature (Sandberg, 2013).
  2. The Importance of Authentic Communication: This book emphasizes the importance of authentic communication in building deeper relationships and creating a more effective team. Unlike traditional career development literature that focuses on improving professional skills or networking, Lean In encourages women to be open about their emotions, experiences, and personal situations to build stronger connections with colleagues (Sandberg, 2013).
  3. The Need for Institutional Change: While other self-help books focus on individual actions for career advancement, this book acknowledges that gender inequality persists due to societal expectations and employment policies. Lean In emphasizes the need for institutional change to create a more equitable work environment (Sandberg, 2013).
  4. The Role of Mentoring in Advancing Women's Careers: This book highlights the importance of mentoring relationships and how they can be reciprocal and beneficial for both parties involved. Unlike career development literature that focuses on networking or seeking out a mentor, Lean In encourages women to build strong relationships with their mentors and advocates for men to play an essential role in advancing women's careers (Sandberg, 2013).
  5. The Impact of Societal Expectations on Women's Choices: This book explores how societal expectations influence young girls and boys, reinforcing stereotypes and discouraging girls from pursuing technical fields and leadership roles. Unlike other self-help literature that focuses on individual actions or personal growth, Lean In discusses the importance of addressing societal barriers to gender equality (Sandberg, 2013).


Introduction: Internalizing the Revolution


  • Google founder Sergey Brin agreed to implement pregnancy parking after a pregnant employee, Sheryl Sandberg, requested it.
  • Women's rights and progress for gender equality have come a long way but still face challenges, such as the underrepresentation of women in leadership roles and unequal compensation.
  • Men continue to hold the majority of positions of power and influence in society.
  • The professional world presents real obstacles for women, including sexism, discrimination, lack of flexibility, and sexual harassment.
  • Women face internal barriers that hinder their progress, such as low self-confidence, lack of assertiveness, and societal expectations.
  • Both external and internal barriers must be addressed to achieve true gender equality.
  • Women need more representation in leadership roles to advocate for their needs and concerns.
  • To increase the number of women in leadership positions, it's essential to address both the institutional and personal barriers that hinder their advancement.
  • Sheryl Sandberg encourages women to lean in and be ambitious in their pursuits while acknowledging that not all women want the same objectives.


“But knowing that things could be worse should not stop us from trying to make them better. When the suffragettes marched in the streets, they envisioned a century later, men and women would be truly equal. A century later, we are still squinting, trying to bring that vision into focus.”

“A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes.”

“The promise of equality is not the same as true equality.”

“A 2011 McKinsey report noted that men are promoted based on potential, while women are promoted based on past accomplishments.”

“We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in.”

“we compromise our career goals to make room for partners and children who may not even exist yet”

1. The Leadership Ambition Gap: What Would You Do if You Weren’t Afraid?


  • Women face unique challenges in achieving leadership positions, including societal expectations, stereotypes, and fear of failure or negative judgment.
  • Societal messages about gender roles influence young girls and boys, reinforcing stereotypes and discouraging girls from pursuing technical fields and leadership roles.
  • Stereotype threat can negatively impact women's performance in male-dominated fields and industries.
  • Women are often portrayed in popular culture as unable to balance work and family responsibilities, which reinforces negative stereotypes and discourages women from pursuing careers or leadership roles.
  • Women have increasingly become the primary or co-breadwinners in families, making it essential for them to remain in the workforce. However, there is a lack of support systems and policies to help women balance work and family responsibilities.
  • The assumption that women cannot have both successful careers and fulfilling personal lives perpetuates negative stereotypes and discourages women from pursuing leadership roles or even entering the workforce.
  • Women need encouragement to aim high and pursue their ambitions, with support from both men and other women.
  • To create a more equal world, we need to encourage girls and women to lean in to their careers and reach for leadership roles, while also working to eliminate societal barriers and biases that prevent them from doing so.


“Professional ambition is expected of men but is optional—or worse, sometimes even a negative—for women. “She is very ambitious” is not a compliment in our culture.”

“Aggressive and hard-charging women violate unwritten rules about acceptable social conduct. Men are continually applauded for being ambitious and powerful and successful, but women who display these same traits often pay a social penalty. Female accomplishments come at a cost.”

“The gender stereotypes introduced in childhood are reinforced throughout our lives and become self-fulfilling prophesies. Most leadership positions are held by men, so women don't expect to achieve them, and that becomes one of the reasons they don't.”

“I hope you find true meaning, contentment, and passion in your life. I hope you navigate the difficult times and come out with greater strength and resolve. I hope you find whatever balance you seek with your eyes wide open. And I hope that you - yes, you - have the ambition to lean in to your career and run the world. Because the world needs you to change it.”

“So please ask yourself: What would I do if I weren't afraid? And then go do it.”

“Writing this book is not just me encouraging others to lean in. This is me leaning in. Writing this book is what I would do if I weren't afraid.”

2. Sit at the Table


  • Impostor syndrome is a psychological pattern where individuals doubt their accomplishments and fear being exposed as a "fraud."
  • Impostor syndrome affects both men and women, but research suggests it may be more common among women.
  • Impostor syndrome can limit opportunities for growth and advancement.
  • To combat impostor syndrome, it is important to acknowledge feelings of self-doubt and challenge distorted thinking patterns.
  • Building a network of support and seeking out opportunities for development can also help combat impostor syndrome.
  • Confidence is important for seizing opportunities and reaching for new challenges. Faking confidence in certain situations can lead to improved feelings of power and ability to learn quickly.
  • Women are less likely than men to put themselves forward for opportunities, and it is important for institutions and individuals to notice and correct for this gap.
  • It is important to acknowledge good fortune and thank those who have given us opportunities and support.


“She explained that many people, but especially women, feel fraudulent when they are praised for their accomplishments. Instead of feeling worthy of recognition, they feel undeserving and guilty, as if a mistake has been made. 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.”

“And in situations where a man and a woman each receive negative feedback, the woman's self-confidence and self-esteem drop to a much greater degree. The internalization of failure and the insecurity it breeds hurt future performance, so this pattern has serious long-term consequences.”

“Fortune does favor the bold and you'll never know what you're capable of if you don't try.”

“Taking initiative pays off. It is hard to visualize someone as a leader if she is always waiting to be told what to do.”

“There is no perfect fit when you're looking for the next big thing to do. You have to take opportunities and make an opportunity fit for you, rather than the other way around. The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.”

3. Success and Likeability


  • Women face a double bind when it comes to success: they are penalized for acting too competent and too nice.
  • Women's willingness to help others creates a "gender discount," which results in women doing more work without receiving equal rewards.
  • Women are less likely to negotiate for themselves due to fear of being disliked or perceived as demanding, but they can increase their chances of achieving desired outcomes by approaching negotiations with a communal mindset and providing legitimate explanations for the negotiation.
  • Communal effort is beneficial for everyone, leading to better team performance and greater overall success.
  • Negative stereotypes persist in portrayals of successful women, often depicting them as unfeminine or cold, which can make it difficult for women to be accepted and liked in professional settings.
  • Women need to learn to cope with criticism and focus on moving forward instead of dwelling on negative reactions from others.
  • Achieving gender equality in leadership positions will require more female role models and a shift in societal attitudes towards powerful women.


“Success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively for women. When a man is successful, he is liked by both men and women. When a woman is successful, people of both genders like her less.”

“If a woman pushes to get the job done, if she's highly competent, if she focuses on results rather than on pleasing others, she's acting like a man. And if she acts like a man, people dislike her.”

“Men can comfortably claim credit for what they do as long as they don't veer into arrogance. For women, taking credit comes at a real social and professional cost.”

“But instead of blaming women for not negotiating more, we need to recognize that women often have good cause to be reluctant to advocate for their own interests because doing so can easily backfire.”

“Our culture needs to find a robust image of female success that is first, not male, and second, not a white woman on the phone, holding a crying baby,”

“Real change will come when powerful women are less of an exception. It is easy to dislike senior women because there are so few.”

“when you want to change things, you can’t please everyone. If you do please everyone, you aren’t making enough progress.”

4. It’s a Jungle Gym, Not a Ladder


  • Having a long-term dream and an eighteen-month plan can help guide career decisions.
  • Prioritizing potential for growth over job level or security can lead to greater opportunities and learning.
  • Embracing uncertainty and taking calculated risks can lead to new experiences and professional development.
  • Women may be more reluctant than men to take on challenging assignments or seek out promotions, but advocating for oneself is important.
  • Learning new skills and being adaptable are valuable qualities in a rapidly changing work environment.
  • Seeking out diverse experiences can prepare individuals for leadership roles.
  • Gender stereotypes and societal expectations can make it more difficult for women to take risks and pursue new opportunities, but these challenges should not be an obstacle.


“Careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder.”

“If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, you don’t ask what seat. You just get on.”

“The cost of stability is often diminished opportunities for growth”

“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.”

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”

“And anyway, who wears a tiara on a jungle gym?”

5. Are You My Mentor?


  • Asking a stranger for mentorship is unlikely to be effective, but asking a well-thought-out question can yield results.
  • Preparation is crucial when seeking advice or guidance from more experienced professionals.
  • Mentoring relationships can be reciprocal and beneficial for both parties involved.
  • Gender should not be a barrier to mentoring and sponsoring relationships; men can play an essential role in advancing women's careers.
  • Formal mentorship programs can complement informal relationships, but they are not a substitute.
  • Peers and colleagues can also serve as valuable mentors and sponsors.
  • It is important to maintain professional boundaries in all relationships, especially those that may be perceived as having a sexual component.
  • Men should make an effort to engage with and support women's careers to help create a more equitable work environment.


“I'm sorry if this sounds harsh or surprises anyone, but this is where we are. If you want the outcome to be different, you will have to do something about it.”

“I realized that searching for a mentor has become the professional equivalent of waiting for Prince Charming. We all grew up on the fairy tale "Sleeping Beauty," which instructs young women that if they just wait for their prince to arrive, they will be kissed and whisked away on a white horse to live happily ever after. Now young women are told that if they can just find the right mentor, they will be pushed up the ladder and whisked away to the corner office to live happily ever after. Once again, we are teaching women to be too dependent on others.”

“We need to stop telling [women], "Get a mentor and you will excel." Instead, we need to tell them, "Excel and you will get a mentor.”

“As an associate at McKinsey & Company, my first assignment was on a team that consisted of a male senior engagement manager (SEM) and two other male associates, Abe Wu and Derek Holley. When the SEM wanted to talk to Abe or Derek, he would walk over to their desks. When he wanted to talk to me, he would sit at his desk and shout, "Sandberg, get over here!" with the tone one might use to call a child or, even worse, a dog. It made me cringe every time. I never said anything, but one day Abe and Derek started calling each other "Sandberg" in that same loud voice. The self-absorbed SEM never seemed to notice. They kept it up. When having too many Sandbergs got confusing, they decided we needed to differentiate. Abe started calling himself "Asian Sandberg," Derek dubbed himself "good-looking Sandberg," and I became "Sandberg Sandberg." My colleagues turned an awful situation into one where I felt protected. They stood up for me and made me laugh. They were the best mentors I could have had.”

6. Seek and Speak Your Truth


  • Authentic communication is important for building deeper relationships and creating a more effective team.
  • Expressing emotions, such as humor or frustration, can help resolve conflicts and improve collaboration.
  • Being open about personal situations can lead to increased support and understanding from colleagues.
  • Leaders who are authentic and express emotions honestly can build stronger connections with their teams and improve performance.


“I learned that effective communication starts with the understanding that there is MY point of view, (my truth), and someone else's point of view (his truth). Rarely is there one absolute truth, so people who believe that they speak THE truth are very silencing of others. When we realize and recognize that we can see things only from our own perspective, we can share our views in a nonthreatening way. Statements of opinion are always more constructive in the first person "I" form. The ability to listen is as important as the ability to speak. Miscommunication is always a two way street.”

“But the upside of painful knowledge is so much greater than the downside of blissful ignorance.”

“Motivation comes from working on things we care about. It also comes from working with people we care about.”

“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.”

7. Don’t Leave Before You Leave


  • Women face unique challenges in balancing career and family, leading many to leave the workforce or reduce their hours.
  • Highly educated women are particularly affected by this issue.
  • The decision to leave the workforce is influenced by societal expectations, personal circumstances, and individual choices.
  • The cost of child care can deter women from remaining in the workforce, but it's essential to consider the long-term financial implications.
  • Flexible work arrangements, affordable high-quality child care, and paid family leave are essential policies that would support families and help close the leadership gap.

8. Make Your Partner a Real Partner


  • Gender inequality persists in both workplaces and homes, with women taking on a disproportionate share of domestic responsibilities despite advances in professional opportunities.
  • Women continue to face penalties for prioritizing family over work, while men are often rewarded for doing so.
  • Societal expectations and employment policies perpetuate this gender divide, leading to negative consequences for both women and men.
  • To achieve greater equality, it is important for couples to establish equal partnerships in their marriages from the start, sharing household responsibilities and valuing each other's professional achievements.
  • Men can learn valuable skills and qualities through childcare and domestic work, benefiting their personal relationships and overall well-being.
  • Encouraging men to be more engaged fathers and partners is essential for modeling better behavior for future generations and promoting gender equality in the home.
  • Progress in the workplace has outpaced progress in the home, highlighting the need for continued efforts to challenge traditional gender roles and expectations within families.


“As women must be more empowered at work, men must be more empowered at home. I have seen so many women inadvertently discourage their husbands from doing their share by being too controlling or critical. Social scientists call this "maternal gatekeeping" which is a fancy term for "Ohmigod, that's not the way you do it! Just move aside and let me!"...Anyone who wants her mate to be a true partner must treat him as an equal--and equally capable partner. And if that's note reason enough, bear in mind that a study found that wives who engage in gatekeeping behaviors do five more hours of family work per week than wives who take a more collaborative approach.

Another common and counterproductive dynamic occurs when women assign or suggest taks to their partners. She is delegating, and that's a step in the right direction. But sharing responsibility should mean sharing responsibility. Each partner needs to be in charge of specific activities or it becomes too easy for one to feel like he's doing a favor instead of doing his part.”

“I truly believe that the single most important career decision that a woman makes is whether she will have a life partner and who that partner is.”

“When looking for a life partner, my advice to women is date all of them: the bad boys, the cool boys, the commitment-phobic boys, the crazy boys. But do not marry them. The things that make the bad boys sexy do not make them good husbands. When it comes time to settle down, find someone who wants an equal partner. Someone who thinks women should be smart, opinionated and ambitious. Someone who values fairness and expects or, even better, wants to do his share in the home. These men exist and, trust me, over time, nothing is sexier.”

“When woman 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.”

9. The Myth of Doing It All


  • Balancing work and family responsibilities can be challenging for both mothers and fathers, but societal expectations often place a greater burden on women to prioritize their children over their careers.
  • The pressure on working mothers to be "intensively involved" in their children's lives can lead to feelings of guilt and inadequacy, even though research shows that the quality of parental behavior and emotional connection is more influential to child development than any form of child care.
  • Mothers who work outside the home spend similar amounts of time on primary child care activities as stay-at-home mothers did decades ago. The rise in work hours for both mothers and fathers has led to a shift in family dynamics, making it essential to prioritize and manage both work and home responsibilities effectively.
  • Accepting that no one can do it all and focusing on what is most important for personal growth and family well-being are keys to achieving sustainable success and happiness.


“I have never met a woman, or man, who stated emphatically, "Yes, I have it all.'" Because no matter what any of us has—and how grateful we are for what we have—no one has it all.”

“Another one of my favorite posters at Facebook declares in big red letters, “Done is better than perfect.” I have tried to embrace this motto and let go of unattainable standards. Aiming for perfection causes frustration at best and paralysis at worst.”

“long-term success at work often depends on not trying to meet every demand placed on us. The best way to make room for both life and career is to make choices deliberately—to set limits and stick to them.”

“...parents who work outside the home are still capable of giving their children a loving and secure childhood. Some data even suggest that having two parents working outside the home can be advantageous to a child's development, particularly for girls.”

10. Let’s Start Talking About It


  • Gender bias can affect both women and men in the workplace, leading to a likeability penalty for successful women.
  • Women often face pressure to be perfect employees while also managing their families, which can lead to unnecessary sacrifice or missed opportunities.
  • Speaking up about gender issues is important to raise awareness and effect change.
  • Organizations like Harvard Business School have successfully addressed gender gaps through mindfulness, policy changes, and creating a more equal environment for all students.
  • Labeling oneself as a feminist is not necessary for progress, but acknowledging the existence of gender biases and speaking up about them is essential.


“Every job will demand some sacrifice. The key is to avoid unnecessary sacrifice.”

“We cannot change what we are not aware of, and once we are aware, we cannot help but change.”

“Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence." (Harvard Business School definition of leadership)”

“Social gains are never handed out. They must be seized.”

“A feminist is someone who believes in social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.”

11. Working Together Toward Equality


  • Lean In: Encourages women to pursue their career goals and lean in to leadership positions despite challenges and biases
  • Sheryl Sandberg shares her own experiences, as well as research and stories of other women, to illustrate the importance of women's participation in the workforce
  • Discusses the need for gender equality in the home and workplace, and encourages men to support their partners and be involved fathers
  • Provides practical advice on how women can navigate challenges and overcome biases to succeed in their careers, such as speaking up, building a supportive network, and embracing imperfection
  • Encourages women to set ambitious goals for themselves and lean in to opportunities, even if they feel unprepared or uncertain
  • Emphasizes the importance of sponsors and mentors, particularly for women of color and those from other underrepresented groups
  • Highlights the importance of men's involvement in creating a more gender-equal world, and encourages them to lean in as allies and supporters of women
  • Encourages women to build a supportive network of peers, friends, and mentors, and to help one another succeed
  • Discusses the need for institutional change to create a more gender-equal society, including policies that support working parents and flexible work arrangements
  • Emphasizes the importance of self-confidence and self-belief in achieving career success, and encourages women to challenge their own internal biases and assumptions.


“Today, despite all of the gains we have made, neither men nor women have real choice. Until women have supportive employers and colleagues as well as partners who share family responsibilities, they don't have real choice. And until men are fully respected for contributing inside the home, they don't have real choice either.”

“There's a special place in hell for women who don't help other women.”

“The more women help one another, the more we help ourselves. Acting like a coalition truly does produce results.

Any coalition of support must also include men, many of whom care about gender inequality as much as women do.”

“We must raise both the ceiling and the floor.”

“In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.”


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