My One-Woman Book Club – Thoughts on “Lean In”

LeanInJoin my one-woman book club.  A place for reflection and connection on today’s  hot books.  Over the next few days I hope you will share your insights and reactions to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In – chapter by chapter.  If you haven’t read it – read along with me.  It really is a quick read, good food for thought and some helpful suggestions about how to lean in.

“Lean in” is now a pop culture phrase.  So much so that I thought I could get everything I wanted to from headlines and news articles.  But I finally bought the book and I am glad I did.  I would love to hear your insights and reactions to the points Sandberg makes, chapter by chapter.  Here’s what struck me.

Chapter One:  The Leadership Ambition Gap

If you need statistics to believe that there is a gender gap in the workplace then this is the chapter for you.

Chapter Two: Sit at the Table (or If I only knew then what I know now!)

Yes, sit at the table and yes raise your hand.  But what really struck me in this chapter was the discussion about how often successful women (much more than men) feel like frauds.  I learned far too late in life that many accomplished women are “plagued by self-doubt”.  I was stunned to attend a women’s meeting a few months ago with women who each had several PhDs and they were talking about feeling like imposters in their workplace.  What stunned me was that I was not alone in this feeling.  We suffer from The Imposter Syndrome, a phrase coined in the late 70s.  Wikipedia offers a reasonable definition: “the psychological experience of believing that one’s accomplishments came about not through genuine ability, but as a result of having been lucky, having worked harder than others, or having manipulated other people’s impressions”.

Women are far more susceptible to this than men, and Sheryl Sandberg admits to succumbing as well.  Like her, I had many a day when I was too worried about getting “found out” rather than forging ahead with conviction and confidence.  I’m not going to go Freudian and figure out where this comes from (though I’m pretty sure it’s my mother’s fault) but I can tell you I was very relieved to know it wasn’t just me!  If I only knew I wasn’t alone years ago.  Perhaps now by bringing this out in to the light women can work to understand it and address it.

Sheryl (can I call her Sheryl?) offers two good suggestion to help cure the symptoms of the Syndrome.  First, realize that this feeling of self-doubt or fraudulent performance is a distortion of reality and learn to “undistort the distortion”.  I think if I knew that my feelings were common and unfounded I might have paid less attention to them and more to the reality of my successes.

The second cure or tactic as Sheryl calls it is “Fake It” .  Fake the smile, fake the confidence, fake the unshaken belief in yourself until it becomes real.  This is not about being an imposter.  This is about training.  You can learn more about this from one of the best TedTalks I’ve ever seen:  Amy Cuddy talking about a Power Pose.  When I recently showed this video to my college students they were spellbound.  They didn’t stop talking about it (and using the technique) all semester.  Amy (Ms. Cuddy?) shares a great story about how you have to learn to Fake It Until You Become It.  Her story is poignant, scientific and inspirational.  Take the time to watch. Five and half million viewers can’t be wrong!

Amy Cuddy’s TEDTalk

Coming up next Chapter 3: Success and Likeability (or what I call The Sorry Syndrome)


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