Book Reviews: Lean In and The Boy Kings

Sandberg, Sheryl. Lean in : women, work, and the will to lead.

Losse, Katherine. The boy kings : a journey into the heart of the social network. Free Press, 2012.

Last week, 9 Fuqua staff members met over lunch to discuss the book Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg.  Originally, the summer reading group was organized to give Fuqua staff some personal experience with using ebooks on Ford Library Kindles.  But once the group met and began sharing their thoughts, these voices from a cross section of Fuqua created their own medley of ideas and experiences about careers and leadership.

Sheryl Sandberg would have approved.  She is chief operating officer at Facebook, a 40-something wonder woman who has engineered a rocket trajectory for her career: Harvard MBA, protégé of Larry Sommers at the World Bank, chief of staff at U.S. Treasury, V.P of global online sales at Google, and currently COO at Facebook.  If you have seen her TED talk or watched her promoting her book on television, you know that she has an articulate, authentic and ardent style.  Her goal is to add more women to the highest levels of every organization to ultimately foster better work-life policies, to reduce gender gaps in compensation and to promote more women into midlevel management. She posits that more female leadership will lead to fairer treatment for all workers.

Sandberg acknowledges that there are barriers to success for women in the workplace but the focus of her book is on the internal obstacles for women.  Women unintentionally hold themselves back by lacking confidence and avoiding risk.  Sandberg encourages women to dream big and to achieve their full potential despite societal and workplace barriers. Women advance to leadership by reaching for more opportunities, by remaining engaged and by acting self-confidently.  She advises women to negotiate salaries and to keep acquiring new skills, accepting positions up, across and perhaps down the organization.  Sandberg explains how to get help from others in identifying and acquiring a mentor and by treating one’s partner as an equal.  The book is well researched and documented but at the same time, the tone is conversational and contains many personal anecdotes.

I recommend Lean In and most other reviewers agree.  However, one writer who took issue with Sandberg is former coworker at Facebook Katherine Losse, who wrote an article for the journal Dissent, criticizing the book and Sandberg’s purpose in writing it. In Losse’s view, the book is designed to push women to work hard 24/7, which primarily benefits their companies.  In Losse’s view “it teaches women more about how to serve their companies than it teaches companies about how to be fairer places for women to work.”

Last year Katherine Losse published her own book, The Boy Kings, about her experiences at Facebook, where she worked 2005-10, including two years with Sheryl Sandberg.  Losse was the 51st  employee hired at Facebook where the atmosphere was intense.  In the early years, employees shared a sense of camaraderie and promise.  Facebook was more like a cause than a workplace.  As Losse worked her way up the organization, however, the significant levels of compensation were reserved for top leadership and engineers.  As other employees accepted increasing responsibility, the rewards did not follow.  Losse also observes several ironies regarding Facebook.  Social media was designed to bring people together, yet Facebook employees used IM to communicate, even if they were in the same room.  Facebook hoped to design a new world, but the company was largely populated with young male engineers who no longer experienced life outside the building.  And Facebook preached about transparency, yet often used information provided by members without regard for privacy — and company leadership was equally opaque to the people working there.

The Boy Kings is repetitive in places and could benefit from further editing.  However, the book addresses interesting issues about social media, society and start-ups, which makes The Boy Kings an entertaining and easy read.   Recommended.

© Reviewer: Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

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