Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” and Its Lessons For Working Dads

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In” also contains lessons for working dads

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's new book, "Lean In" also has some great lessons for working dads
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, “Lean In” also has some great lessons for working dads

I admit I haven’t yet read Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead”- it was just released today. But I have read a lot of what has been written about the book, and think that, while Sandberg’s book was obviously written for working women, it contains lessons for dads as well.  I’ll read and review the book as soon as I can (if it is as good as her TED talk, it will be excellent), but until then, here’s what I’ve picked up so far from the media coverage:

1. Keep doing the things you do well

Sandberg calls on women to adopt more traditionally male approaches in the workplace to better achieve parity. Some of what Sandberg advises women to do is to become more comfortable at negotiating, accepting praise, networking, and making their accomplishments more visible to others. While she contends men, in general, do this better than women, it is also true that some do this better than others, and that we all could be reminded that these actions are helpful to our careers. So guys, continue being mindful of the impression you project at work.

2. Continue “leaning in” until family comes along

The most controversial part of the book is Sandberg’s observation that many women make decisions to prioritize family over career well before they have a spouse or kids, unnecessarily slowing down their career trajectories. Instead, Sandberg recommends that women fully “lean in” to their careers until and if they need to make choices or trade-offs between work and family demands. In this way, they can ascend to higher levels and develop the skills, networks and bargaining power to maintain their careers during early motherhood.

Men tend to do this already- we climb ladders and then, in theory, are more able to use built up flexibility, networks and accumulated credibility to work more flexibly whe we become dads. But many men are not as mindful about their challenges, and, as a result, fail to plan and miss opportunities to act more flexibly. In fact, by some measures, fathers experience more work-family conflict than women during peak parenting years.

We working dads should more thoroughly prioritize and plan ahead, so that we can better use informal and part-time telework and other informal accommodations to help us avoid work-family conflict and stress. So, guys, keep leaning in- but also think ahead about how you’ll address your future work-family challenges.

3. Who you choose as your spouse

Sandberg asserts “the most important career choice you’ll make is who you marry”. The lesson is that women should choose a spouse who is supportive of their careers and is willing to do his fair share of the family work. By doing so, women won’t be so overloaded with faily demands that they can’t put in the time at work to build their careers.

I couldn’t agree more. The most important decision in your life is who you choose to co-create it with. You need to be up front about your life goals, and be sure you are on the same page as your spouse. There’s no wrong work-family arrangement, as long as you are both up front about your priorities, largely agree, and then put in the work to support each other.

If your priority is to climb the ladder and make a lot of money, make sure you both understand potential trade-offs, and that your spouse has priorities that match yours. If your priorities are to balance career with being a very involved dad, make sure your spouse is on-board with that set of trade-offs. Also, be sure to understand and support your spouse’s priorities.

So, guys, choose a spouse whose priorities match yours and then support each other. If you have a priority mis-match now, start working on it through open and honest communication.

4. Don’t Tear Other Men Down

Sandberg is facing a firestorm from women who see things differently. She has been called anti-feminist and the book has been criticized for applying only to a narrow already-privledged segment of women. She has been criticized for not concentrating on structural or policy barriers for women (like Dr. Anne-Marie Slaughter thoughtfully does). But I think this is unfair- we shouldn’t criticize a helpful book because it comes from a certain point of view or doesn’t cover every angle.

But women tend to criticize each other over parenting issues more than men tend to. Oy the “mommy war” internet arguments over stay-at-home vs. working moms, breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding, or hundreds of other topics.

So, guys, let’s not do this to each other. If another man has a different view or different priorities or made different choices, you don’t have to agree- but you don’t need to criticize. More directly, if there are  dads in your workplace who are trying to balance work and family differently than you, don’t judge them- give them support. Ultimately, culture changes through a million little actions, and if we make it more ok for men to talk about family at work, we may be able to chip away at some of the work-family barriers men face. If you are a supervisor, be supportive. We are all in this together.

So, what do you think about Sandberg and her book? Do you have any other work-family advice for fellow dads? Let’s discuss in the comments.

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(photo from Yohnap Korea News Service)

9 thoughts on “Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” and Its Lessons For Working Dads

  1. Great points. I especially like the comment about not tearing others down. “We are all in this together” and if we’d all help rather than hurt each other this world would be a much better place. At the same time, I’ve learned that there are people at work you should go the extra mile for and people at work you shouldn’t. It IS enough to shy away from those that only ask and don’t help rather than tell them off out right, even if that is what you really want to do.

  2. I too have not read Sandberg’s book yet. However, I’m concerned about this part: “Sandberg recommends that women fully “lean in” to their careers until and if they need to make choices or trade-offs between work and family demands.” My concern is that it might eventually be too late to actually make some of those choices! This concern applies equally to husbands/dads as well.

    A recent editorial in the NYT by Erin Callan, former CFO of Lehman Brothers, was haunting in this regard: “I didn’t start out with the goal of devoting all of myself to my job. It crept in over time. Each year that went by, slight modifications became the new normal. First I spent a half-hour on Sunday organizing my e-mail, to-do list and calendar to make Monday morning easier. Then I was working a few hours on Sunday, then all day. My boundaries slipped away until work was all that was left.” Callan also recounts how she may have lost the opportunity to have children (she is now trying through IVF).

    From what I’ve seen, some people get sucked into their all-consuming jobs and cannot stop “leaning in”.

  3. I really appreciate this thoughtful article. You make many great points, especially that all people are in this together, and that there’s not a “right” or “wrong” but instead different styles or approaches. Truly this advice goes for women and men equally (and I’m thankful that’s the case now).

    For me one great challenge is remaining true to myself while doing what is necessary to be successful at work. As an example, I tend to be a very modest person, so negotiating, accepting praise, and making my accomplishments more visible to others are not part of my repertoire. How much time and effort do I put into those as opposed to doing the work I enjoy and am already good at? How much time and effort do I put into those as opposed to my family?

    My other great challenge is the one markprof33 mentioned – making sure that the tradeoffs I make are explicit and are in line with my values. It’s all too easy to make implicit tradeoffs because of pressures (at work or at home) and find myself in a place I never really wanted to be. Knowing my values and then seeing and dealing with those tradeoffs as they arise is very difficult (and, of course, very rewarding).

    Thanks again for the post – I look forward to your take on the book!

    • Hi Ernie- Thank you for reading, and for your comment!

      I think the biggest obstacle for us working dads is that we are often too busy or too concerned about others’ needs to take the time to think through our priorities. Once we can articluate our priorities, it gets easier (though still hard) to make choices accordingly. One of the main goals of my blog is to encourage this thinking.

      I struggle with the same issues you do. i think you are a step ahead of most guys- in that you are asking the right questions.

      As to your point about being modest- I’ve been a humble college professor for the past decade plus, and had a very comfortable career with a relatively small circle of colleagues who know me well enough that I didn’t need to sef-promote. I became a blogger 5+ months ago, and have had to learn to fight my modesty and go our and self-promote like hell in a very competitive marketplace. It still feels awkward.

      Again, thanks for your thoughtful comment- Please keep coming back!

  4. I read the Erin Callan editorial and agree with the dangers of leaning in so far that family life is crowded out before it begins–and then (as in her case) it’s too late. As men model new and healthier ways to blend work and family, it will be easier for women to do the same. Employer cultures need to support the change.

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