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 / Winter 2013 / Issue 73(originally published by Booz & Company)

Business Literature: Best Business Books 2013

Best Business Books 2013: Managerial Self-Help

Pink’s chapter on clarity is full of aha! moments, deeply rewarding and persuasively written. He describes techniques for developing effective pitches that go far beyond the elevator standard and offers a Schein-like template for asking better questions in order to get better results. Full of fresh information and useful insights, To Sell Is Human is timely, original, thoroughly engaging, and deeply humane.

Get Out of Your Own Way

It’s hard to separate Lean In the book from “Lean In” the phenomenon. In an era when the professed goal of every book, article, and tweet is to start a national conversation, Sheryl Sandberg has succeeded on an unprecedented scale with a subject that is often addressed as a dutiful afterthought. Women’s leadership has been pronounced dead as a topic of interest many times over the last 25 years. Yet with precision, timing, and an extraordinary dedication of resources, Sandberg has revived it.

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead combines exhortation, analysis, and memoir in addressing the question of why so many women who start their careers with high potential and high hopes fall behind as the years progress, resulting in a continuing paucity of women in senior positions. Until recently, this was widely attributed to the lack of a “pipeline,” a problem that, it was assumed, would resolve itself once enough women were hired into management. This has not happened.

Although Sandberg recognizes that substantial extrinsic obstacles stand in the way of women’s success (organizational culture, blatant and subtle discrimination, and, of course, child-care issues), she’s also convinced that internal obstacles (issues related to women’s own thinking and behavior) play a role. This is what she sets out to examine, drawing on her own experience and that of other women. She buttresses her observations with well-integrated academic research on such issues as how success and likability are correlated in women (negatively, as it turns out), differences in how men and women perceive their own qualifications for advancement (men rate themselves more highly even in cases where women significantly outperform them), and how men and women perceive their employability (dishearteningly, women apply for open jobs only if they think they meet 100 percent of the criteria listed, whereas men apply if they meet 60 percent of the requirements). Such data makes it difficult to argue with Sandberg’s central thesis that women’s tendency to question their own skills often plays a role in limiting their opportunities.

The Facebook executive freely admits that she has made every mistake she discusses and tells her own story with refreshing candor. For instance, when Larry Summers, her mentor and thesis advisor at Harvard, recommended she apply for an international fellowship, she ignored the advice because she feared it would make it harder for her to find a husband. Later, working for Summers at the World Bank, she made up for this strategic error by taking to heart his advice that she “bill like a boy.”

Sandberg went on to serve her mentor as chief of staff when he was at the U.S. Treasury during the Clinton administration. There, she became intrigued by the tech industry’s rapid growth. She joined Google in 2001, quickly became its vice president for global online sales and operations, and jumped ship in 2008 to become Facebook’s chief operating officer.

Sandberg demonstrates a gift for self-awareness that avoids both self-adulation and false modesty. She admits she didn’t know how to read a spreadsheet when she arrived at the World Bank and describes humiliating moments when she made poor decisions, received withering feedback, or even cried. Although she’s been criticized for these admissions by those who believe successful women must always inhabit the straitjacket of the unvaryingly positive role model, her honesty has stood her in good stead, both in her career and in the warm persona that animates the book.

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