My friend Babs is furious.
Not that this couldn't have been prevented. For the record, I warned her.
"Just read the last sentence of each chapter," I advised. "That way, you eliminate 'waste of time' from the list of things you hate about it."
We were talking about "Lean In", a business book written by Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, which Babs was required to read over the summer. For those of you who have been away vacationing on Mars, "Lean In" is the new "Good to Great", a drawn-out term paper relying heavily on anecdotal evidence, that will ultimately sell oodles of copies because it will be assigned reading for every working Earthwoman unfortunate enough to have the ability to read English (except those in food service) over the next three decades. Or until Facebook goes bust, whatever comes first.
The book is apparently about women, or lack thereof, in leadership roles. I say "apparently" because it was sold out at both of my local bookstores this morning. So I can only expound upon the two chapters that I read on Amazon, and the synopsis provided by Wikipedia.
Which may be just as well. Simply reading the chapter titles incurred in me an intense episode of post-traumatic stress syndrome, as they brought to mind recollections of some of the more insanely stupid corporate foolery I had to suffer during a previous incarnation in executive management. These included:
- An eight-hour discussion of "Good to Great" (of course), the best part of which being the cute sweater I bought on my way to the meeting. This discussion was so mind-numbingly boring and painful that, to this day, I count it as a personal victory each time one of the "great" companies goes belly-up;
- DISC training, a kind of half-assed psychological testing program that divides people into types according to their prevailing characteristics: Dominance, Influence, Submission, and Compliance, after which one is "trained" to deal effectively with the other types. My prevailing characteristic is Influence, followed closely by Dominance. When asked how I would explain something to a Compliance-type, I answered, "S-l-o-w-l-y." Wrong answer. I was promptly chided for being a very bad person, and told to go sit with the S and C people, amongst whom I organized an outing for cocktails afterwards as a sort of purification ritual;
- A competition in paper airplane construction, a teamwork exercise, the team coming up with the longest-flying airplane being the winners. I hate teams. I just told the members of mine to give me the paper and, relying upon deep-memory skills from third grade, I quickly fashioned a standard-issue paper airplane. We won. Yay, team;
- A scavenger hunt. Since "martini" was not on the list, I refused. But not without repercussions;
- The endless, routine board meetings. I always brought my knitting, which incurred the contempt of the some of the more unimaginative members of the board, but two hours of listening to idiots drone on about something that could be decided in 30 seconds-flat by your paperboy, was beyond the limit of my endurance. My mind had to be engaged by something, and at least knitting requires basic mathematics. And produces something useful.
I have come away from these experiences with the conclusion that most business people, including - and maybe especially - those in leadership positions are unusually gullible, and really not very bright.
Take, for example, an anecdote of my own: My son, while attending one of the top universities in the nation, was in the university library one day working on a paper, and overheard two business majors studying for an exam:
"Who does payroll?"
I rest my case.
Since I don't have a copy of "Lean In", I'm not going to criticize it. Yet. I have every intention of doing so, eventually, if only in retaliation on behalf of victims like Babs. However, there are a few points I feel confident in addressing now.
First, a quote from Ms. Sandberg: "A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes."
Aside from the fact that the sentence would benefit from a comma, I respectfully disagree. A truly equal world would allow mothers to stay home to raise their own children until the youngest one was able to acurately identify and articulately describe a child molester, at which time the mothers would receive lifelong health insurance benefits, a substantial down payment on a house, and a tuition grant to the higher education of their choice. This is fair. There is nothing equalizing in the existence of a child care industry. A fair wage for raising somebody else's child is something nobody can afford. Thus, your nanny - necessarily - will always be underemployed. By you. Unless you happen to be very rich and share the same shoe size.
Next, Ms. Sandberg seems to be concerned about the reasons why qualified women are not equally represented in the highest levels of leadership. Her conclusions are centered around self-applied psychological limitations, instilled by a gender-biased society. She encourages women to "sit at the table" - specifically at meetings with male attendees - while speculating that the reason why they don't is all about feelings of self-worth and inadequacy.
Way off base.
The real reason women tend to prefer not to "sit at the table" is that they have better things to do than having their brains turned into mashed-potatoes. And they're right. I don't care what Ms. Sandberg's experiential research and cited studies have led her to believe. The reality is that the vast majority of business meetings are excruciating. Taking a seat away from the table is the equivalent of scoring a seat in the back row at school. One is generally left to one's own devices, which are usually a zillion times more interesting than the order of the day. Women are generally smart enough to do this, and will always have the "Who, little ol' me?" excuse ready. Because they know they can get away with it.
I swear I evolved a third eyelid and learned to power nap while sitting in meetings I couldn't escape. Another woman I knew always brought colored pencils.
And I do not view this as a flaw.
Neither should you, Ms. Sandberg. Instead of leaning in at the big boys' table, maybe a better idea is the boys should be leaning out in the back row with us.
It is certainly a lot more fun, and they just might learn something constructive. Like how to make a paper airplane.