Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead" is certainly a divisive force in the business world. On the one hand the book has been touted as a modern day feminist manifesto, on the other it has been criticized as elitist and insular. Regardless of where you stand, one thing is clear -- the topic of women and leadership is alive and well at the water cooler.


Alongside Sandberg's book is the creation of Lean In Circles. The Facebook executive is encouraging professionals to form groups of like-minded peers to meet in real life, share work-related lessons and hack their way to career success. Unlike braintrusts, Circles are not meant to directly advise, but rather they are meant as a place for professionals to share their stories.

According to the site, "Circles are small groups that meet regularly to share and learn together—like a book club focused on helping members achieve their goals."

That being said, like any book club, it'd be easy for these circles to devolve into chaos or one-sided diatribes. Here's some criteria to ensure that your circle is as strong as it can be. 

1. FINDING EQUALS: The Circle isn't meant to be a place of competition or power imbalances. Choose members who are at similar stages in their careers or are seeking out similar knowledge. Recognize each other as equals and listen with that in mind. An indicator of group balance is that conversation is equitably divided and no one person consistently dominates the discussion.

2. SEEKING DIVERSITY: Include those who have taken different journeys to get to this point in their career. People with different experiences and backgrounds often tackle problems in ways that may seem unexpected to you.In some cases you may disagree with another member's approach, but it's this diversity that can help inform more well-rounded discussion and decision-making.

3. SHARED HAPPINESS: Leave your frenemies at the door. Your Lean In Circle should be filled with those who want to see you flourish regardless of their own outcomes. Choose members who believe in you as a potential leader and also be willing to invest in their success.

4. PROXIMITY MATTERS: You'll be unlikely to meet regularly unless your group works or lives in close proximity to each other. One factor in choosing members is ensuring that they're available and that the meetings are conveniently located. 

5. MAINTAINING FOCUS: If you want to start a wine tasting club, then start a wine tasting club. But if you want to start a circle, take the time to write down what you'd like to get out of this group interaction and find others who want the same. Your circle can only be successful if you know what you're each striving towards and the types of stories that are appropriate for sharing.

To start your own Lean In Circle visit leanin.org/circles

"Salesforce.com has been guided by many incredible female leaders, whose energy and passion drive our growth and success. We are proud to support Lean In as we help all employees pursue their passions and succeed in leadership positions." - Marc Benioff, Chairman & CEO