Sheryl Sandberg, also known as ‘Facebook’s second in command’ and one of the most infamous women’s rights advocates in the US, is one of those people who has an impact on others, for better or for worse. She is as loved as she is hated (she’s even been called “the world’s most annoying person”) but nobody can deny how hard she has worked to shape the odds in her favor and in favor of many other working women out there. The data speaks for itself: Sandberg is the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, reportedly has a network worth more than USD 1 billion, and has been named one of the most influential and powerful people in the world by Time magazine, Fortune and Forbes.
Before she started working for Facebook, she was Vice President of Global Online Sales and Operations at Google, and was deeply involved in launching Google’s philanthropic venture, Google.org. And before she started working at the Internet giant, she was Chief of Staff for the United States Secretary of the Treasury under the Bill Clinton administration.
In late 2007, Mark Zuckerberg (co-founder and CEO of Facebook) met Sandberg at a party, just when she was considering leaving Google to become a senior executive for The Washington Post Company. He wasn’t looking for a COO at the moment but he thought she was “a perfect fit” for the role straight away, and by March 2008 he was announcing her incorporation to the Facebook staff.
Soon after she joined, she started to look for ways to make the social media platform profitable, since at the time it was “primarily interested in building a really cool site” and they weren’t thinking about profitability. In 2012, she became the eighth member (and the first woman) of Facebook’s board of directors and today she oversees all the business operations related to sales, marketing, business development, human resources, public policy and communications.
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
In 2010 she gave a TED talk called “Why we have too few women leaders”, which had a great impact on both men and women in the business industry, especially those in the technology sector. “A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes” is Sandberg’s motto. She got such an overwhelming response (both positive and negative) after her TED talk that she decided to write a book about her insights as a woman in a male dominated industry, and that’s how Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead was born and released to the public in March 2013. By fall of that same year, the book had sold more than one million copies and was on top of the bestseller lists.
Lean In is a book for professional women who want to achieve their career goals and for men who want to contribute to a more equitable society. The book argues that barriers are still preventing women from taking leadership roles in the workplace and encourages women to lean in to positions of leadership.
The book inspired so many people that she decided to create a foundation around it which, among other things, encourages people to meet regularly in small peer groups called ‘Circles’ to learn and grow together. They have more than 1.5 million members separated in 33,000 circles in 150 countries as of May 2017 and they keep growing, according to Sandberg herself: “We grow by a hundred a week. They're growing because they help people accomplish real things. Our data says the great majority of people who join a circle will make a really positive life change for themselves within six months. They get raises. They get new jobs. They run for office. They change the dynamics they have with their partners.”
Option B: Facing adversity, building resilience and finding joy
On May 1 2015, Sandberg’s husband and CEO of SurveyMonkey, Dave Goldberg, died suddenly at the age of 47 while the couple was celebrating a friend’s birthday in Mexico. Sandberg often talked about how supportive Goldberg was and they had become an example of the Silicon Valley power couple, so his sudden passing was a real shock to everybody. Sandberg was certain that she and her children would never feel pure joy again, but her friend Adam Grant (a psychologist at Wharton) told her there are concrete steps someone can take to recover and rebound.
Two weeks after losing her husband she cried to a friend “I want Dave. I want Option A,” and her friend replied, “Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the sh*t out of option B.” True to her analytical and rational mind, she decided to do exactly that and she co-wrote Option B: Facing adversity, building resilience and finding joy with Grant to share her personal insights and research on how to find strength in the face of adversity.
Just like Lean in, Option B comes with a nonprofit aimed to offer the members the tools they need to get over difficult times and a safe place to talk with other people who have found themselves in the same situation. The community has several thousand members spread out in communities that focus on topics such as grief, sexual assault, incarceration or illness.
Sheryl Sandberg’s top tips for success
- Don’t focus too much on the upward trajectory. “Careers are not ladders but jungle gyms. Don't move just up and down, don't just look up. Look backwards, sideways, around corners. Your career and your life will have starts and stops, zigs and zags, so don't stress out about the white space.”
- Hire big. “If you think you're going to grow quickly, hire for what you think you're going to need. Over-hire. Hire people who are more qualified, people who have more experience, or hire people who are just out of school but who can overachieve in their current roles.”
- Be a great leader. “All organizations have some form of hierarchy, but great leaders don't want compliance, they don't want people to follow orders. Great leaders want real, genuine enthusiasm, real commitment. Great leaders not just win the minds of their team, they win their hearts. Great leaders don't just issue commands, they hear the voices of those around them.”
- Results are the most important part. “In my job, Mark and I try to work the company very focused on results. We had one employee actually for a while who famously was one of our absolutely highest performers, but didn't like to be at the office very much. And we would publicly applaud him, you know no one has seen him for a week but look what's happening. Not every company can do that but many more companies could do it.”
- Give people room to talk. “How do you get to the truth? How do you make really good decisions when nobody is telling the truth? How do you communicate authentically? How do you figure out what to say and not to say in a way that's authentic? Starts from the fundamental understanding that there is no truth. If you walk into a room saying ‘here’s the answer’, you’re not giving anybody any room to say anything. If you walk in a room and say ‘I believe this for this reason, what do you believe?’, if you share your truth in that language, you give people room to communicate authentically and that is hugely important.”
- Trust your instincts. “[After my job at the United States Secretary of the Treasury] I went to a smaller company with a very more junior, less defined job. And when I came out of Google to go to Facebook, a lot of people asked me ‘what are you doing? You're going to work for 23 year olds? No one knows if Facebook is going to be the next MySpace and you're not CEO, you could be CEO somewhere else’, and what I saw was something that mattered. Facebook mattered with authentic identify and an opportunity for growth.”
Sandberg is still working on shaping the odds in women’s favor and bringing more diversity into business, especially in the technology sector. “Let's be clear: Our numbers are not where they should be. The whole industry's numbers aren't where they should be. This just changes slowly. It shouldn't change slowly. I'd like to change it quickly, but there's just a lot of work to do.” Hopefully her work and the effort of many other people fighting for equality will pay off sooner rather than later!