Chapter XVII

because you never know someone from the very beginning


May 2012

Be Inspired: Sheryl Sandberg and Leadership

If I could invite five people to a dinner party, Sheryl would be one of those five. For anyone who doesn’t know her, she is the COO of Facebook. She is such a role model for men and women alike. I say that because most people hold her up as a role model for WOMEN but I think MEN really need to take heed and follow her. She is THE model for this era of leadership and business, while having a family and that is not a women’s issue, it is a society issue. She gave the commencement speech this year at HBS (full text and video here). I’ve posted my favorite parts below.

[Careers] are not a ladder; they’re a jungle gym. As you start your post-HBS career, look for opportunities, look for growth, look for impact, look for mission. Move sideways, move down, move on, move off. Build your skills, not your resume. Evaluate what you can do, not the title they’re going to give you. Do real work. Take a sales quota, a line role, an ops job, don’t plan too much, and don’t expect a direct climb.

As traditional structures are breaking down, leadership has to evolve as well. From hierarchy to shared responsibility, from command and control to listening and guiding.

Your strength will not come from your place on some org chart, your strength will come from building trust and earning respect.

People rarely speak this clearly in the workforce or in life and as you get more senior, not only will people speak less clearly to you but they will overreact to the small things you say.

As you graduate today, ask yourself, how will you lead. Will you use simple and clear language? Will you seek out honesty? When you get honesty back, will you react with anger or with gratitude? As we strive to be more authentic in our communication, we should also strive to be more authentic in a broader sense. I talk a lot about bringing your whole self to work—something I believe in deeply.

Motivation comes from working on things we care about but it also comes from working with people we care about, and in order to care about someone, you have to know them. You have to know what they love and hate, what they feel, not just what they think. If you want to win hearts and minds, you have to lead with your heart as well as your mind. I don’t believe we have a professional self from Mondays through Fridays and a real self for the rest of the time. That kind of division probably never worked, but in today’s world, with a real voice, an authentic voice, it makes even less sense. I’ve cried at work. I’ve told people I’ve cried at work. And it’s been reported in the press that Sheryl Sandberg cried on Mark Zuckerberg’s shoulder, which is not exactly what happened. I talk about my hopes and fears and ask people about theirs. I try to be myself. Honest about my strengths and weaknesses and I encourage others to do the same. It is all professional and it is all personal, all at the very same time.

But women at the top c-level jobs are stuck at 15 or 16 % and has not moved in a decade. Not even close to 50%. We need to acknowledge openly that gender remains an issue at the highest levels of leadership. The promise of equality is not equality. We need to start talking about this. We need to start talking about how women underestimate their abilities compared to men and for women, but not men, success and likeability are negatively correlated. That means that as a woman is more successful in your workplaces, she will be less liked. This means that women need a different form of management and mentorship, a different form of sponsorship and encouragement, and some protection, in some ways more than men.

There aren’t enough senior women out there to do it, so it falls upon the men who are graduating today just as much or more as the women, not just to talk about gender but to help these women succeed.

We will not close the leadership gap until we close the professional ambition gap. We need more women not just to sit at the table, but as president Obama said a few weeks ago at Barnard, to take their rightful seats at the head of the table.

Being Forty

I turned 40 recently and marked the occasion with two great dinners (why only have one) and great friends and family.  My kids sang happy birthday to me (well, one sang, the other clapped).  It felt like being admitted to a club.  I think I walk a little taller now.

There are many things I wish I knew about my parents when they were turning 40.  Somewhere we have a picture of my dad in front of a tree in Sodus, NY where I was born and I think he was 40.  He was wearing his collar (priest collar) and an awkward smile.  He got cheekier with age.  And more confident.  But I don’t think he was there yet at 40.  I vaguely remember a surprise party for my mother when she turned 40.  We went to a local restaurant and all of my parents’ friends started showing up.  I think she had a great time.  We didn’t do enough of those things for her growing up.

But what were they thinking about?  What was their life like?  That is what I want to know.

So what will I say to my kids when they ask about turning 40? I will say:

  • That I felt younger than I expected to feel.
  • That it became clearer than ever that wasting time is silly.  And that includes on books that you don’t like, jobs you don’t love and people who bring you down.  However, sometimes it makes sense to push through the hard stuff or just focus on what certain things give you rather than what they take from you.  Perspective is everything.
  • That more than ever I feel the need for parents.
  • And that it’s really great to be 40 and have little kids because you realize that they are just at the beginning of their journey, and you can go along for so much of the ride.
  • That I don’t trust people who prefer Miracle Whip.
  • That exercise on a regular basis actually is a necessity.  At 40 my metabolism is no longer what it was and whammo!  Ten pounds.
  • But that I don’t care about that now as much now as I did when I was 30.
  • That things that used to be easy – maintaining friendships – are now harder but are just as necessary and worth the effort.
  • That I wish I had asked my dad more questions.  And I am glad I can still ask my mom lots of questions.
  • Start saving early.  Even a dollar a week.  Save save save.
  • That I wish I knew a foreign language or how to play chess.  And that I am glad I can still learn a foreign language and how to play chess.
  • That I still have insecurities and something tells me they don’t go away.  But I do have a greater sense of how to be OK.
  • I spent my 20s in suits, my 30s in black pants and button downs, and now my 40s in jeans. This says a lot about career progress.
  • Do not EVER go into an airplane bathroom without shoes.
  • That we, your father and I, struggle daily with city/suburbs…city/suburbs.
  • We worry every day that we are not doing enough for you kids, and that parenting is the most fragile exercise we’ve ever tackled.
  • That women who only talk about clothes and furniture are boring and Avery, do not be afraid to find other friends.
  • I wish I could shake my 20 year old self out of doing things (jobs) for superficial reasons.
  • That if a guy calls it means he likes you.  Period.
  • Kids can be really mean and I hope and pray neither of you are That Kid.  That Mean Kid.
  • That I don’t like people who are mean to waiters and waitresses. And that I always over-tip cabdrivers and delivery guys.
  • That two nights ago your father and I stayed up too late playing backgammon and drinking wine and we love nights like that.  We are 1-1 BTW.
  • That on most nights one of us is home earlier than the other, and that we don’t spend enough weeknights together at the dinner table.
  • That I still don’t have all the answers and in fact had more questions.  Bono (all hail) was right when he said “The more you see, the less you know.”  The trick is being excited about that.

And what I REALLY hope is that we are reading this together when your father and I are 80, or 90!  As we play a game of chess and speak in foreign languages.

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