Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's 11 Secrets to Succe$$

by Derek Loosvelt | July 13, 2011

Irrespective of whether you believe Facebook's mission is a socially-stunting one or socially-enhancing one, it's hard to argue with the firm's success. And, aside from the firm's founder and leader, Mark Zuckberg, the person most responsible for that success is the social networking firm's chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg. In less than three years since Sandberg left Google to become Facebook's COO, the firm finally became profitable, grew its staff from 130 to 2,500, and increased its number of users from 70 million to 700 million.

Which is partly why Sandberg is now on the shortlist to succeed U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who has expressed interest in leaving his post by the close of 2011. (If appointed, Sandberg would become the first ever female Treasury Secretary, and would certainly be considered one of the world's most powerful women working in finance.) It's also the reason that Sandberg was invited to give the commencement address at Barnard College's recent graduation ceremony, and why this week The New Yorker published an 8,000-word profile of the COO -- in which we learn that Sandberg has some pretty clear ideas of what makes a successful businessperson and, more specifically, a successful businesswoman in today's marketplace.

Here they are:

1. Screw Work-Life Balance
That's right, Sandberg says don't worry about work-life balance. Instead, find a job you love. She believes that "too many women [are] dropping out of the workforce after becoming mothers, in part because they had not pushed to get a job they loved before they began having children." It's a message she spreads widely. According to Debora Spar, the president of Barnard, who sat a few feet away from Sandberg during her commencement address, "Sheryl's message is very powerful. It's a simple one: Don't worry so much about balance. Work hard, stick with what you like, and don't let go."

2. Don't Be Afraid to Score a Sponsor, and a Big Swinging Male One at That
Sandberg studied economics at Harvard under Larry Summers, who later went on to become the the chief economist at the World Bank and the U.S. Treasury Secretary. Summers enlisted Sandberg to work for him at the World Bank, and, at twenty-nine years of age, Sandberg became Summer's chief of staff when he was named Secretary. When asked about critics who've said that sponsorship with an older male can can often look like an affair, and that "if the woman is promoted, her achievement will be undermined by office gossip that she earned it illicitly," Sandberg says, "I feel really grateful to the people who encouraged me and helped me develop. Nobody can succeed on their own."

3. Never Do Less Housework Than Your Spouse
Sandberg believes a true partnership is an equal one, and anything less will not result in success.
She says, "The No. 1 impediment to women succeeding in the workforce is now in the home. . . . Most people assume that women are responsible for households and child care. Most couples operate that way -- not all. That fundamental assumption holds women back." She explains that on average "women do two-thirds of the housework and three-fourths of the child care." (Which you can bet doesn't fly in the Sandberg's household; she's married to the CEO of SurveyMonkey and has two daughters under the age of seven).

4. Don't Make Plans
If you want to make God laugh, the saying goes, then make plans. Likewise, Sandberg believes, If you want to make a mess of your career, plan it out. "I always tell people if you try to connect the dots of your career, if you mess it up you're going to wind up on a very limited path. If I decided what I was going to do in college -- when there was no Internet, no Google, no Facebook . . . I don't want to make that mistake. The reason I don’t have a plan is because if I have a plan I'm limited to today's options."

5. Never Fear
Here's how Sandberg ended her commencement address at Barnard: "Don't let your fears overwhelm your desire. Let the barriers you face -- and there will be barriers -- be external, not internal. Fortune does favor the bold. I promise that you will never know what you're capable of unless you try. You're going to walk off this stage today and you're going to start your adult life. Start out by aiming high. . . . Go home tonight and ask yourselves, What would I do if I weren't afraid? And then go do it! Congratulations."

6. Don't Check Out Before You Push One Out
Sandberg believes that many a professional woman who starts thinking about having a family "doesn't raise her hand [on the job] anymore. ... She starts leaning back." This is a big mistake, according to Sandberg. In that time between making the decision to have a family and actually starting one, a lot can happen -- including finding a job you want to come back to.

7. No Division Between Work Self and Real Self
Sandberg believes "in bringing your whole self to work. We are who we are. When you try to have this division between your personal self and your professional self, what you really are is stiff. . . . That doesn't mean people have to tell me everything about their personal lives. But I'm pretty sharing of mine." She even says that "being open with your employees ... means that nothing is a surprise to them -- even if you fire them."

8. Research Means Asking Other Human Beings What They Think
When Sandberg worked for Larry Summers at the World Bank, "the World Bank was deciding whether to bail out Russia. Someone asked ... whether a bailout in 1917 could have saved the country from seventy years of Communism. He posed the question to Sandberg. 'What most students would have done,' he says, 'is gone off to the library, skimmed some books on Russian history, and said they weren't sure it was possible. What Sheryl did was call Richard Pipes,' who was a leading historian of the Russian Revolution and a professor at Harvard. 'She engaged him for one hour and took detailed notes.' The next day, she reported back."

9. Ask Not What You Can Do For Your CEO, Just Tell Him
Before Sandberg left Google for Facebook, "Sandberg met with Eric Schmidt, who was then the CEO of Google, about her desire to do something else at the company. He proposed promoting her to chief financial officer, a job she rejected because she didn't think it gave her enough management responsibility. She asked about becoming the chief operating officer [a position Zuckerberg had offered her], but Google already had a troika making decisions -- Schmidt and the two founders -- and they didn’t want to further complicate things." So Sandberg said, Bu-bye.

10. Introduce Yourself to Strangers
Sandberg has a tough but friendly approach to management. As soon as she joined Facebook, "she walked up to hundreds of people's desks and interrupted them and said, 'Hi, I'm Sheryl Sandberg,' .... It was this overt gesture, like, 'O.K., let your guard down. I'm not going to hole up with Mark. I'm going to try and have a relationship with you guys.'"

11. Keep Your Compliments to Yourself
In addition to her position as Facebook COO, Sandberg serves on the boards of Disney and Starbucks. According to Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, "Most people you meet who are highly qualified and accomplished tend to want to tell you all the things they've done and how smart they are. Or they want to impress you. Sheryl is not like that at all."

Filed Under: Finance | Technology


McKinsey 'Embarrassed' Over Galleon, Focused on Future Changes in Death-Care Industry Show Need for MBA in Funeral

Vault welcomes your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful of other readers. Review our User Guidelines.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Featured Companies

Become a Vault Basic Member

Complete your Vault Profile and get seen by top employers