(Here at the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit to learn some leadership tips for our Operation Christmas Child team)
Sheryl: Thank you for having me.
Bill: What was your first conscious memory that you might be a leader
Sheryl: Probably way into my career. My mom would say I worked it our with my little brother when I was 4 and he was 2 that he would follow me around and I would say “Right, David?” and he would reply “Right”
Bill: You didn’t lead in high school or college?
Sheryl: I ran for sophomore class president and won . But as a girl growing up I was called ‘bossy’ and I don’t think women are encouraged to be leaders.
Bill: If we could get leaders to self-identify younger they would dive into leadership
Sheryl: That’s right for both boys and girls but I think more important for girls. Say to the ‘bossy’ girl – she’s not bossy; she has leadership skills. We expect boys to lead but not girls but we need to change that.
Bill: At first you went to Google and didn’t have a solid job description then went to Facebook
Sheryl: I wanted to work in technology because I thought it was changing the world. My job offer at Google was to be the business unit general manager but there was no business unit. I loved the mission and felt it was going to grow. Someone told me when you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship you don’t ask, ‘what seat’ you just jump on.
Bill: At Google you were asked to hire 400 people. You say ‘hire big’ -- what does that mean?
S: We hire people for experience and skills and they’re both important but skill is most important. Hire people you are GOING to need, not the people you need now. Make sure you hire people who can get you there. If the person is willing to take the job they will create the job.
B: Do you fire fast?
S: It’s not fair to fire without cause but there are times when infractions are made and firing must happen
B: You’re known for candor
S: My mother is a great communicator and taught us to mirror and be direct in communication. I believe in being direct
B: Another axiom of yours is to focus on results not face time
S: Don’t reward people for just being there; the results count. The goal is not to have face time but to get results. Set ambitious goals and hit them. We also make heroes of people who try hard and fail because we learn from failure. We’ve given product of the year awards to people who failed.
B: Most people know you’re a phenomenal leader but when you started the “Lean In” movement that requires a different set of skills. You’re trying to move people to a cause. Where did the passion for this start.
S: When I graduated from college in 1991 I saw bright women going into jobs nad thought my generation would make things equal but women still only have 5% of the Fortune 500 jobs and political jobs. We would have a more equitable world if women got an equal seat at the table as well as people of all races and backgrounds.
B: From a strategic standpoint this was welling up in you. When did you have the aha moment that you would do something. Was writing the first strategy?
S: I first studied the themes that hold women back. No one else wanted to talk about it. I was invited to give a talk to 10 women about social media but I gave this TED talk on the lack of women leaders. The most important thing that happened was 33,000 learning circles of 8-10 people getting together to support each other and it’s making a difference. No one does anything alone. You need support and a peer support that meets every month is a great way.
B: I fell this book should be mandatory reading for men. They think they problem isn’t as dramatic as it is and how they can help. Probably 50 pages in your book brought these things to my attention.
S: Equality is actually good for the men—lower divorce rates, less depression in women, etc. If you can work better with half the population you are going to out-perform. We all laugh at the sexist jokes. We interrupt women more than men. We assign the office housework to planning parties to women and that doesn’t get you promoted. Men should do their share as well
B: One of the anecdotes in the book I appreciated—
S: It was St. Patrick’s Day and the volunteer at the door said to me, “He’s wearing BLUE. He’s supposed to be wearing GREEN.” I felt terrible the rest of the day about this. I called my husband and he said, “Our son in learning something important today. He’s learning he doesn’t have to be like everyone else.” We expect women to do things and applaud men if they just make any effort.
B: We struggle to let women lead in our church and one section in your book made me emotional. Would you read it.
S: (end of book) The march toward equality continues…we owe it to the generations that came before us and to those who come after us to make things more equal and that will make it better for all of us. I want my son and my daughter each to do what they want to do and are respected and supported. When they find where their truest passions lie I hope they both lean in—all the way.
B: You’re working as an executive and go to Mexico on vacation….
S: We went on vacation to Mexico and my husband went to the gym and died of a cardiac event. The grief was overwhelming. Eventually we wrote this book to help others
B: Let’s go back to right after his death. You use the word ‘incapacitated’ by a paralyzing fog that was with you night and day. Did you turn to your faith, your work?
S: I turned to everyone and everything and sometimes it helped and sometimes it didn’t. It’s not just about you but about all the people around you. I turned to my friends, to others’ experiences, I looked for God, for comfort in tradition. People said it never goes away but it gets better. I want other people to believe that which is why we wrote “Option B”
B: Ways to get through grief
S: Personalization is a trap (It’s all my fault—blame ourselves for things that are our fault and are not our fault but it is human to make mistakes)
Pervasiveness is a trap – feeling everything is terrible. Reminding myself my children are alive helps—it could be worse. Need to find good.
Permanence is a trap – doesn’t feel like it will ever go away
B: You started using a word ‘resilience’
S: I started asking if I had enough resilience. Don’t ask me how much you have; ask me how you can build it.
B: You decided to mark every moment of joy and find reasons to be grateful.
S: You know, everyone has heard of PTSD. Who’s heard of Post Traumatic Birth? You learn from the bad experiences. Joy is something you have to look for. Even four months later I knew I deserved joy. Adam told me, “If you don’t think you deserve joy, your kids do.”
B: You became a different kind of leader after these tragic life experiences. How has this shaped you as a leader?
S: I don’t ‘sweat the small stuff’ as much. I learned more about how to support others in times of stress and hardships. You can’t ignore those. When I went back to work all the chit-chat stopped when I came around. When we don’t say anything we don’t acknowledge the grief. I also realized you need to build people back up. I thought before my only job was to take the work off their shoulders and that is important but it’s also important to remind them they can still work. As people come back to work I acknowledge their grief but also their contributions.
B: What were the worst things people said to you
S: You’re so sad it’s hard to be around you. I was sad and angry and it came out in ways that were hurtful. I needed friends who could be there even when it was messy. I remember my friend when I snapped at her saying, “I know. I’m angry, too.”
B: You turned to friends in darkest hours. Why?
S. When things happen like this you can’t get through yourself. Before Dave died I’d ask friends who were grieving, “What can I do?” Now I realize that doesn’t help. It’s better to show up and do something specific. You don’t have to be a best friend to show up. I’m way better at showing up for people since Dave died.
B: One some day you start to wake up and experience joy
S: At first I needed permission to feel joy. At a Bar Mitzvah I danced and then burst into tears. I felt happiness for the first time in 4 months. Then I needed to figure out how to let myself be happy, so at the end of the day I wrote down three moments of joy. In writing those things I went to bed noticing the joy. We have to give ourselves and other people permission to be joyful.
B: Word association: Vision
S: Mark (I work with someone with incredible vision)
B: Leadership Development
S: Investment (everyone can be a leader)
B: If a leader wants to get better – how?
S: Real feedback—get someone to tell you the truth. Make it easy for people to give you feedback. Ask for feedback from those who work for you.
B: Is it easier for leadership development to be provided by the organization or by the individual?
S: It’s always both. We’ll get female leaders when organization and individuals both believe in them. It’s never either/or
B: Thank you for being here today. I’m a big fan of yours.
S: Thank you. I appreciate your focus on leadership.