Monday, March 24, 2014

Sheryl Sandberg and a Pivotal Question

As I was reading Sheryl Sandberg’s thought-provoking book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, I encountered a passage that popped out at me.

As the sub-title implies, Sandberg addresses this book to women. But it’s an excellent read for men as well. She peels back the curtain on what goes on in women’s heads and in organizations to prevent women from advancing their careers and taking on more leadership positions.

Sheryl Sandberg has the experience and research to back up the points she makes.

She’s been the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook since 2008, and before that was with Google during its start-up years. She has a knack for making companies profitable. She’s also ranked on Fortune’s list of 50 Most Powerful Women in Business and as one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World.

Her book draws you in as she reveals her own doubts and insecurities when faced with opportunities throughout her life. You can feel her personal struggles because she never presents herself as someone who’s “arrived.” Even today, she fights a strong internal critic. Yet she prevails because she recognizes negative self-talk only serves to sabotage, not build up.

Every chapter is packed with insights that challenge you to think about your own self-limiting beliefs.

But one story stopped me in my tracks because it speaks to our relationships with others, and what we can do to serve others instead of focusing on how they can be useful to us…

Soon after Sandberg joined Facebook, she received a phone call from a business acquaintance in a high level position at eBay. The woman told her:

“I want to apply to work with you at Facebook. So I thought about calling you and telling you all of the things I’m good at and all of the things I like to do. Then I figured that everyone was doing that. So instead, I want to ask you: What is your biggest problem, and how can I solve it?”

Sandberg was stunned. Even though she’d hired thousands of people during the previous 10 years, she’d never heard a person say “anything remotely like that.”

This woman’s approach of putting the needs of Facebook first resulted in her being hired to solve Sandberg’s biggest problem: recruiting.

Most people seeking a job put their own interests first. They work hard to position their skills as being valuable to the company, without taking time to find out where the company’s pain points are.

Think about how you could apply this idea with different people in your life, not just in a job interview situation.

You don’t have to be on a mission to “fix” other people’s problems. But with thoughtful questions, a listening ear and a caring heart, you can tune in to what’s important to them.

It requires a shift in focus. You set aside what you might want to talk about in order to understand what’s going on in the mind of another human being.

It’s not easy to connect this way. You can quickly fall back on your own needs and interests.

But if you practice this often enough, you’ll create a habit that results in others treasuring their time with you.


  1. Meredith, this was a really insightful post! I have been reading Lean In too. I was also struck by the same passage, and I'm using this approach as I explore new career opportunities. Having recently served as managing director for a mental health organization, I get how important it is to integrate work and service to others.

    It is really exciting to consider asking "what is your greatest challenge right now" in my personal relationships... In my experience, just the willingness to share a burden lightens it and provides much healing.

    Thank you for the reminder to integrate work, service and LIFE! It really is all one and the same, isn't it?!

    So excited to discover your blog!


  2. Jen, thanks so much for your valuable feedback and addiitonal insights about this post. Very glad you found it and me! And yes, everything is integrated...


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