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Sheryl Sandberg: What it Takes to be the COO at Facebook

Thank you to those that responded to my What Kind of Planner Are You? post! I was delighted to get your replies and will be publishing them in the upcoming weeks.

Today’s post is about Sheryl Sandberg, COO at Facebook (and the first woman to serve on its board!). Her first book is coming out March 11th: Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.

“Lean In” must be a reference to her highly-publicized 2010 Ted Talk, where she hypothesized that more women aren’t in executive roles because they are opting out of the work force. For women that want to stay in and achieve high-powered positions, she advises them to keep their foot on the gas. The second a woman begins thinking about starting a family and how she’ll fit being a mother into her busy life, she stops reaching for opportunities, says Sandberg. This mode of thinking – “leaning back” – can start well before women become parents, and it’s a big reason why men eclipse them in career advancement. “Don’t leave before you leave. Lean in.”

Gosh, this makes me think a million different things. At the top of my list:

  1. What is the price of leaning in?
  2. I am guilty of leaning back.

The price of leaning in, many would say, is that you sacrifice personal fulfillment for professional achievement. You work your butt off and then one day you realize you’re old and alone. The fact is that 1/3 of men in executive roles don’t have children and 2/3 of women don’t. That crappy book The Defining Decade: Why your twenties matter–and how to make the most of them now that I reviewed in a previous blog would have you believe that if you don’t lock down on a relationship in your 20s, your biological clock will revolt and nothing will unfold like it’s supposed to.

But this isn’t the case with Sandberg (or Marissa Mayer either). Sandberg married David Goldberg when she was 34 (2004) and they have two kids together, ages 7 and 5. Before that she got her MBA from Harvard, was a consultant with McKinsey, served as Chief of Staff to the United States Treasury Secretary during the Clinton administration, and was VP of Sales & Operations at Google before joining Facebook in 2008. Wow, what a resume! She knows a thing or two about stepping on the gas. I feel like a goddamn mollusk compared to her!

Which brings me to my second point: I am guilty of leaning back.

What if the price of career velocity wasn’t as costly as I imagined? What if I went after every opportunity in front of me? How would things be different today? (Can you tell I’m feeling introspective and mid-life crisisy lately?! I’m going to blame the weather. Lack of Vitamin D is making me all spacy.)

I have two girls: ages 5 and 3. They make me smile every day. But I discovered a funny thing after they were born: I really like my job, and I don’t want to be a stay-at-home mom. Turns out that my hunting & gathering skills are more sharply honed than my feeding & nurturing ones.

Two discoveries: 1) I had been driving anxiously to this destination that wasn’t really where I wanted to be after all. And 2) It is possible to be both a parent and have a successful career… mainly by taking Sandberg’s other piece of advice: Make your partner a real partner [by sharing parenting & household responsibilities.]

Interesting sidebar: I found at least one article that mentioned that Sandberg did turn down an offer in 2006 to be LinkedIn’s CEO because she wanted to prioritize having a second child. Evidence that even Ms. Leadfoot leans back occasionally. Didn’t seem to hurt her.

So I’m excited to get my hands on Sandberg’s book. I want to see what else she has to say. What other magic tricks does someone who Mark Zuckerberg had to hire after meeting her at a holiday party have up her sleeve?

Which leads me to my third musing – and a surprise homework assignment for you, yes you!

What made Sheryl Sandberg who she is? How did she become so driven? What were her early influences in life? How did her very first role models – her parents – inspire her beliefs about professional success?

What effect did YOUR parents have on your career choices?

That’s your homework. I’m going to do it too. My father (and his father) were entrepreneurs, and me and my two sisters all basically work for ourselves, so there’s something there, and it should be at least eye-opening, entertaining, and possibly therapeutic… or horrifying.

I want to hear from at least six of you. Don’t leave me here solo to riff on some convoluted Tao of Jen.

Guys: I’d especially like your take on balancing personal and professional goals because your POV doesn’t seem to get much press.

Can’t wait! Email me @

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