Introduction Sheryl Sandberg is an excellent example of modern leadership in ethics. At the young age of 45 she has accomplished much in terms of rising the corporate ladder in new technologies, writing a book laying out her theory of ethics, while raising a family. Sandberg is the current Chief Operating Officer and board member of Facebook, the online social media service (Kent 2012). Her previous positions included Google’s Global Sales and Operations as Vice President and a senior position at the US Treasury (Ibid.).
The objective of Facebook is creating a more open and transparent world by connecting individuals, organizations and ideas (Kent 2012). Facebook has become a tool used by business, non-profit organizations and others, both in that it offers targeted advertising by user profiles, and because it provides a free tool to communicate with customers, partners and supporters. Non-profit organizations in particular have found social media such as Facebook has dramatically increased their ability to communicate to members and interested individuals and organizations (Waters et. al. 2009).
Tragedy struck recently for Sandberg when her husband Dave Goldberg, CEO of Survey Monkey, died accidentally while on holiday with his family. Even in grief Sandberg was able to exemplify her leadership with transparency and respect. She had often used her approach to marriage and family as an example when giving talks and speeches, and always highlighted that it was possible to have a family and a career. She also credited her marriage and family with ensuring that her priorities were ethical (Sandberg 2013). She has accomplished quite a lot for Facebook. In her first few years she was able to scale Facebook with its exponential growth, monetize it through mobile advertising and lead the strategy into the public offering which resulted in Facebook being one of the most valued companies in social media and a corporate success story in its own right (Stone 2011).
Sandberg demonstrates integrity and ethics not only in her business decisions, but also in what she has chosen as personal priorities, such as the empowerment of women in the corporate context. Sandberg is trying to right a wrong that she sees in the business world, but in a way that does not undermine, but rather strengthens business objectives as well as ethics. In her book Lean In, Sandberg describes the Harvard Business case study of which described a leader. The descriptions were absolutely the same, but for one had a man’s name and the other had a woman’s name. The profiles were assessed by students, and the result was they found the male version to be very likeable, but the female version was evaluated as an undesirable leader. Sandberg has not only proven that it is possible for women to rise above this kind of thinking, but also to change the public dialogue on such issues. She does not apologize for discrimination, nor does she support protesting the disadvantages that it creates. She takes the business perspective of not wanting to lose the value that comes when people discriminate, thereby holding back capacity to contribute. Her simple approach is to encourage all that their voice and contribution is important, and that it is leaders most of all who need all to take the initiative to participate and engage, even when they are not fully confident.
Sandberg’s leadership stands out for me personally as she not only exemplified the role model of leadership; she has made it her mission to support new and growing leadership. Her reaction to leadership is not competitive, but rather collaborative. This represents a new way of thinking, one that seeks diversity and the achievement of shared goals through innovation. In her book, Sandberg recounted a meeting where there were enough seats for everyone to sit at the table at the conference meeting. While those who were established leaders took their seats, their more junior colleagues sat at seats behind the table. The point that Sandberg wanted to make with this anecdote was that she sees a problem, particularly with women and how they underestimate their capacity to contribute. When this occurs it is a problem for leadership, as the contribution of all voices is vital to solving problems and creating new ideas. Sandberg described this lack of confidence as “imposter syndrome”. This imposter syndrome interferes with capitalizing on people and their minds. Leadership therefore requires encouraging leadership and confidence in one’s partners, team mates and staff through practice and support. I would like to think that I will one day have the ambition and capacity that Sandberg has to change the world, and make it a better place where all voices are heard. For Sandberg it begins with preaching to those who are silent to speak up, sit at the table, and lean in.
Sheryl Sandberg is one of what has been referred to as a new type of corporate leader, one that embraces technology and change and using this as a basis to advance ethical priorities (Kent 2012). Her leadership at Facebook has often been credited with its success, particularly her approach to monetization and the public offering. Her approach to discrimination in the workplace has the potential to change things for the better while strengthening ethics and business. She advocates finding the leadership in everyone, and in a very honest and engaging way, helps us to find our own while supporting the leadership of others.
- Kent, M. (2012). “Time 100: The List. Sheryl Sandberg: Chief Operating Officer”, Apr. 18. Time.
- Sandberg, S. (2013). Lean in: Women, work, and the will to lead. Random House.
- Waters, R. D., Burnett, E., Lamm, A., & Lucas, J. (2009). Engaging stakeholders through social networking: How nonprofit organizations are using Facebook. Public Relations Review, 35(2), 102-106.
- Stone, B. (2011). “Why Facebook Needs Sheryl Sandberg”, May 12. Bloomberg News. Retrieved from: http://www.bloomberg.com/