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What Every Boss Can Learn About Leadership From Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook

How being human can get better results.

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BY Shawn Doyle - 07 Sep 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Many experts say that Sheryl Sandberg is responsible for Facebook's stunning success because founder Mark Zuckerburg was not good at logistics or handling other aspects of Facebook's business like HR and advertising.

I wondered about her leadership style. After reading both of her books, I think there are some unique and surprising leadership qualities about Sheryl Sandberg that every boss can learn from today. If you apply them, it can make a big difference in your organization.

Engage with every employee.

As reported in Forbes Magazine, when Sheryl Sandberg started as Facebook's COO, she went to hundreds of people's desks and interrupted their work and said: "Hi I'm Sheryl." She then asked lots of questions and listened.

In many organizations, executives don't talk to or engage with team members. I wrote about this a few weeks ago in this article . Why wouldn't executives attempt to engage with as many people as possible?

Commit to schedule time to talk to as many employees as possible both formally and informally. Front line people often have the answer to solving the company's most pressing problems. It also makes people feel that their ideas matter.

Ask people what they think and encourage debate.

Sheryl is well known for asking many smart questions about what employees think and encouraging debate. She understands that the high value of the debate, because it gets better results.

Many leaders have a preconceived notion about how they want something done and don't encourage debate at all, in fact, they do the opposite- shut it down.

Decide to welcome and encourage debate. You will get honest feedback and better information.

One of my clients runs manufacturing facilities. They are training all their supervisors to walk the floor every hour and talk to front line employees. They discovered when they do employees start a discussion that would have never happened in the past. Managers communicating more has led to improved safety and increased productivity.

Be honest about your feelings.

Many people think that revealing your feelings as a leader is a sign of weakness. Sheryl thinks it is a strength and makes employees more willing to discuss their feelings as well.

When her husband died suddenly, and tragically she posted a long essay on Facebook and made it public.

"I think when tragedy occurs, it presents a choice. You can give in to the void, the emptiness that fills your heart, your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even breathe. Or you can try to find meaning. These past thirty days, I have spent many of my moments lost in that void. And I know that many future moments will be consumed by the vast emptiness as well. But when I can, I want to choose life and meaning."

Her post received over 74,000 comments. She said the responses were so overwhelming that she felt supported and less alone.

So the question for you is this; as a leader, are you willing to be vulnerable to show you are human and help others to be honest about their feelings? It's a tough choice. When Sheryl opens up to her team members, they feel a connection, and they are more likely to be open.

Be willing to address the elephant in the room.

In December 2010, Sheryl Sandberg gave a Ted Talk- Why we have too few women leaders. The talk was funny, backed up with solid research and asked a question that silicon valley and corporate America needed to hear.

She spoke of the tiny percentage of women in C Suite roles. She was also honest in saying she didn't have answers just questions and some ideas. This Ted Talk ended up being viewed over seven million times and resulted in a book called Lean In.

It created a movement and the creation of lean in circles. When you go to the lean In site you will see this description: " Lean In Circles are small groups who meet regularly to learn and grow together, and they're changing lives. Women are asking for more, stepping outside their comfort zones, and leaning in."

There are now 33,000 lean in circles in 150 countries. Sheryl dared to bring up the issue and start the discussion. Are you willing to raise the issues so that can be discussed openly?

If you apply these ideas to your leadership every day, maybe your organization could be the next Facebook in your industry.