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The Art and Science of Leadership at Scale: 3 Lessons from Sheryl Sandberg

Leadership Lesson #1: Great leaders create open communication cultures.

“When our team was growing, I interviewed everyone who joined globally. And when we were at 100 people I noticed that the queue for my interview was kind of holding up our hiring process. So I said in a meeting with my direct reports, ‘I think maybe I should stop interviewing,’ fully expecting that they would jump right in and say, ‘Absolutely not. You’re a great interviewer. We need your personal recommendation on anyone on your team.’

You know what they did? They applauded. And I thought to myself, ‘I’ve become a bottleneck, and you didn’t tell me — and that’s on me.”

Leadership Lesson #2: Hire for roles that never existed before.

“When I was interviewing for jobs, I had a really nice experience with Meg Whitman [CEO of Hewlett Packard and former CEO of eBay]. ​When I got to see her, I just said, ‘I don’t have any relevant experience.’ And she said, ‘No one has any experience, because no one’s ever done this before.’

I really took that lesson to heart. I don’t look for people with online ad sales experience. And that’s a good thing, because [at the time of building Google’s Adwords team] there was no one with online ad sales experience.

We needed to hire really quickly. So we started that ‘temp-to-hire’ program. We just hired people as temps. And then we would evaluate them over the course of the first month, two months, and then we would convert the most successful of them to full-time. It was a great way to scale in those very early days, when we needed a lot of work done very quickly. It also got us to hire people we probably would have otherwise not hired: people who didn’t necessarily interview well, people who didn’t necessarily have the background that Google was always looking for. But they came in and did great work.”

Leadership Lesson #3: Seek respectful disagreement (and embrace failure).

“We all need resilience. We need resilience as individuals, and the way you build a resilient organization is you learn from failure. You don’t hide it, you embrace it. So, what does that mean? You have to get real feedback for yourself, for each other. You have to be open to feedback. You have to ask for feedback. You have to build in a culture where, when I think you need to do something better, or you think I need to do something better — we tell each other, and tell each other directly, and work it out.

You have to embrace organizational failure. You have to sit down and debrief when things go wrong. Why did they go wrong? What can we learn, and what can we do better? It’s organizations that hide things under the rug that don’t create the resilience because they don’t learn.”

Like These Lessons?

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Entrepreneur. Investor. Strategist.

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