Much has been said of the direct correlation between understanding and achievement. “Whatever you cannot understand, you cannot possess,” wrote Goethe, the German statesman and author. Does that same thinking apply to leadership? In a word – yes.
Hired by Google in 2001, Sheryl Sandberg grew its sales and advertising department from four employees to over 4,000—about one-quarter of Google’s total. Her team has brought in more than half the company’s revenue. Since taking her position as Facebook’s COO in 2008, she has meteorically increased its value, moving it from a $56 million loss to a total market value of over $425 billion. Her success, importantly, isn’t limited to financial gain. Under her leadership, Facebook has been ranked in Glassdoor’s annual “Best Places to Work” for a decade, spending three of those years in the coveted first place position. When asked what made Facebook so successful, both as a company and as a place to work, Sandberg responded, “We believe that skills are more important than experience.”
Citing 2001’s leadership manifesto, Now, Discover Your Strengths, as the primary inspiration behind her leadership approach, Sandberg explained, “At Facebook, we try to be a strengths-based organization, which means we try to make jobs fit around people, rather than make people fit around jobs. We focus on what people’s natural strengths are and spend our management time trying to find ways for them to use those natural strengths every day.” So how does Sandberg understand her people well enough to find their natural strengths? She’s developed two very important habits:
While these habits are not groundbreaking, Sandberg argues they are too little used. Today’s employees want the opportunity to do meaningful work, and they aren’t going to put their trust in a leader who prioritizes what they get wrong over what they get right. “People don’t have to be good at everything,” she says. “Most aren’t, and the best workplaces acknowledge that... Some companies spend an awful lot of time…telling people what they’re not good at, and then trying to make them better. We try to shift the focus onto strengths.”
Are you wondering how to uncover the natural strengths of those you lead? Do you want to earn the trust of your teammates by recognizing their strengths and helping them succeed? Take your team out of the office and give them time to learn from strong role models. You bring the team members, and we’ll create an immersive learning program, linking timeless historical examples with your individual workplace issues.
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Sheryl Sandberg understands that recognizing the strengths in others is essential to effective leadership. Do you believe your organization succeeds in this area? What are some things you’d like to change, or ideas you’d like to try? Please share your ideas and comments, below.