What Sheryl Sandberg is Telling the Next Generation of Retail Leaders

By: Joe Keenan

Having just emerged from graduation season, there’s an influx of young people entering the workforce and getting their first taste of the “real world.” Before they left the havens of their college campuses, however, they were imparted with words of wisdom from esteemed commencement speakers at their graduation ceremonies. There aren’t many names that get the attention of 20-something, social media-obsessed college graduates more than Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.

In a commencement address to the class of 2015 at Beijing’s Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management, Sandberg discussed four leadership lessons that the graduates should take with them as they embark on their professional careers. Here are those four leadership lessons, as well as few select quotes from Sandberg’s address, courtesy of Time:

1. Fortune favors the bold: Getting to where you want to be in life often requires taking risks. Sandberg told the story of how she left a comfortable job with the U.S. Treasury Department, moving to Silicon Valley without a job lined up to pursue a career in the technology sector.

“In retrospect, this seems like a shrewd move,” Sandberg said. “But in 2001, it was questionable at best. The tech bubble had burst. Large companies were doing massive layoffs and small companies were going out of business. I gave myself four months to find a job. It took almost a year.

“Eventually I persuaded someone to hire me, and 14 years later I still love working in tech. It wasn’t my original plan, but I got there … eventually.”

Sandberg offered some words of encouragement to the graduates as they seek out jobs that they would love.

“I hope if you find yourself on one path but longing for another, you find a way to get there,” Sandberg said. “And if that isn’t right, try again. Try until you find something that stirs your passion, a job that matters to you and matters to others. It’s a luxury to combine passion and contribution. It’s also a clear path to happiness.”

2. Feedback is a gift: Getting feedback from both your superiors and those who work for you — which isn’t an easy thing to do because employees are often eager to please those above them and don’t want to criticize or question their superiors — is critical to improving job performance, Sandberg said. She noted that when she started at Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg and her would meet each Friday afternoon to voice their concerns to each other. Over time that weekly meeting has evolved into real-time reactions.

“A good leader recognizes that most employees won’t feel comfortable challenging authority, so it falls upon authority to solicit feedback. I ask my colleagues ‘What could I do better?’ And I always thank the person who has the guts to answer me honestly, often by praising them publicly. I firmly believe that you lead best when you walk side-by-side with your colleagues.”

3. Nothing is someone else’s problem: The higher up the corporate ladder you climb, the more dependent you become on other people, Sandberg noted. She poignantly recalled her late husband, Dave Goldberg, who died in May from an exercise accident, as an example of the quintessential leader.

“Dave was a truly inspiring leader. He was kind. He was generous. He was thoughtful. He raised the level of performance of everyone around him. He did it as CEO of SurveyMonkey, an amazing company that he helped build.

“Harvard Business School Professor Frances Frei said ‘leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.’ Like Dave, you can do this for others over the course of your career.”

4. Lean in: While the world acknowledges the importance and strength of women, when looking at leadership roles in every country, men overwhelmingly hold them, Sandberg said. She noted that women run less than 6 percent of the top companies across the globe. Women hold fewer leadership roles in every industry. This means that when it comes to making decisions that affect us all, women’s voices aren’t heard equally.

“I believe that the world would be a better place if men ran half our homes and women ran half our institutions,” Sandberg said. “The good news is that we can change the stereotypes and get to real equality. We can support women who lead in the workforce. We can find more balance in the home by fathers helping mothers with housekeeping and childrearing; more equal marriages are happier and more active fathers raise more successful children.

“And I want to make this very clear — equality is not just good for women. It’s good for everyone. Female participation in the workforce is a major driver of economic growth. Companies that recognize the full talents of the entire population outperform those that do not.”

Sandberg concluded her address by saying that her nonprofit organization, LeanIn.org, is a tool that tomorrow’s women leaders can rely on to empower all women to achieve their ambitions and fulfill the promise for a more equal world.

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