In Authentic Leadership

Sheryl Sandberg: COO of Facebook, one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World, billionaire, on the list of Fortune’s 10 most powerful women in the world, activist and founder of the Lean In movement, and now Human Being. On June 3 at 11:00 am she showed us a side we had not seen before. Her Facebook post about losing her husband Dave Goldberg is one of the most raw, moving, and touching pieces of the human experience I have read in a while. More than her book Lean In, every single leader needs to read Sheryl Sandberg’s post because it is about not leaving our humanity at the door when we enter the workplace. I am inspired to write about her post because so many of us have lost touch with our own humanity and that of others in our workplace. When we leave our humanity at the door, it leaves us disengaged and disconnected from ourselves, each other, and the work we do. Here are the leadership lessons I took away from her words.

Our leadership and our workplaces need our humanity. Sheryl Sandberg writes about how uncomfortable it is for many people at work to acknowledge the passing of her husband, to allow themselves to get connected with the grief she’s feeling.  Most of us are afraid to acknowledge emotion in the workplace and most workplace cultures discourage emotional expression. Many of my executive coaching clients fear being judged as lacking “executive presence” or worse, “being emotional”. Many of us believe we need to leave our feelings at the door when we enter the workplace. We can’t really leave our feelings at the door.  What happens is that they go underground and impact our behaviors in ways that can derail us. Our discomfort with our own humanity leaves our workplaces inhumane and our people disconnected from one another. Our workplaces desperately need people who can bring their hearts to the table while making tough decisions like restructuring organizations and firing people. It is our own ability to be touched and moved that creates a space for cultures where people thrive, engage, connect and innovate.

Life-shaking events happen as part of the human experience. Be kind to yourself and others during these times. Sheryl Sandberg writes that until this tragedy she never really knew what to say to others in need. She would try to reassure them that things would be okay.  In our discomfort with our own emotion we often rush to have others shift their emotion into being happy (and dare I say productive) again. Sometimes it is wisest to listen with an open heart and just be with the person in a shared moment of humanity, and then let what wants to be expressed from that place of empathy. Often it is not what we say, but the feelings we share that communicate what needs to be communicated.

Choose life and meaning during times of trial. A common part of the human experience is the trials we each face, our personal form of hell during those moments.  None of us are exempt from that, even the most powerful like Sheryl Sandberg. Her post reminds us that we can choose to be resilient and that a big part of that choice is to find something meaningful – a lesson, a purpose, an experience that can be gained and shared from the times of trial that can serve others.

Our vulnerabilities connect us to one another rather than separate us. Most of us are afraid to show a chink in the armor in the workplace. Sheryl Sandberg’s piece has over 800,000 Facebook “likes” and growing. Her raw sharing of her experience has struck a powerful chord. She realized that in order to restore the closeness she wanted with her colleagues she had to let them in, to be more open and vulnerable than she ever wanted to be. Vulnerability is a trait we greatly admire – in others. It is hard to practice ourselves but once we let ourselves get there we almost always find an opening that creates possibilities that were not available before.

Ms. Sandberg, thank you for sharing your human side with us and creating what I hope will be a path and a movement for us to be more real, more authentic, and more human with each other in our workplaces. A movement for greater authenticity at work is my movement. Thank you for showing us the way. I salute your courage, resilience, and humanity.

I am the CEO of Transformational Leadership Inc and the author of Wired for Authenticity. I am a leadership coach, global speaker, and often play junior philosopher on my Forbes and company blog. Join me to create a movement for greater authenticity in our workplaces. If you enjoyed my musings, please follow me on TwitterFacebook or my blog.

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