Photo: Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer, Facebook, USA; Co-Chair of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2012; Young Global Leader is captured during the session ‘Women as the Way Forward’ at the Annual Meeting 2012 of the World Economic Forum at the congress centre in Davos, Switzerland, January 27, 2012
One morning, like any other school day, I was walking side by side in lock step with my eight year old daughter. She turned, looked up to me and asked, “Dad, who is a good woman leader?”
Behind those simple words, I sensed she was looking for role models. And Sheryl Sandberg’s image flashed in front of me.
As I dropped my daughter off and walked back – I wondered why Sheryl was my option A.
I grew up in South India. I often saw a younger version of my mother in Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi. She personifies what hard work and good luck can weave.
If Indra’s life is a phenomenal immigrant story from India to USA, Sheryl is a precursor of what is to come.
Snippets of Why
A few months ago, my eight-year-old daughter’s friend was sick. It was an important day in school. Their innovative, second grade teacher invited the parents to class to hear the kids recite poems. Each student did two. One poem of their own creation – all alone on stage. Another was an existing classic – a presentation with a partner.
My daughter sat on a high stool in the center of the room. With the backdrop of the smart board morphed into a silhouette of Paris, she recited her own creation. When she uttered the title in her coy voice, a big yes reverberated from some of the mothers in the room. Her poem filled the room with simple rhyming words under the title, “Girls Rule.” I chuckled at the reception for my super girl.
When it came to the joint poem – her friend, aided by her dad made it to the dais. The girls stood together. My daughter recited the first verse. Her friend- the second. My daughter the third and her friend was searching for words on the fourth. My daughter egged her on – ever so softly with the words inside the last verse.
Watching that small act, I had the biggest beam of a smile. My super girl became human.
In one moment, my daughter was her prepared best reciting her own creation. In another, she was her empathetic best sharing her shoulder with her friend.
That balance – is the wave of the future. Sheryl Sandberg epitomizes that today.
She can deliver Berkeley’s commencement speech without looking at her paper. In the world of pearl necklace stereotypes, Sheryl wears her emotions and embraces her gift of sentimentality.
Above all, she balances what life throws at her. In all this, she chooses to be herself.
In her first book, Lean In, she exhorts women to be their full selves at work. When she wrote that, the world was her oyster. Two years ago, it came crashing down. She lost her husband rather suddenly. She choked in grief. In her recent second book, Option B, she brought her whole self for the whole world to see.
What actually clicked with me was something deeper.
1) Ability to break free at work
Her biggest impact is her ability to grasp the gravitas of symbols. Symbols of influence – subtle, powerful that can change narratives for the better. There could be many through her words.
Her best from her latest book – It is perfectly OK to talk about personal grief in the office – without the stigma of being touchy and feely.
Close your eyes, think about it for a moment – your own interactions at office. Today’s accepted norm for a grieving person in the office is pretense. She leads the way to show the exit door for this pretense through her own roller coaster of emotions.
She does it with aplomb in her new book. And holds her own. Even in a narrative with the contrarian Adam Grant – a magician who happens to be a professor at Wharton.
2) ‘Parent first’ to etch the other parent
By writing the book around her husband, she makes him live long in the memory of the world – for her children to hear. That is a lasting legacy. Permanence of words permeates life – her wise, powerful soul grasps it with dexterity that few of us can envision, let alone feel. And feel she does with conviction that gives vulnerability a new dimension.
Her words – “Now, when emotions are running high in our house, but my son stays calm, I tell him, “You are just like your daddy.” When my daughter stands up for a classmate who is getting picked on, I say, “Just like your daddy.” And when either of them knocks a glass over, I say it, too.
Weaving it together
“Look up Sheryl Sandberg,” are my words to my daughter. Sheryl understands influence better than most. She knows how the world operates. She has this innate ability to communicate from her heart. And she balances what life throws at her. She embraced opportunities life gave her. She was willing to be vulnerable openly when tragedy struck her. She is comfortable in being who she is. And she is not working hard to fit in a man’s world with a pearl necklace.
I saw glimpses of that balance in my daughter while reciting the poems.
Life is about choices. I hope my daughter’s choices lead her to be better every day from the day before – on her own terms, based on her own learnings. Somewhere in the background are the invisible hands of her family – applauding her resilience, cherishing her balance and enjoying how she carries her full self to whatever she chooses to do.
A mirror to what Sheryl stands for – today.
By Karthik Rajan, Business Consultant, Product Launch & Growth, Just Energy. LinkedIn: Karthik Rajan
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