“Sandberg’s bold leadership and willingness to experiment with creative solutions definitely cultivates innovation at Facebook,” says Nicole D’Alonzo, creator of the 19 Minute Yoga app and one of the organizers of Innovation Congress, when I was interviewing her recently.
It got me thinking: Sheryl Sandberg’s leadership at Facebook has guided the company through quite a few years of growth, and during that time, the leading social platform has been committed to innovation.
Arguably, though, Sandberg doesn’t get as much of the credit for that as one would think. Does her leadership allow Mark Zuckerberg to continue their commitment to innovation?
That’s what I asked a few of the speakers at this week’s Innovation Congress in NYC, and this is what they had to say:
The “W” Word
“While Sheryl Sandberg wasn’t the first person to address the unique pressures and challenges that women face in their journey to the head of the boardroom table, she brought that conversation to the forefront in an undeniably meaningful way.” So says Melanie Deziel, noted brand strategist and speaker.
Deziel believes Sandberg has made it easier for women to address these issues within their social circles, their families and their workplace. “It shouldn’t be surprising that having someone like Sheryl at the helm would create a company culture that empowers women to speak up, rise up, and move up,” says Deziel.
Leslie Bradshaw of Bionic agrees with Deziel’s sentiments about Sandberg, calling her “a strong female leader in a critically important position, which signals internally and externally – we respect, laud, and empower women at the top of our organization.”
Bradshaw explains that organizations are more likely to attract and retain women and minorities when you send this signal. “And with more diversity comes the ability to innovate in new ways for new audiences.”
The Uber Comparison
Jason Keath, founder of Social Fresh and Innovation Congress, finds it interesting to compare Sheryl Sandberg’s leadership at Facebook to Uber’s leadership, which has been in the news quite a bit recently.
“You have Sheryl fighting for equality, empowering women to move in, and helping small businesses grow, while Uber does pretty much the opposite,” says Keath. According to Keath, Sandberg is the backbone of Facebook’s “revenue miracle,” focusing the company on a self-serve ad platform, cracking the mobile ad code, and bringing in 2 million small business advertisers.
Her innovations have been incremental, yet crucial moves that bring Facebook giant revenue.
Money & Communication Matter
Tyler Riewer, the brand content lead for noted nonprofit charity: water, believes that Sandberg’s character and values alone have been influential – both inside and outside of Facebook – and not only that, she’s made the company quite profitable. “With money comes the chance to create ways to make more money,” says Riewer. And, of course, to foster more innovation.
“Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” says D’Alonzo. “Sandberg’s uniquely positioned to innovate because she’s a master communicator.” As D’Alonzo points out, early in Sandberg’s career, she turned down an exciting job opportunity for personal reasons. Instead of simply declining, she was transparent about why should couldn’t take the role.
Because she was honest, the obstacle was demystified and the employer ultimately offered her another role later in her career.
“These micro-decisions, and choices, to share a moment of vulnerability are the things that make a great leader,” says D’Alonzo. “Sandberg’s innovative style includes risk, but her strategy is rooted in values and core beliefs.”
As a leader, Sandberg walks the walk with respect to diversity and inclusion. Bradshaw of Bionic points out that Sandberg “has used her position of privilege and power to crack open the conversation about why there are not more women at the top of every industry.”
In fact, as Bradshaw points out, after writing Lean In, Sandberg was even self aware enough to realize that her initial argument needed to be refined after she tragically lost her husband, and penned Plan B as a result. “Her high EQ and empathy is demonstrated on a global scale,” says Bradshaw, “and is exactly what is needed to enable Facebook for to deliver on its mission to ‘bring the world closer together.’”
While there’s little debate about Sandberg’s merits, there’s sure to be plenty of lively conversations at Innovation Congress as we tackle topics like AI, chatbots, sound technologies, digital advertising, and plenty more. I’m certainly hoping to see you there.