In May 2015, Facebook’s celebrated Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg suddenly lost her 47-year-old husband and father of her two children, Dave Goldberg, to an undiagnosed heart arrhythmia. Following this shocking loss, Sandberg struggled in her work as the world’s highest profile second-in-command. Today, Sandberg says she has grown from this personal tragedy into a wiser, “bigger-picture manager”1. In Option B, co-written with close friend and celebrated thought leader Adam Grant, she shares her hard-won insights into resilience, outlining the steps you can take not only to bounce back but also “bounce forward” following setbacks, failures, and adversity (big or small). “No one would ever choose to grow this way,” Sandberg and Grant write. “But it happens – and we do.”
A new leadership style of asking for help when you need it
On 3 June 2015, one month after the death of her husband, Sandberg published a lengthy Facebook post about the loss of her husband, explaining how it’s important to her “to kick the elephant out of the room” with her teams and colleagues. “I have learned to ask for help – and I have learned how much help I need,” her public post reads. “Until now, I have been the older sister, the COO, the doer and the planner. I did not plan this, and when it happened, I was not capable of doing much of anything.” Sandberg’s raw emotional honesty sets an important precedent. As one of the world’s most powerful executives, she sends the message that vulnerability in a leader isn’t necessarily a sign of weakness; if Sandberg can admit she needs help and still be one of the most highly valued, competent executives in the world, maybe other leaders can feel allowed to admit they need help from their teams and colleagues too. This message — that asking for help when you need it is a sign of strength, not weakness, and is critical for resilience in a leader — is consistent with Sandberg’s long-time advocacy both within and outside Facebook for more authentic, collaborative leadership.
Building resilience like a muscle
In the weeks following the loss of her husband, wondering how much she was going to be able to handle moving forwards, Sandberg asked Grant how she could find out how much resilience she had. Grant responded that you don’t have a fixed amount of resilience; like a muscle, you can build it and draw upon it as needed. In her subsequent efforts to build up her “muscle” of resilience, Sandberg reports that, hands down, the most impactful exercise was learning about psychologist Martin Seligman’s “3P’s”:
• Personalization: the belief that you are at fault
• Pervasiveness: the belief that an event will affect all areas of your life
• Permanence: the belief that the aftershocks of the event will last forever