Sheryl Sandberg and Public Valley Speaking

What do we think of Sheryl Sandberg?  She’s the big COO hoo-ha at Facebook, and she has a new book that is polarizing the public dialogue on “women in the workplace as women in power.”  I admit I don’t know much about the woman, and my initial exposure was reading about her online.  I haven’t read her book, and I’m not interested in picking a fight about her shallow arguments, but what struck me most about her recent PR tornado is how unappealing I find her as a live speaker arguing her points in person.

Here’s some Sandberg background for you from “The Atlantic:”

The biggest wave of critiques against Sandberg so far have come from more traditional and intersectional feminists, and from mommy bloggers. I could rehash the pre-publication backlash to Sandberg, as well as the backlash against the backlash, but the fact of the matter is that all the huffing and puffing about why she’s not organizing janitors or home health-care aides or stay at home moms is largely beside the point — because that’s not what her project is about. Sandberg is an unapologetic capitalist and senior manager who began her career in Washington, D.C.

This is Sandberg in a recent ABC News interview.  Fast-forward to the 2:09 mark to start the interview:

I’ve seen over five interviews with Sandberg over the last week, and in each one, her pretentiousness offends me.  She behaves as if she’s the smartest person in the room who understands an answer that nobody else cares to question.  I’m not sure if her precociousness is just a normal COO virus, or if there’s something else, and odd, going on in her personal life that is seeping out in these cascading, precious, public, interviews.

As I try to move my ear away from her mature, but still sing-song, “Valley Girl” voice and way of speaking, I am immediately alarmed by the story she shares about her seven-year-old son not knowing that a woman “is allowed” to be president.

Huh?

Why in the world would you share a story about your total and absolute failure as a mother to educate your son?  How is it possible for your son to think a woman is so powerless and feeble that she would not “allowed” to be the President if you are involved in your son’s life on a daily and interactive basis?  That one story undercuts Sandberg’s entire argument about female empowerment and leadership in the workplace because she failed to lead her son at home as a mother first.

Sandberg’s public persona is disquieting.  She seems to love easy answers and likes to invoke feel-good phrases, and it’s hard to share her self-discovered notion that she’s the smartest tool in the shed.  I like people with confidence and I am wild about strong women — but I don’t like anybody who preaches to me or strong-arms me or tries to tell me I’m just too stupid to understand such basic ideas — and Sandberg comes off to me as a condescending know-it-all.

Hey, I love and appreciate difficult people – because I am one! – but you must also be self-aware of how you come off to people in the real world, in real-time, in a real room, and Sandberg just proves how far you can go in an online, virtual, world where people really have no idea who you really are until you open your mouth in person and start speaking.

17 comments

  • Gordon Davidescu

    I saw her on the cover of some newspaper today and was wondering what was the hype — all that for a bad mother! How extremely ridiculous.

    • What was most shocking about that story about her son — is that she thought it helped make her point when it absolutely undermines her own argument! It was such a painful moment of hubris and of being unaware for her that I had to go back and watch it several times to make sure I was hearing what I was hearing.

      It’s odd for me to say, “I liked Sheryl Sandberg better when I didn’t know anything about her.” I know that isn’t a compliment, but it is a fact. Here’s the abstraction I was under: “Woman. COO. Facebook. Wrangled Zuckerberg. Good.”

      Now that I know the details… ooff!

  • Well until I read this I had not heard of her. Now I will know her for her stupidity.

    • She is celebrated as the “best and the brightest” and she went to all the right schools — and this is who she is in reality? Really?

      So shallow. So nebulous. So fallow.

      I was surprised to learn how ordinary and prosaic she comes off in public, and in some ways, her own against-the-odds success does speak to what she claims is a higher mission: “If I can make it this far, just think how far a really dedicated and intelligent woman could make it in business!” She’s her own best worst example.

  • I felt confused after watching the video. Reading through the comments here, I think “she’s her own best worst example” sums it up perfectly for me.

    • It’s just so bizarre to me that she would so willfully expose herself in such a base way in front of millions of people — that tells me she is completely unaware how she comes off in public — probably because she lives in a big tech bubble surrounded by adoring boys who cannot tell her “no” because she’s always been the only alpha female around for hundreds of miles.

      Putting herself on television greatly reduces the reach and dimension of what, allegedly, made her special. She becomes painfully ordinary and, I daresay, sort of boring.

      • Completely boring. I find it funny to use “alpha female” to describe her – that made me giggle a little. I guess I need to find out more about her. I never heard of her until a few days ago. I’m sort of outta touch like that….

        • I only know her through the Press — the Tech Press, which is filled with men who have idolized her and praised her in print for years for making Facebook a “real business.”

          Sandberg is the doppelgänger for Marissa Mayer at Yahoo — a former Googler, and another lovely face idolized by the mainly tech industry…

          Marissa Mayer’s management style is in the news yet again. Reuters is reporting that the Yahoo CEO, who caused a stir recently after banning her employees from working from home, is now personally involving herself in reviewing every hire the company makes. …

          Ironically, that’s exactly what Sheryl Sandberg, another Silicon Valley executive who’s been in the headlines over and over again recently, says happened to her. In her much-discussed new book, “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead,” the Facebook COO relates a story from her time at Google (where Mayer also once worked) in which she interviewed every candidate before making an offer, even once the team had grown to 100 people. When she told her team she had decided to stop interviewing, she expected they would urge her to stay involved. Instead, “they applauded,” she writes. “They all jumped in to explain—in unison—that my insistence on speaking personally to every candidate had become a huge bottleneck.”

          http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-leadership/marissa-mayers-unorthodox-leadership-at-yahoo/2013/03/12/0cdcf58e-8b3c-11e2-9f54-f3fdd70acad2_story.html

          • Perhaps these two issues could be an example of the very different management/leadership styles between men and women I often hear people arguing about. Maybe in the future (in the next 40 years?) as women continue to climb to positions typically held by men, we might see more of this? But I sure hope not. I personally have known some incredibly strong women in unusual positions of leadership who would be mortified by Sheryl Sandbers pitiful interview.

          • Yes, it’s sort of odd that both Sandberg and Mayer are not just making the same mistakes men before them have made — but the mistakes of each other!

            For some reason, it seems unreasonable today to learn from history and to not make the same institutional mistakes twice. Everyone wants to go their own way, not be told what to do, and to reinvent a better wheel every single day just because they can and it is “their right.”

            One good thing about this sort of Sandberg exposure is that smarter and better women may just rise to the challenge. “She runs Facebook? My gosh, I could rule the world!”

            I too, can name at least 10 women I know who would wipe the floor with Sheryl Sandberg and some of them decided they didn’t want to play the rat race and “have it all” when all they really wanted was to stay at home and raise really great kids into fantastic adults.

            There’s nothing wrong with choosing not to play a dirty game, and to want to “lean back” and not get pulled into a world with no human happiness or verifiable end. Sometimes it’s smarter to say — “no thank you” — than to just go along because that’s what someone else thinks you should do.

  • It is so funny that you wrote this article David. I just attended a guest lecture today and the presenter Abigail E. Disney brought her up and mentioned how her book lean in was a must read and that it was a very interesting book. Small world!

  • I hadn’t heard of her until this article. That story about her son was definitely disheartening.

    • I’m sure you’ll be hearing much more about her, Emily. Though she’s reaching max saturation — and soon people will begin to tire of her as they realize the true intention of what she memes.

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