Archive for April, 2013

Yes, Sheryl Sandberg is Bossy!

Based on the limited interviews that I’ve listened to and the bits and pieces I’ve read in her book, I have enough information to conclude without any shred of doubt that Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, is indeed bossy. What qualifies me to make the statement? It is that, like most CEOs, an important aspect of my job is to identify great talent, nurture them and keep them happy.

I will first define how I and most people define bossy. Based on that definition, I think the average person and certainly 99.9% of people who have worked directly for Sheryl (including Mark Zuckerberg) will agree that she is bossy.

The question is not whether Sheryl Sandberg is bossy, but rather whether as a bossy female people react to her differently. The larger question that I’ve not seen asked in relation to Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean in: Women, work, and the will to lead,” is whether or not society and corporate America react differently to non-whites, minorities, or females who are bossy than to white American men.

First, let’s define what is meant by bossy.

Most psychologists agree that by the time someone is 10 or 12 years old, their personality is set. I’ve heard some people say that it might even be between 0 and 1 year old. For my children, I believe that they had their personality set before they were born (so my own non-scientific estimate is that personality is set between egg-fertilization and 1 year old). Personality is probably a combination of genetics, or attributes that are innate, and the environment (nurture). If you asked Sheryl’s sibling based on the wedding toast recounted in the book, my guess would be that they would say, “Sheryl has always been bossy and she was born like that.”

Most assessments, or at least the ones I use in the corporate world, use four dimensions to define someone’s personality. These assessments include DISC profile, XT profile, Culture Index ( or Myers-Briggs. I have a bias for using DISC in combination with Culture Index. The four dimensions are: 1) dominance, 2) social interaction (e.g., introversion versus extroversion), 3) time reactive/pace (for example whether someone is patient, or likes single versus multiple tasks) and 4) conformity (someone who likes rules, norms or authority).

Here is my composite sketch of Ms. Sandberg:

Sheryl has a high dominance personality. In terms of a personality trait, her dominance is likely to be in the 90th to 99th percentile. Here are adjectives that she would agree describe her:

1) Dominance
• Ambitious
• Strong willed
• Direct
• Determined
• Decisive
• Competitive
• Inquisitive
• Forceful
(I am tempted to put here egocentric/narcissistic, but it is not as negative as it sounds and I would have too much explaining to do.)

2) Social Interactions
• Confident
• Logical
• Convincing

3) Pace
• Inpatient
• Change oriented
• Frustrated by status quo

4) Conformity
• Own person
• Opinionated
• Independent
• Rigid
• Firm

How does someone with that kind of composite profile act on the job?

They are comfortable in taking initiatives, they expect and demand that things get done on their timeline (which some might perceive as unrealistic), they don’t have a problem questioning assumptions or why things are done a certain way, they are inquisitive (they like to look under the hood for the details; just because you say it is so or that everyone agrees with you is not enough), they are direct (they will tell it like it is)… Most people would consider someone with the composite profile I describe and the behaviors they manifest to be domineering or bossy.

Let’s be clear that the composite sketch above does not apply to everyone or to every female. You have bossy people who are male, female, white, black, Hispanic, Asian, from privileged or humble background. While you don’t have to be domineering or bossy to be in a leadership position or to be a good leader, there is no doubt in my mind that in corporate America leadership positions are dominated by those who have what we call a domineering or D personality. I personally believe that for an organization to succeed, it does need to have D personalities on board (you also want them on your sales team).

Sheryl seems to make the point that people react to women in leadership differently. My argument is that in reality, people react differently to women who are bossy or domineering. You are more likely to see women with D personality being referred to as a “b_tch” or an “arrogant b_tch.” It is unfair (and sad!!!) to create a stereotypical expectation for the female leader (for example as a motherly figure) compared to a male counterpart. I have heard in the workplace women express a preference to have a male boss compared to a female boss. Female leaders are equally less accepted (or perhaps more so) by other females.

Corporate America or society doesn’t just react negatively to women with D personalities (or bossy women); the same can be said of racial minorities. For example, a black male with a D personality would have to worry about not being seen as an “arrogant black man” or an “angry black man” in the workplace. I suspect that minorities (gender or ethnic based) in leadership positions who have a D personality probably have to censor themselves because of the lack of acceptance.

Yes, Ms. Sheryl Sandberg according to most peoples’ definitions, you are bossy. I don’t have a problem with that. In fact, I’m always on the lookout for people with your personality. People with your personality can be key to an organization’s success, whatever their gender or ethnicity. It is sad that our society in general, the workplace, corporate boards and leaders of organizations are not more welcoming of these personalities.

P.S. Sheryl if you read this post, I would be happy to work with you. It doesn’t matter who is the boss because we would be bossing each other just like you boss Mark Zuckenberg. I know that Facebook is probably leasing you for no more than 5 years. If you ever decide to go into politics, I’d be happy to run your campaign.

P.S.S. Mr. Zuckerberg, if you read this post you are indeed leasing someone like Sheryl. She will become bored after 5 years…unless you could create a vision and challenge beyond what Facebook is. I can help with that.

April 8, 2013 at 1:17 pm 2 comments

Bottleneck happens at the top! (Part 1)

Few companies survive the start-up stage. Of the companies that survive the startup stage, many of them struggle in the adolescence phase of the organization. One of the reasons-and I would venture to say the main reason- that small and mid-size companies struggle is their leaders. More specifically, the party responsible for failure is the founder or CEO (often the same person).

In other words, the bottleneck is at the top. One might say that bottleneck is always at the top no matter the size of the company. However, for small to mid-sized companies, I believe the organization tends to suffer more because of the lack of growth of the leader and conversely is more likely to gain from the growth of the leader. To quote Michael Lazerow, “CEOs/Founders are their own worst enemy.”

One of the reasons that the bottleneck happens with CEOs/founders or leaders of growing organizations, particularly startups, is that they need to bring and utilize efficiently other talents beyond those of the founder. At some point, a leader of a growing organization cannot rely on his/her skills alone. To get an organization started, there is great deal of burden on the founder/leader. Success is directly connected to the leader’s efforts including 12 to 16 hour days and sometimes sleepless nights. As the organization grows, it will become crippled it if continues to rely so heavily on the efforts of the founder. Others need to step to the plate.  Problems happen with recruiting the right talent, keeping them on board and managing them.

1)      Recruiting the right talent

When it comes time to get others to replicate the effort of the founder, the first hurdle is recruiting right. It can be a chicken and egg problem to hire the right talent (that is someone with the skills to do the job). Having people with the right skills is only part of the problem.  The main issue is that entrepreneurs don’t pay attention in the early stage of their company to cultural fit. Having a brilliant jerk in a small organization can quickly lead to its destruction. 

2)      Being willing to let go

The second hurdle is for the entrepreneur to be able to make enough space for the new talent to operate. An entrepreneur typically has a lot riding on the success of their organization. In most cases, they’ve bet the farm. Their attachment to the organization goes beyond fear of failure. This is their baby and their idea. They can do most tasks better than anyone if they could clone themselves. Many entrepreneurs cannot deal with the fact that giving control away means that they will not agree, and don’t have to agree, with every decision made by the hires to which they are ceding control. This means allowing these new hires to make mistakes.

3)      Hiring complementary talent

Entrepreneurs may be talented but they have their weaknesses. They need to hire talents to overcome their weakness; that is people who are better than them in some areas. Complimentary doesn’t only apply to skills but also to certain attributes that may relate to character traits, such as someone who is introverted making sure they have an extrovert on their team to communicate with internal and external stakeholders; someone who is great in big picture thinking (visionary) may need to partner with someone who is good with the details. Hiring complementary skills requires the leader to be aware of weakness and to be accepting of the new talent.

 4)      Become skilled at human relations

As an organization grows, it is less dependent on the skills of the entrepreneur and more on the ability of the entrepreneur to manage the talents of the firm. That is the entrepreneur becomes more of a conductor of the orchestra as opposed to the first violinist. Working with people and getting the most from their talents is an art and an area of expertise by itself. Few entrepreneurs make the transition. 

When I started SciMetrika, a colleague told me that I would make a couple of bad hires that could potentially put me out of business.  I wish I had listened more carefully and been more prepared. The inability of the entrepreneur to deal with people issues can lead to atrophy and even the death of the organization.  Equally important is that the entrepreneur needs to deal with himself or herself.

April 4, 2013 at 11:46 am Leave a comment

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April 2013