Startup Advice

Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg on building resilience and the one way Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t want his company to fail

Dinushi Dias /

When adversity hits, even the most ambitious entrepreneurs and innovators can be shaken, and this can make the road to success even more difficult.

So being surrounded by a team that is supportive, intuitive and equipped with strong emotional intelligence is critical, according to Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg.

“Resilience is not something we have a fixed amount of but something we can build — in ourselves, in our children, in our organisations, in our communities,” Sandberg tells Harvard Business Review

Sandberg, who recently released Option B, a book on building resilience through moments of crisis, says sharing and learning from people’s experiences of grief and crisis can be a powerful way to “overcome adversity”.

Sandberg says no matter how successful you are, sometimes things do not go according to plan.

“Mark [Zuckerberg] often says that companies fail in two ways — by not hitting their plan, and by hitting a plan that isn’t ambitious enough,” Sandberg said.

“He never wants us to fail the second way, because then you’ve basically failed before you start.

“You need the discipline of setting really ambitious goals, making it safe for people to debrief and own failure and get feedback, and being willing to learn and correct.”

But what happens when tragic circumstances hit the plan?

When Sandberg’s husband Dave Goldberg died in 2015, she says she felt “increasingly isolated” as the weeks went by but when she returned to work, the active support of Zuckerberg and her colleagues made a real difference.

“It helped when people — and this was especially true of Mark Zuckerberg — would tell me after a meeting that I hadn’t made a fool of myself or even that I had made a good point,” she says.

“So now I try to take that extra step of noticing and helping rebuild the confidence of colleagues who are facing adversity. When you suffer a tragedy, the secondary loss of having it bleed into other areas of your life is so real.”

In Plan B, Sandberg shares several more stories of people who have suffered personal crises and their experiences in going through grief at work, while also touching on how managers and colleagues can provide the right support.

“I think we build resilience to prepare for whatever adversity we’ll face. And we all face some adversity — we’re all living some form of Option B,” she says.

If you or someone you know is living with mental health issues, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636. 

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Dinushi Dias

Dinushi Dias is a freelance journalist and a former StartupSmart reporter and multimedia content producer. She is the co-founder of Melbourne-based production house Dinushi & Power.

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