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The most difficult / pivotal moment in my career occured shortly after Sheryl joined FB in 2008. She saw my potential and wanted to give me more responsibility for the business, but decided first to do a 360 performance review. The feedback from my team and peers was devastating.
While everyone acknowledged my high level of competence in partnerships and business strategy (this is also what Sheryl saw in me), they universally criticized me for being political and untrustworthy. Sheryl told me I couldn’t stay at FB if I didn’t address this.
This was obviously extremely difficult to hear. I was completely unaware that people viewed me this way, and it wasn’t consistent with my values. But the feedback was clear - it wasn’t isolated - and I realized I had a huge blind spot.
I wanted to crawl in a hole and hide, or announce to everyone that they were wrong about me. After sleeping on it, I decided to take a different approach. I set up 1x1’s with everyone on my team and peers at FB, and I shared the review with them. Then I asked for their help.
I told them I couldn’t change this behavior without first recognizing it, but I was clearly blind to it or I wouldn’t be doing it in the first place. So I asked them to point it out to me, on the spot, anytime they saw me behaving this way. Very uncomfortable conversations.
I followed-up regularly with the same request. It was slow at first, but eventually people started to respond with real-time feedback. “Remember that meeting yesterday when you said x to Tom? You could have said that differently.” I heard example after example like this.
People were resistant at first to giving this feedback. They felt awkward, especially when I was their boss. And they worried about hurting my feelings. I assured them they were saving my career, and the feedback was the greatest gift they could give me.
After a while I started to recognize the patterns on my own and change my behavior. Slowly the feedback started to shift and people began to trust me. A couple years later in one of my semi-annual 360 performance reviews, Sheryl congratulated me for turning the corner.
Around that time I had to deliver a tough review to someone. I started by telling them the story of my Sheryl review. They immediately dropped their defenses and listened to my feedback openly. It was a powerful and moving conversation that likely would have gone differently.
Several years later I shared the story with my entire organization. I got more positive feedback from that speech than any I had ever delivered. I started sharing it more broadly across the company and even outside the company, always lots of positive feedback.
Years later we took the FB management team to an offsite at Quantico marine officer training center. They showed us a 2x2 matrix: competence on one dimension, character on the other. 2 quadrants failed their test: low on both, and low character / high competence. Shery was right.
I’ve told this story dozens of times now. Every time I have a tough conversation with someone, I start with this story. I still sweat each time I tell it (I’m sweating right now). It’s hard to be vulnerable, but I’ve found it extremely powerful in building deep human connection.
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