Ellie Hearne
Founder & CEO, Pencil or Ink

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer and all-around successful human being, can teach us a lot — and not just about leaning in. Her latest book, "Option B," offers simple and proven ways to cope with setbacks and maximize resilience in their aftermath.

The impetus for writing "Option B" — co-authored with Adam Grant, a Wharton professor and psychology expert — was the sudden loss of her husband two years ago and her experiences since.  Not just as an employee, but as a leader, a mom and everything else.

But don’t stop reading if you aren’t coping with loss; one of Sandberg’s great strengths is making the specific universal.

These quick tips are a must-read for anyone who has dealt with adversity, who is facing (or may soon face) a steep challenge or who values emotional intelligence.

1. Take a human approach at work. 

Anyone can manage, but it takes business savvy, people skills and concentrated effort to truly lead. And without carefully navigating individual personalities and interests, all of the above are quickly undermined.

Remember: we typically spend more waking hours with our colleagues than we do with our loved ones. Recognizing that, and taking care to unpack people’s motivations, interests and personal and professional goals can pay dividends — for you and for them.

As Sandberg puts it, "people need to feel supported and understood at work."

2. Kick the elephant out of the room.

A colleague loses a loved one, and you offer up the standard “sorry for your loss.” Or perhaps you take care not to mention their loved one for fear of making them sad.

As Sandberg points out, no one is going to forget that they’ve been bereaved, but they’ll likely notice that they see a lot less of you than they did before. Times of hardship and adversity are exactly the times when people need to know their friends and colleagues are available to support them and to listen.

Even if you don’t know what to say, say something. “I was so sad to hear about your bereavement. While I’m not sure what I can say to help, please know that I am here and I can listen.”

Sandberg recounts her experience of feeling sad and isolated, and how cheered she felt when a co-worker visited her and her kids at home. It turned out that same co-worker had debated visiting multiple times before she finally got up the courage to do it. When she did, she banished the “bereavement elephant” from the room.

3. Obey the platinum rule.

The Golden Rule is about doing unto others as you’d have them do to you. But treating others as you want to be treated works best when everyone is just like you, i.e. never.

Instead, try the Platinum Rule: treat others as they want to be treated. This is a guaranteed way to better support friends and colleagues in times of hardship and to engage them in the good times. Not sure how someone else wants to be treated? Ask. They will appreciate it.

4. Practice self-compassion.

We all know that we should make time to recharge and prioritize what’s important to us; self-care is written about a lot. But Sandberg talks about self-compassion which, simply put, is the idea that you should go easier on yourself.

There are studies to back this up. As Sandberg writes in her new book, "self-compassion is associated with greater happiness and satisfaction, fewer emotional difficulties, and less anxiety." In the good times and the less-than-good times, cut yourself some slack — you’ll reap the benefits.

5. Record achievements, not just gratitude.

Keeping a gratitude journal is a great way to embrace the positive in your life. But how often do you write down what you’ve achieved in a given day?

Sandberg highlights a study wherein participants who took a few minutes at the end of each day to write down what they had achieved. Not only reported did participants report greater happiness levels at the time — but they continued to do so event after months had passed. Months.

6. Succeed — or learn.

Facebook actively encourages their employees to “fail harder.” As Sandberg explains, "not only do we learn more from failure than success, we learn more from bigger failures because we scrutinize them more closely."

For many of us, seeing failure as a win is a big leap. But when you adjust your approach to seeing failure as an opportunity to learn, that leap feels smaller.

Sheryl Sandberg will be the first person to tell you that she doesn't have all the answers, but she certainly has a lot of them, making her new book a must-read.


Ellie Hearne is an experienced leadership coach and founder of Pencil or Ink. She has worked with leaders at Apple, Google, Starbucks, and Marriott — as well as numerous start-ups. She tweets about life and feminism here, and about leadership and communications here