Why Sheryl Sandberg’s plan to make Mark Zuckerberg look bad has backfired spectacularly

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Even in cropped pictures from different events, the two don’t like each other

Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg’s relationship has always been depicted as the perfect corporate partnership. He provides the hacker cred and she provides the “adult supervision” to allow Zuck’s fantastical dreams of having everyone on Earth hooked into Facebook a la The Matrix in 20 years to succeed. Yet all is not well in Facebook paradise, as a number of recent articles attest.

Consider the following:

So according to Sandberg, the best demonstration of Zuckerberg’s determination is his willingness to hold a piece of pig lard over a campfire for five to ten minutes. She could have also told the story about the time Zuck made her scrambled eggs when she stayed on his private Hawaiian island, but instead of just tossing the eggs onto an incredibly hot pan, he stirred them for 30 minutes on low heat and they were the best f**cking eggs she had ever eaten. However, regular people are turned off by stories about happenings on private Hawaiian islands owned by billionaires, so we got the fake camping story instead.

One would think that, if Zuckerberg’s most important executive wanted to make him look good in a fawning piece of journalism, she could have chosen a better anecdote that, you know, actually related to Facebook.

But maybe this was just a one-off thing. Maybe Sandberg has some better stories about how great Zuckerberg is, yeah? Let’s check out what she said during a recent session on Quora:

So according to Sandberg, Zuckerberg has improved the efficiency of meetings through the ground-breaking ideas of making people send discussion materials in advance and setting an agenda. One can only imagine how a meeting of the C-Suite went before Zuckerberg read the 1982 business classic The One Minute Manager:

Zuckerberg: I call this meeting to order. Let’s discuss last year’s MAU numbers.

Underling 1: Umm, we don’t have that data handy.

Zuckerberg: Why not?

Underling 2: Because you didn’t tell us that we were going to discuss those numbers at this meeting. We didn’t even know we were having a meeting right now until you stopped by our amazing open-floor three minutes ago and yelled “Conference room, now!”

Sandberg: [facepalm]

After this Quora session, Sandberg was reportedly thrilled that the faux praise for her boss would recognized as the obvious way people have been running meetings for decades. But no! The wonderful journalists at Business Insider instead went the other direction:

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This undermining of Zuckerberg is not new and it was not always met with unattended breathless admiration as it is now. Consider this 2010 New York Times article entitled Mark Zuckerberg’s Most Valuable Friend:

Right in the lede, Sandberg reveals that she, as the COO, gets to tell Zuckerberg, the CEO and founder, to get his ass to a meeting at a time and location of her choosing. Do you think Tywin Lannister would ever allow one of his children to call him to a meeting at a non-neutral location?

Later in the article, Sandberg is portrayed as Zuckerberg’s guardian, fighting back against the inaccurate portrayal of Zuck in The Social Network:

Larry Ellison must be laughing his head off over on his larger private Hawaiian island at this obvious backstabbing. Ask Ellison whether it is better to be seen, inaccurately apparently, as a cunning and ruthless manipulator, than as a shy introvert and let me know how long it takes him to answer. Yet Sandberg blasted away the facade conveniently provided by Aaron Sorkin in less than three sentences.

At least she is trying to help Zuckerberg become a better CEO right? Wrong again, as the same article later relays Sandberg’s advice to Zuck following an interview at a tech conference that he bombed:

So the best advice that this high-powered technology executive wants to give her boss is to “focus on the positives”? And she got billions of dollars in stock for that?

After years of this public undermining, it appears that the gloves are off, as Zuckerberg has been spreading the same types of stories in the tech press about Sandberg that she has spread about him:

I’ll give Zuckerberg credit for being smoother in having one of Sandberg’s former employees spread this unfavorable anecdote. But alas, it too blew up in his face, as Business Insider is here again to tell us that calling someone stupid is a “great management lesson”:

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What can we learn from all of this? Well clearly that Sheryl Sandberg hates Mark Zuckerberg. She probably also gave him the idea of starting his monthly book club, hoping that the press would be revolted by the fact that Zuck thinks of himself as a new Oprah. But that also backfired. What Sandberg needs to realize is that the Valley is desperately looking for another Steve Jobs to latch onto and the young Zuck is the only one who fits the bill. She should read the tea leaves and just stop saying anything about Zuckerberg, period, lest even his choice of water fountain at Facebook HQ become another display of his brilliance.

Postscript

After this article went to press (i.e. I hit the “Publish” button), Zuckerberg announced that in 2016, he pledges to run a mile a day, which is clearly another Sandberg-inspired idea, as running for 10 minutes is barely enough physical activity to get your heart rate up. But like clockwork, this “goal” has been breathlessly reported by scores of publications. When asked whether she will be joining Zuck in his quest to relive middle school gym class, Sandberg had no comment.

 

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