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How To Find Your Company’s Sheryl Sandberg

Your ideal employee is the embodiment of your brand, with killer skills, a sense of humor, and the potential to be better than you are now. Sound like an impossible combo to find? Read on.

How To Find Your Company’s Sheryl Sandberg
[Image: Flickr user Jesse757]

Finally, we’re living in a time and place where women working in tech are no longer the mysterious unicorns of the industry. The Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandbergs of the world are not only present, but they’re forging the way with thought leadership as loudly as their counterparts have been for decades.

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My “Sheryl” (who holds the title chief strategy officer) is the only person I know who can tell me I may need to rethink something or move in a different direction, and she often reworks my entire perspective on an issue. She reminds me it’s for my own good and that she wants me to be the best CEO the world has ever seen. I, jokingly of course, call this “strategic verbal assault.”

When I found her, I wasn’t necessarily looking for a “Sheryl.” What I knew was that I needed a like-minded, data-driven communicator with enough gusto to be my fellow conspirator in flipping the PR industry on its head. She needed to be organized enough to rein me in for the right types of outreach, while steadily pushing me out of my own comfort zone.

When seeking that special professional someone who will lead your strategy, bring order to your organization, and strengthen your leadership skills in a way that can only be described as “Mark/Sheryl magic,” think about what qualities are paramount in a complementary counterpart and keep the below personality traits in mind:

  • Phenomenal communicator
  • Highly adaptable and flexible
  • Able to do your job on any given day
  • Domain expert
  • The type of person who values organization and process but also enjoy the chaos of the unknown
  • Humorous, because we all take our jobs (and ourselves) too seriously
  • Culturally embodies your brand or company

In many ways, the “Sheryls” of the world ensure the health of an organization–they are able to read a room, a team, and most importantly, you.

So, how do you find one of your own?

1. Trust your network

Share what you’re looking for with trusted confidants and be vocal about your ideals. This isn’t the time to be shy or secretive about projected plans.

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I heard about my “Sheryl”–also known as Rebekah–through several different sources that knew a lot about what I was looking for but also recognized what was lacking. It always struck me as amazing that we boomeranged to each other from multiple directions.

Reach out to friends and business associates with similar moral values for these introductions.

2. Find allies in outliers

As an outlier of sorts myself (a male in PR), I know the strength of this disadvantage. I love finding great outliers, whether it’s a female in a male-dominated industry, vice versa, or another type of person who’s succeeded in the face of adversity. These individuals tend to outperform others, they’re packed with courage, and they are highly accustomed to change. Those are some of the greatest qualities you can ever ask for, in an employee or any person you’ll be spending a lot of time with.

3. Seek someone with a shared passion for the problem you’re trying to solve

Once you’ve found a few candidates that share your values, make sure the passion is there. They must want to eat, sleep, and bleed your product, and oftentimes if they do, they have some kind of captivating story to share about why this is the case. Entrepreneurship is hard enough as it is. Your “Sheryl” must meet this qualification for the right sparks to flare at all.

4. Consider the value of support valves.

Ideally, this person could do your job–maybe even better than you, but in a very different way. Ask her how she’d manage your day-to-day tasks, vet those solutions, then draw a few conclusions about how these techniques could improve your organization on a larger scale.

Your “Sheryl” should be able to scale up or down on a dime depending on the needs of your business. They should also be open to taking on the tasks of their directs–a humbling experience and clear indicator of character.

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5. Ask yourself, “What will having my own “Sheryl” give me the ability to do that I wouldn’t be able to do otherwise?”

I’m not talking about tying your shoes without your own hands–although the one time I asked Rebekah for help with this, I tripped. Point taken.

The purpose of this question is to resurface the real reason why you’re seeking a strategic counterpart. Do you want to work closely with someone who has the traits and skills that you do not? Do you need a complementary partner-in-crime to hit home runs with when you’re laying the foundation for new partnerships or acquiring new clients? Make a list if you haven’t already and use it as your mental compass moving forward. Tie skills directly back to those goals.

In my experience, you’ll find her (or him; “Sheryl” could be a Steve!) by recruiting with the perfect proportion of proactive seeking and organic conversations. Figure out who will enable and encourage you to be the true leader your business needs you to be.

Sharam Fouladgar-Mercer is the cofounder and CEO of AirPR, a technology platform to increase PR performance.

Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program.

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