On Choosing a Chief Operating Officer

A version of this post originally appeared on the She Chooses blog. I am one of four co-founders of She Chooses(TM), the social network for women:

I’ve been reading Ken Auletta’s article in the New Yorker on Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer (COO) at Facebook, and thinking about our She Chooses COO and co-founder Laureen Fleming, featured guest at our upcoming She Chooses Chat. A modest person, Laureen would be aghast that I was making such a comparison, but I share with Zuckerberg a founder’s bigger-than-life, unrestrained belief in the enterprise. Zuckerberg was proven right to believe in his enterprise. I will be, too.

Lauren and Anne, She Chooses co-founders, working side-by-sideWhat I don’t share with Zuckerberg is the interview and selection process for our COOs. According to Auletta, Zuckerberg met with Sandberg for six weeks in a series of intense, lengthy meetings. I wasn’t there and I can’t say what was said at those meetings, so I can only speak for myself. When I meet lengthily and intensely with someone with whom I am considering partnering, either personally or professionally, and I find myself pushing, probing, insisting, I know I’m trying to control how the relationship will proceed post-handshake. I’m trying to specify the rules about how this person will be and what they will do. And it’s futile. People evolve. No matter what demands I make, or what we agree to, people change and situations change.

Laureen and I were assigned to the same Presidents’ Council group, an executive leadership program offered by VT KnowledgeWorks. At our monthly meetings, Laureen and I shared, listened, discussed, and brainstormed with our fellow group members. After probably a dozen meetings over the course of a year, and never having met as just the two of us either socially or professionally, we had a meeting of minds and hearts and knew we would form a company together. I remember the conversation distinctly where we both said we were aware that we would share times of closeness and conflict, but that we were making a conscious decision to be open to evolving together as friends and founders. Unorthodox in terms of founding a technology company? Probably. In terms of women recognizing they have work to do together? Not uncommon, I think.

As an executive level project manager, Laureen brings together ideas and people, discerns what the people really want and really can do, brings forth individuals’ gifts and skills, asks them to apply them in the best ways, and mixes that all together. Then, where there was nothing, there is something, a finished project. Amazing.

I don’t know who first said that we are our own worst enemies, and I don’t want to be my own worst enemy, but sometimes I am, always due to lack of awareness. Laureen has caught me a few times in personal enemy territory and, strategically and diplomatically, “brought me up on my awareness” without criticizing or shaming me. I have observed with respect and amusement her doing the same for others on our team, even through Basecamp. Incredible. Invaluable.

And Laureen sees the world, business and technology in ways I can barely describe because they’re so new to me, but they continue to astound and inspire me and take our enterprise places it wouldn’t go without her vision. I always want to talk with her more. Hence our invitation from our team to her to be our featured guest on She Chooses Chat.

Yes! More time to chat with our Laureen, COO of She Chooses!


She Chooses Chat with featured guest Laureen Fleming is Wednesday, July 20, 2011, 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM ET. Here are all the details. All women are invited to join in!

VT KnowledgeWorks is a client of Handshake Media, Incorporated, the parent company of Handshake 2.0.

Who's in FRONT? Rick and Roni Sutton


  1. Christina says:

    Great article! I once considered making my cat my COO. 🙂

  2. Thanks! A cat might be a very good second choice for COO after Laureen. 🙂

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