Facebook's leadership: Dissecting Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook has only been in existence since 2004 and its CEO and co-founder, Mark Zuckerberg, is just 26 years old. He dropped out of Harvard to pursue his dream of growing the company. The events surrounding Facebook's founding have already become the stuff of legend, with a movie documenting one version of its early history set for release in October.
It has been reported that the film will not paint Zuckerberg in the best of light. But if the life of any 18-20 year-old were chronicled, it would likely be full of missteps. Let's remember that Zuckerberg has also done many things well. To follow are a few leadership nuggets that may get lost amongst the criticism.
(READ ALSO: Does Facebook need a new leader?)
1. Believe in the vision
In 2006, Yahoo attempted to buy Facebook for $1 billion. At the time, CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg was 22 years old, and he rejected the offer. With the volatility in the dot com market, most felt he made a huge mistake. Why did he turn the offer down?
At the time he claimed he was "here to build something for the long term." In a recent interview with Diane Sawyer, Zuckerberg was amazingly consistent, and he expanded on that same sentiment, saying, "we really just believe in what we're doing." And what they're doing is simple: they connect people and then empower them to share what they want.
2. Execution can trump innovation
MySpace, Shutterfly and instant messaging platforms like AIM and ICQ all predate Facebook's founding in 2004. While Facebook didn't invent the concept of social networking, they were able to aggregate numerous social networking concepts into a simple platform. Facebook's merging of these technologies has been a huge success -- and the number of Facebook users has grown exponentially as a result. Sometimes, executing on a vision is much more important than being the first.
3. Mistakes become mistakes when you let them
As a young leader, co-founder Mark Zuckerberg has admitted to his share of mistakes. And despite Zuckerberg's well-chronicled follies, Facebook continues to grow. Perhaps this growth is directly related to how Zuckerberg responds to his mistakes.
For example, Facebook famously bungled the introduction of its first news feed. Essentially, every post a member made on their wall was shared with their entire network. One member, Ben Parr, started a group called "Students against Facebook news feed," and its membership swelled to 750,000 users within a week. Instead of digging his heels in, Zuckerberg sent Parr an email asking for his advice on what Facebook could do better when introducing new products. Instead of creating an enemy, Zuckerberg developed an ally.
4. The devil is in the details
At the time of the dot com bubble, many Silicon Valley offices were filled with games, foosball tables and other distractions -- and the reasons were never very clear. Likewise, Facebook has its own laundry room along with multiple cafes that serve great food. The office is also designed in a very open fashion. But the Facebook leadership team thought strategically about these perks. They want to make it a place where people can simply focus on "building things" -- and removing the distractions of laundry and where to go to lunch allow employees to do just that. The open floor plan enables their 1,600 employees to know what's going on throughout the buildings. Giving thought to these seemingly minor issues has the potential to drastically improve the working environment and employee engagement.
5. Ownership matters
Facebook has been estimated to be worth as much as $35 billion. Recently, a New York man has come forward to claim that Zuckerberg signed an agreement that gives him an 84% ownership stake in the company. While Facebook lawyers suggest that the contract was forged, it does raise the question of ownership.
Up until this point, Facebook has refrained from issuing an IPO, which would make all of the funding venture companies, along with Facebook founders and employees, incredibly wealthy. But while Zuckerberg has indicated that Facebook will have an IPO "when it makes sense," ownership of the company matters. Although reportedly profitable, Facebook has been assisted by continual venture funding. Once the IPO occurs, Zuckerberg will have a lot of people to answer to, and his leadership style will need to change accordingly.
Criticism often accompanies success. But for a 26 year-old who's worth a reported $4 billion, Zuckerberg seems to be handling his leadership role well, and he continues to mature. Let's hope that continues.
What are your thoughts on Zuckerberg as a leader? What has he done well, and what could he do better?
July 25, 2010; 7:34 PM ET
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