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Robert Goodwin

Robert Goodwin

Robert J. Goodwin is CEO and co-founder of Executives Without Borders; former deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force and appointee at USAID, the State Department and the White House.

Zuckerberg's empty-nest syndrome

Q: The ongoing privacy controversy at Facebook raises the familiar dilemma of what to do when fast-growing startups threaten to outgrow the management abilities of creative young founders. The Google guys got kudos for bringing in industry veteran Eric Schmidt as CEO, but things didn't work out as well when Pepsi's John Sculley took the reins from a young Steve Jobs at Apple. What's the leadership wisdom here?

When explosive growth raises previously unforeseen challenges, companies often think that they must make a choice between the vision that got them there and the systems needed to take it to scale. Companies recognize that innovation and the ability to rapidly adapt to their customers and market are what paved the way to success. But that innovative culture does not provide enough structure to tackle some operational and quality issues that, if left unaddressed, can severely damage a brand or cause a significant loss in users. This dilemma is especially challenging in situations with well-entrenched founders whose story and personality are intrinsically tied to the corporate brand itself.

In such instances, it's important to remember that companies can indeed have the best of both worlds - but only with leaders that are willing to share the spotlight for the good of both the company and its customers. Look at Michael Dell or Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com. These CEOs saw the landscape changing and understood that they needed help to chart the next phase of their growth.

Dell essentially hired an entirely new management team, and both men identified ways to remain engaged in the creative process and core strategy work while handing most day-to-day operational responsibilities off to others. As a result, both companies remain giants in their respective fields and are better suited for competition in a world where agility and flexibility are increasingly essential to survival.

It can be difficult for founders, who sometimes see their companies as their children, having birthed and nurtured them. When it comes time for college many parents struggle to let go, afraid of what might happen when their children leave the protective environment under their care. But as a friend and parent once said to me, "If you don't let go, they will." There is a certain point of adulthood where children can no longer be controlled. Such is was the case with Dell and Amazon and is now the case with Facebook.

While Mark Zuckerberg and his fellow co-founders are young "parents," it is time for them to allow their company to be equipped with the talents and skills it needs for a productive future. And as many parents will tell you, there is a great sense of accomplishment borne not just out of raising children, but of watching them be able to handle challenges and situations without their guidance and supervision.

By Robert Goodwin

 |  June 9, 2010; 2:58 PM ET
Category:  Corporate leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: What COO Sheryl Sandberg brings | Next: On her own terms


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Great piece Goodwin.

You talk about "young parents" -- how true.

Has anyone checked the maximum number of characters you can do in a FB wall post?

Its "420". Kind of weird, right? Not 425, or 400, or 500.

Until you realize that "420" is slang for Pot.

How juvenile can you be.

FB needs to get real.

Posted by: CoughlinC | June 12, 2010 5:32 PM
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