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Young Leaders

Coro Fellows

As part of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs, these fellows are engaged in a full-time, nine-month, graduate-level leadership training program that prepares individuals for public-affairs leadership.

Game is good, but sometimes you can win without it

Q: Facebook's young founder Mark Zuckerberg avoids press interviews, offers inscrutable answers at public forums and jealously guards his privacy--so much so that he is now the subject of an unflattering movie. Does Zuckerberg have to develop a better "outside game" to be an effective leader of his fast-growing company?

Regardless of his method, the success of Zuckerberg's product is undeniable. Hundreds of millions of people continue to log on to Facebook every day. Compare Zuckerberg's gruff, misanthropic exterior to that of President Obama's, arguably this decade's most captivating orator. Despite his ability on the campaign trail to arrest the imaginations of a broad constituency, Obama has thus far failed to tout some of his party's most significant accomplishments--landmark health care and financial reform--to that same constituency.
Perhaps Obama could swipe a page from young Zuckerberg's strategy. While the American people clamor for solutions to an economy whose problems appear increasingly complex by the day, Obama should exercise a leadership that highlights the benchmarks reached so far. For Obama and the Democrats, election losses are inevitable, but now is a better time than ever to transform the discussion from one of promise to one of results. -Jeremy Rogoff

With his recent $100 million gift to Newark schools and an appearance on Oprah, Mark Zuckerberg seems intent on improving his public image. However, this is not necessary for him to effectively lead his fast-growing company. Zuckerberg's low public profile actually supports Facebook's social-network philosophy. Facebook is a forum for individual users to create and manage their own experience and the site's premise is that it is organic and democratic, with no singular authority. Zuckerberg's low-key and unpolished public image (complete with signature hooded sweatshirt) supports this ideal.

More generally, chief executive officers do not face the same "outside game" requirements as, say, political leaders. CEOs sell a product, while politicians are the product. Campaigning is inherently linked to a candidate's image because voters are selecting an individual. However, customers are focused on the product they are purchasing, not the head of the company that provides it.

Of course though, a company's image does play a role in its success, and business leaders are responsible for crafting that image. In this regard, Zuckerberg missed an opportunity. He could have donated $100 million through a Facebook foundation and earned the company philanthropic accolades. Instead, he chose to place himself center stage. Mark Zuckerberg was wrong to do so. Facebook needs no face. -Max Nardini

The question of Zuckerberg's "outside game" requires an assessment of his "inside game." In roughly six years, the Facebook founder--with the help of outside investors and a strong management team--shepherded the firm from being a dorm-room start-up to being the world's premiere, 500-million-strong social network. Last month, New Yorker staff writer Jose Antonio Vargas conveyed a simple twofold metric of Zuckerberg's management. In 2005, MTV Networks considered buying Facebook for $75 million. In 2006, Terry Semel, the former C.E.O. of Yahoo!, attempted to buy the firm for $1 billion. Inside game? Check.

What, then, do we make of Zuckerberg's outside game? And, more importantly, does he need a better one in order to lead Facebook effectively? Yes and no. Affirmatively, Zuckerberg's leadership could cultivate an "outside game" that anticipates and addresses external challenges. David Fincher's The Social Network is only the most visible example. A savvier public relations arm, a well-timed op-ed here, and a carefully chosen interview there would more adequately address Greenpeace's burgeoning "Unfriend Coal" campaign and the controversial contractions of privacy on Facebook. Leadership that employs this outside game, however, is not required for Facebook to accomplish its stated purposes of empowering people to "share" and of making the world "more open and connected". To achieve those ends, all that is required is a strong "inside game". As long as Mr. Zuckerberg's leadership moves Facebook onward and upward--a direction that, finally, depends upon having a strong inside game--his 500+ million friends will not care if he is perceived as socially awkward. -Andrew Wilkes

Oh, if all problems could be solved with a lavish Cirque du Soleil party and a sizable, charitable gift to a city nearly 3,000 miles from your front door. Yes, playing a strong "outside game" is essential to being an effective leader. No, leaders don't get points for showmanship, big plays and razzle dazzle. True leaders create meaningful change both internally and externally by acting in a way that is meaningful and consistent with their identity. Both inside and outside one's organization, the ability to share one's achievements, bring others onboard, and evangelize new ideas and initiatives is essential to leadership and a leader's longevity. The press and readers are savvier than companies acknowledge; if the mask isn't consistent with the face underneath, it will be all too easy for users and public leaders to quickly "unfriend" the whole operation.

Facebook was an innovation, not a revolution. As such, Zuckerberg has been considered an innovator, not a leader. The challenge for Zuckerberg in the coming years is using the product, his goodwill and his largess to play the right game in the right way to become a leader. Zuckerberg should not remove himself from the public eye all together. If he only emerged from behind the curtain once a year to battle a nasty profile, his 500 million friends would quickly become indifferent to the product and the man behind the behemoth. The slipshod announcement of Zuckerberg's donation, for example, overshadowed the real, important change that this fund could bring to Newark's ailing schools. His intentions were questionable, and Zuckerberg must act and speak genuinely and with follow-through. Start small, cleaning up parks in the Bay Area, creating programs in local high schools that promote technological innovation--things that Zuckerberg and his employees care about--and go from there. -Matthew Spector

In a word, no. Mark Zuckerberg is the CEO of Facebook; his success is built upon his innovation and technical savvy, not his skills as a leader. The fact that Zuckerberg is the CEO of a private company shapes this depiction. The Facebook phenomenon ensures the loyalty of his employees. His youth in conjunction with net worth ensures his authority over said employees. At a certain point one's prowess in the "outside game" proves irrelevant when one's job proficiency is not contingent on public approval.

Facebook's longevity and perpetual expansion confirm that the site is no passing fad, but rather a cultural development that will continue to define our online existence for the foreseeable future. Zuckerberg was not merely a sperm donor in Facebook's conception but an involved father who nurtured the beast through quite a few stages of growth and development. His genius denies public opinion and as such his so-called "jealous" privacy is his prerogative. A leader who depends on outside game to achieve his or her success is beholden to the tactic, but a Zuckerberg who stands alone as a thriving, code-writing billionaire...well, to borrow a catchphrase: "You don't get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies." -Margaux Weeke

Luckily for Zuckerberg, he's got a great collaborator in Sheryl Sandberg. The former Google executive has done more than a sufficient job of filling in the gaps left by the shortcomings of Zuckerberg's leadership. Zuckerberg was always a techie at heart, and he is brilliant at what he does best: staying behind the computer screen and making magic happen, save for those ever transient and beleaguering privacy issues. The Zuckerberg-Sandberg partnership has enabled Facebook to grow six-fold, expanding to more than 500 million users worldwide.

That said, I'm not convinced of the corporate imperative for Zuckerberg to improve his "outside game". Of course, as a matter of principal, he most definitely should. Even so, Sandberg clearly brought a whole deck of cards to the table, and she has played them impeccably well a marketing and advertising guru, she's older and more comfortable in her own skin as a leader. Zuckerberg was thrust into the spotlight due to success of unanticipated magnitude. He's 26, and still somewhat awkward with his new-found role of being the face of an entire generation. Facebook and Zuckerberg are going through growing pains both figuratively and literally, and I'm sure that he will come into his own both with time and the mentor he has found in Sandberg. -Flora Mendoza

Do you honestly care who Mark Zuckerberg is? Me neither, yet in an attempt to understand the leadership practices of this 26-year-old cofounder of Facebook, it may helpful to first consider his interpretation of leadership. Zuckerberg defines leadership as "...basically about creating focus. It is about ensuring we are focused on the right stuff and getting good people in to help build what we are trying to do." It is clear that Zuckerberg prioritizes leadership based on technical processes and outcomes, rather than interpersonal connections and charisma. So then, why is this young American entrepreneur the center of immeasurable criticism regarding his ability to reach out and connect with others when evidently it is not his focus? Nevertheless, as one of the world's youngest billionaires, he is inevitably positioned to receive a healthy dosage of societal and media judgment.

Although Zuckerberg has been often described as introverted, robotic, curt and even condescending, there are multiple examples of him displaying a genuine care and connecting with others. Zuckerberg has displayed numerous examples of self deprecation with account holders as well as increased maturity in a leadership role. In 2006, in response to major issues with Facebook's privacy policies, Zuckerberg wrote an open apology letter in which he accepted responsibility by apologizing for hastily launching the new information feature on Facebook while thanking account holders for their patience and expressing appreciation to those who communicated their frustration to him. This is one of multiple examples of Zuckerberg learning and actually accepting responsibility for a mistake. Nevertheless, although the public and media may view it as essential that Mark Zuckerberg enhances his "outside game" to be a more effective leader of Facebook, it may not be what Mr. Zuckerberg or his company wants, needs or is capable of doing. -Christian Laurence

Acknowledging that there are many different styles and methods of leadership, it would behoove anyone wishing to answer this question to consider what type of leader Zuckerberg aims to be. There are many instances in which acts of leadership are consistently displayed from individuals that remain in the background. In times of war, much of the leadership occurs away from the frontline. Zuckerberg is definitely responsible for changing the world and how we communicate forever. Although we would all gain pleasure from having a greater depth of access into his personal life, it would have little effect on his actual contribution to society. Although leaders like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. were experts at gaining attention in order to lead, that may not work for everyone in any situation. -Quanice Hawkins

By Coro Fellows

 |  October 7, 2010; 11:40 AM ET
Category:  CEOs , Corporate leadership , Leadership development , Leadership personalities Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Matching 'outside game' to 'inside self' | Next: Zuckerberg's on his way


Please report offensive comments below.

Good perspectives particularly Andrew Wilkes.

The question remains whether Mark Zuckerberg needs to have a better outside game? And from my point of view, it doesn't seem like it would matter. People would still use Facebook despite whether they knew this guy or not.

However, he should avoid any major gaffs in the public eye. It's one thing to be quiet in external relations, its another to rile things up that could potentially produce damaging results.

Posted by: skepticLA | October 17, 2010 6:36 PM
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