Facebook's Lessons in Leadership
In his book, How to Create the Next Facebook: Seeing Your Startup Through, From Idea to IPO, author Tom Taulli lays out the specific steps that took Facebook from college dorm room to $100 billion dollar social media platform, and how budding entrepreneurs can use those lessons to launch their own successful business. In this edited excerpt, Taulli details what every would-be founder can learn from Mark Zuckerberg's journey to becoming a successful CEO.
In Facebook's early days, Mark Zuckerberg was a terrible CEO. He didn't communicate well, kept things to himself, and often riled his employees. He also had a bit of an attitude. One famous example was his business card, which stated at the top: "I'm the CEO, Bitch."
In late 2005, things were getting worse. Zuckerberg was spending most of his time hanging out with media moguls, flying private jets and dining at elite restaurants. These pastimes may have been a great ego boost, but employees were becoming demoralized, and it was harming the company.
The company's in-house recruiter, Robin Reed, confronted Zuckerberg and said, "You'd better take CEO lessons, or this isn't going to work for you."
It was a pivotal moment. Zuckerberg was mature enough to evaluate the criticism and act on it. It was critical for the company's growth. From that point on, Zuckerberg set out to get CEO lessons from people who included some of the world's best leaders.
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Being a CEO can be lonely. You can't say something like, "I have no idea what to do. Any suggestions?" It's important to find mentors -- especially those who have several rungs more experience than you.
But a CEO also needs to encourage an open environment. Employees should feel free to say negative things. Else it will be nearly impossible for the CEO to understand the company's problems. The fact that Reed was able to criticize Zuckerberg was an encouraging sign that Facebook had a culture of openness.
Zuckerberg's mistakes provided him with another crucial lesson: the perils of corporate imprinting. This is a natural human behavior in which employees copy their leader. A CEO needs to be constantly aware of their actions. How will they be interpreted? Is the right example being set?
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Having fun is a good thing, but there are boundaries. When things go too far, a company can alienate its employees and even trigger lawsuits. It may also result in chaos.
Among the key factors of Zuckerberg's journey to becoming a great CEO:
Just say no. As your business gains traction, you will inevitably attract lots of interest from third parties. There will be requests for partnerships or even buyouts.
Don't get sucked in. Perhaps one of a successful CEO's most valuable traits is the ability to say "no." Otherwise you'll get sucked into too many trivial activities and not have enough time for the important things.
Zuckerberg has nixed many projects, even though significant resources had been invested. But it didn't matter, because the efforts were not getting much interest. As the saying goes: "Fail fast."
Speed. There's something a small company can do that a big company can't: move fast. It's a key advantage.
As your company grows, a CEO may become cautious and start avoiding risks. But according to Zuckerberg, a company needs to keep moving "fast and break things." If you aren't making mistakes, then that's when you know you aren't working fast enough.
Zuckerberg has taken a direct, quick approach to making decisions. This means clearly stating his positions, listening to others, and then taking clear-cut action.
Politics are the enemy of innovation. If employees are more concerned about their own agendas--and career paths--then they are about the business, it will be tough for a company to grow for the long haul.
Politics can be managed; Zuckerberg has made this a focus of his Hacker Way, which declares: "Hackers believe that the best idea and implementation should always win--not the person who is best at lobbying for an idea or the person who manages the most people … Code wins arguments."
Be data-driven. Many CEOs ignore information to the contrary and think that their business is doing well. That's possible during boom times; just look at the dot-com era. Showing metrics such as surges in users was enough to raise huge amounts of capital. But when the VC market collapsed, many companies were wiped out. Only those that focused on sound business models -- like eBay, Priceline, and Google -- were able to survive.
You need to constantly track data and understand the trends. Although the implications may not always be clear, you'll be in tune with your company's reality.
Don't accept the conventional wisdom. It's often wrong. Zuckerberg has always been good at asking his team "Why?" especially those who say something can't be done. It's been effective in reaching deeper truths, which may point to great product ideas or innovative business models. For example, when he thought about having a photo-sharing concept, it seemed like a bad idea. Did the world need another way to share pictures? But Zuckerberg found a way to use Facebook's social graph to make his version a game-changer.
He has also focused on getting to the essence of things and striving for simplicity. Consider that some of Facebook's best features include basic concepts like friends, Likes, and events.