Fast Company

Be Like Mark: 8 Ways To Emulate Facebook's Zuckerberg, The Unlikely Leader

Whether you love him, hate him, or are just a little jealous of his newly minted multi-billionaire status, you have to admit that Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, has made some visionary leadership moves.

In less than 10 years, Zuckerberg’s taken an idea for an online social network from his Harvard dorm room and delivered it into the homes, offices, pockets, and purses (via mobile phones) of 845 million users around the world. Last year, more than half of Facebook’s users logged in every single day, spending a whopping 4 hours and 35 minutes posting, reading updates, and “liking” more than 2 billion posts a day.

And how many CEOs anywhere in the world can say the company they founded before they were old enough to drink generated a net income of $1 billion in 2011 on revenue of $3.7 billion, up from $606 million on revenues of $1.97 billion in 2010?

Zuckerberg’s had his share of growing pains, too, but he’s held fast to Facebook’s helm as well as its stock. He currently owns 28.4% of the company, which at a valuation of $100 billion, translates to a stake worth just under $30 billion.

Despite that dough, less than 10% of Americans relished the thought of walking the halls of Facebook in his sneakers, and even fewer (9% to be precise) wanted to work for him.

As Facebook takes its first steps under the glaring klieg lights of its planned public offering, you can be sure Zuckerberg’s management moves will be subject to even more scrutiny, dissection, and criticism. For now though, we want to take a look at the leadership qualities that brought on this dizzying success.

Have A Strong Personal Philosophy

Amid the astounding numbers of revenue and users, and the cast of characters that reads like an A-list index to the high-roller investors of the tech world, the S-1 document that Facebook filed yesterday also held the personal manifesto Zuckerberg plans to use as a guide for the company after the IPO.

"We don't build services in order to make money, we make money in order to build better services. Facebook was not originally created to be a company. It was built to accomplish a social mission--to make the world open and more connected."

Zuck’s trotted out this “open and connected” tenet at various times, most recently in an impassioned post on Facebook opposing SOPA and PIPA. “We will continue to oppose any laws that will hurt the Internet,” and with equal furor in a rebuttal to the FTC touting how much social media has contributed to the government, the advancement of democracy, and the growing cottage industry of social software.

Make It Not Always About The Money

Naysayers were quick to wag tongues and fingers when Zuckerberg turned down Yahoo’s nearly $1 billion offer to buy Facebook in 2006. But the decision to keep Facebook independent was far from a lapse in judgment. In less than two years, Myspace accepted $580 million to join News Corp., and YouTube took $1.5 billion from Google.

As valuations fluctuated between $10 billion and $1 trillion, Zuckerberg stuck to his simple resolution. He’d consider an IPO when it “made sense” rather than make himself and investors rich. "I'm here to build something for the long term. Anything else is a distraction." Even Cameron Winklevoss agreed.

Know How To Scale In Multiple Ways

Zuckerberg recognized early on that scaling a business was a balancing act. Now topping 845 million members, there’s only so many more users Facebook can add to its base. Instead, he’s focused on increasing the amount of time people spend clicking around the network, so it can serve up even more ads at higher rates.

This scheme has already been in play with a number of Facebook’s features such as games and shopping. Though not all of have been successful (hello, FB email service) it’s clear that the bottom line gets a boost the longer users are on the site.

focus at facebook

Support A Culture Of Innovation

Zuckerberg worked with only a handful of developers in the early days of Facebook but when the “snakepit” of angst-ridden, overworked staff got to be counterproductive, he made some important additions. Chris Cox became the evangelical HR executive while newly installed COO Sheryl Sandberg ushered in an era of stability in 2008.

Things still retain the playful air of a tech development hive, but with an edge. At its HQ, male Facebook employees vanquish distractions even when they go to the bathroom (which is frequently, thanks to all those free beverages).

Recognize You Don’t Have To Be First To Market

Myspace and Friendster both predate Facebook, yet are now virtually extinct. Facebook trumped those earlier social networks because it provides more of a compelling pull, rather than a push. Likewise, when it entered the deals game last year alongside veterans Groupon and LivingSocial, it took their existing model and did it one better by adding polls and encouraging users to share. All of that fits with Facebook’s core mission, “Giving people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.”

Take Pride In Hacking

For Zuckerberg, hacking goes way beyond the allegations that he coded his way into the Harvard Crimson and ConnectU. Zuckerberg’s hacker culture is about using shared effort and knowledge to make something bigger, better, and faster than an individual can do alone. His "hackathons" at Facebook are legendary and help foster innovation in all manner of projects from building better data centers to crowdsourcing urban planning for its surrounding neighborhood.

Play To Win, Without Competing

Zuckerberg's social-networking juggernaut is the smallest and youngest of Silicon Valley’s Fab Four, but it’s killing it with stellar results in the ad business and attracting all kinds of talent. The Great Tech War of 2012 may be on, but Zuck’s not going to play. "People like to talk about war...There are real competitions in there, but I don't think this is going to be this type of situation where there's one company that wins all this stuff."

Let Them See You Sweat

Between his awkward, perspiration-soaked appearance at D8 last year and presentations peppered with hesitant "ums," it’s no wonder Zuckerberg’s drawn fire for his lack of polish for such a loftily placed CEO. No matter, he’s still smarter and more successful than the rest of us, which sets him in a league of his own.

Now it's your turn. What leadership lessons have you taken from Mark Zuckerberg? Tweet us @FastCoLeaders with the hashtag #FCweighin to join the conversation, or leave a comment below.

Read the rest of Fast Company's coverage of Facebook's IPO

[Image: Flickr user dfarber]

Add New Comment

2 Comments

  • David Kaiser

    Good points, I am a particular fan of 1> having a mission beyond the money. If you serve well, the money will come. 2> not competing, but creating a value proposition in such a way that your target market knows how you can help them to create value. 3> innovation. The world is changing, and the pace of change is increasing. The way we used to do it just isn't good enough anymore. Innovation means risk-taking and failure. Accept it and move on. 4> authenticity. In the old days, having a large number of interchangeable drones was sufficient. Now, we need people who are dedicated, and the best way to get dedication is through engagement, people have to care, and you can;t force, or enforce, caring, but you can nurture it and enable it, by letting people be whole instead of asking them to be faceless droids. 
    David Kaiser, PhDExecutive Coachwww.DarkMatterConsulting....

  • SAiken

    AOL must be crying. They had this social space concept way before even Myspace and Friendster. Facebook will only get better as there are several addicts I know.