What can we learn from Facebook?

The New York Times published an article entitled “The Education of Mark Zuckerberg” on May 12, 2012.   This seems appropriate since Facebook will become a public company on May 18, 2012.  The initial stock price will likely range between 28 to 35 dollars a share.   At the end of trading, most expect Facebook to be worth 100 billion dollars.

“The Education of Mark Zuckerberg” caused me to reflect on the leadership necessary to build a successful company.

Character is more important than Innovation

What Mark Zuckerberg has done with Facebook in 8 years is remarkable.  We are regularly reminded Facebook should not be considered a standard.   We are told how impossibly lucky one must be to experience this type of success.  While this is no doubt true, it would seem unwise to ignore the important lessons of their success.

Facebook is a success not merely because of an innovative idea.  Their success is rooted in a type of character as well.   What I am trying to say is Mark Zuckerberg was going to succeed at something.  We should focus less on the idea, and more on the growth of his character.

Character is more important than innovation in the building of a company.

Mark Zuckerberg is willing to Learn

“It’s hard to argue. The question, however, is where Mr. Zuckerberg goes from here as a chief executive. He declined to be interviewed for this article, but interviews with dozens of venture capitalists and entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, as well as with Facebook colleagues and outsiders who have mentored him along his climb, paint a promising picture.”

“The Education of Mark Zuckerberg”

There have been countless critiques of Mark Zuckerberg and his leadership.  An aspect of the analysis provided by Evelyn Rusli, Nicole Perlroth, and Nick Bolton in “The  Education of Mark Zuckerberg” is one of the best.  They highlight how well Mr. Zuckerberg has embraced mentorship.   In short, this brillant young man is willing to learn from others.   He is teachable.

“But Mr. Zuckerberg has also invested in a personal brain trust beyond Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. He cultivated as advisers such tech giants as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, as well as others as varied as Marc Andreessen, the co-founder of Netscape, and Donald E. Graham, the chairman and chief executive of the Washington Post Company.”

“The Education of Mark Zuckerberg”

Few of us will have opportunity to meet and learn from luminaries like those chosen by Mr. Zuckerberg.  On the other hand, the majority of us are surrounded by numerous individuals from whom we have much to learn.

The question we must ask ourselves is whether we are as hungry to learn from our mentors, as Mr. Zuckerberg has been to learn from his?

Mark Zuckerberg knows his Limitations

“Even now, with a multibillion-dollar brass ring at hand, Mr. Zuckerberg remains intensely aware of his limitations, these people say. Where he is strong — in product design and strategy — he tends to micromanage. Where he is weak — day-to-day management, operations — he hires people with a defter touch. He has enlisted top engineers and managers, including the formidable Ms. Sandberg, 42. Friends and colleagues say she has coached the often-awkward Mr. Zuckerberg on how to interact with employees and to build Facebook’s business.”

“The Education of Mark Zuckerberg”

Clint Eastwood is famous for the movie line, “a man’s gotta know his limitations”.  Clearly Mark Zuckerberg has embraced this attitude.  He has done enough self reflection, and listened to enough feedback to know his own weaknesses.

As a result he has surrounded himself with complimentary leaders…those who have our weaknesses as their strengths.  Each one of us has insecurities about our weaknesses.  For this reason, when we are placed in leadership, it can be difficult to surround ourselves with people who have our weaknesses as their strengths.

Mr. Zuckerberg has done something few powerful men do.  He has faced his weaknesses, overcome his limitations, and surrounded himself with complimentary leaders.   Impressive and something we can all learn from.

Mark Zuckerberg has a vision for the future

“Several people who were hired this way say the strolls usually meandered along the trail — with Mr. Zuckerberg asking questions of the new recruit along the way — and ended atop a lookout. There, Mr. Zuckerberg would explain the terrain in front of them and his vision for the future.”

“The Education of Mark Zuckerberg”

Many leaders have a vision for making products, money, or even building a company.  Few have a vision for the future.  The vast amount of reportage over the last eight years makes one fact clear, Mr. Zuckerberg has a vision for the future.   He has a worldview, and it is one which he wants to make a reality.

While we can debate the veracity of his vision, no one can deny its significance.  This makes him unique.   Bill Gates had this type of vision…a computer on every desktop.  Steve Jobs had this type of vision…the computer will be personal.

Success isn’t simply about creating a product or building a company.  Successful leaders have a vision of the future.

Mark Zuckerberg represents a new generation of leaders

Out in the courtyard, the crew — almost all of them men, almost all in their 20s — hoot and skate until it is almost too dark to see much of anything. Across the courtyard floor, giant black tiles spell out the word “hack.” They’ve nicknamed their rink “Hack Stadium.”

The Facebook boys and their captain, Mark Zuckerberg, skate hard. They line up shots with care. And they play to win.

“The Education of Mark Zuckerberg”

The world is changing…again.  Mr. Zuckerberg and his crew represent a new generation of leaders bent on making this change happen.  We can either evaluate them with the eye of the critic, or learn from them with the heart of student.

My choice is to learn.