Photo: JD Lasica
Later this year, Facebook is expected to IPO at a valuation close to $100 billion. More than anyone else, the person responsible for that success is Facebook’s 27-year-old cofounder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg.
What’s it like working for him?
We know a lot about what he was like as a boss during Facebook’s early days.
Along with some Harvard friends and a buddy at Stanford, Zuckerberg started working on Facebook in a dorm way back in 2004. Back then, according to personal messages we’ve viewed and written about in the past, Zuckerberg the boss was cut-throat, comfortable leading others, and sometimes awkward about sharing success.
That was a long time ago, of course, and you have to assume Zuckerberg’s leadership style has matured over the years.
For a long time, the best answer to this question was Facebook employee Andrew Bosworth’s blog post, “Working with Zuck.” Its four main points where:
- Zuck expects debate.
- Zuck isn’t sentimental.
- Zuck experiences things contextually.
- Zuck pushes people.
More recently, former Facebook employee Yishan Wong has written a long answer to the question on Quora: “Is Mark Zuckerberg an autocratic CEO with whom no one wants to work? Is he a pain to work with?”
The gist is “no” – that Zuckerberg is not a “pain,” even if he “does have a touch of the Asperger’s.”
“If your confidence in your own abilities is self-generated and emotionally secure, and you are seeking someone who will pose to you ever-greater challenges to surmount, then Mark Zuckerberg is a pretty good fit for you. However, he is not there to “develop” you – that’s your own job.”
There are plenty of people who are happy to work with [Zuckerberg], though there are also plenty who find it difficult.
He is not some sort of ideally charismatic person whose primary quality is that he’s easy to get along with. Rather, he’s a demanding CEO with a monomaniacal focus on making Facebook succeed in its mission. This is not to say that he’s mean – he’s a perfectly nice guy on a personal level; it’s just that professionally, he is focused on getting it done, and has a limited tolerance for emotional fragility in the people he needs to help him execute on that mission.
In my study of business leaders, I’ve yet to come across one who was considered “great” who didn’t also have a significant body count of ex-employees claiming that they were autocratic and mean. Examples include Jack Welch, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Larry Ellison. My theory is that the level of personal demandingness needed to drive a global enterprise to a position of world-changing leadership is one that can be too much for some people. Such leaders don’t tend to provide much in the way of emotional coddling, and Mark Zuckerberg is like that. If your confidence in your own abilities is self-generated and emotionally secure, and you are seeking someone who will pose to you ever-greater challenges to surmount, then Mark Zuckerberg is a pretty good fit for you. However, he is not there to “develop” you – that’s your own job.
He does have a touch of the Asperger’s; in my experience this is primarily manifested in that he does not provide much active feedback or confirmation that he is listening to you. I have had multiple experiences where he will ask for my opinion on something and even when we’re the only two people in the room, I wasn’t sure if he had really comprehended or cared about what I was saying (he doesn’t do the usual “oh, all right!” or “hmm, I see!” that most people do; he just listens, sometimes while looking away from you), until later when some strategy change was announced that integrated some or all of my opinions. I think this leads many people to think that he’s thoughtlessly autocratic, but it turns out he is actually listening all the time to anything that anyone is saying to him, but you will simply not receive confirmation or acknowledgement until later when he announces his conclusion or decision, whereupon you can observe that he has integrated all his streams of information and advice together.
I would characterise him as “tough but fair.” He’s not a pain in the arse to work with if you’re the type of person who is looking to achieve greater and greater things in life, but if you just want to get something good done once and then take a break, then he’s probably not the guy for you.
We’d like to hear more about what it’s like working with Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, Bret Taylor, Chris Cox or any of the other Facebook stars. Contact: [email protected] or 646 376 6014.