I recently read “Think Like Zuck: The Five Business Secrets of Facebook’s Improbably Brilliant CEO Mark Zuckerberg” by Ekaterina Walter (I received an advance copy). The book is a fascinating deep dive into many aspects of Facebook’s meteoric success, but I was particularly interested in her perspectives on the importance of great leadership. I asked Ekaterina if she could summarize and comment on the lessons she discovered in the course of her research and observations, and she presents three of the most important tips in this guest post.
1) Create a culture that supports the purpose and vision of your business.
Though Facebook doesn’t have a visual culture map, the “hacker” culture within the company is very well defined and understood by all. With over 4,000 employees, Facebook continues to live and breathe its hacker culture, which allowed its employees to take the network from a simple student site to a worldwide enabler of personal and professional communication. In his IPO letter Mark Zuckerberg wrote: “I started off by writing the first version of Facebook myself because it was something I wanted to exist. Since then, most of the ideas and code that have gone into Facebook have come from the great people we’ve attracted to our team.” He then goes on to explain “the hacker way.”
“As part of building a strong company, we work hard at making Facebook the best place for great people to have a big impact on the world and learn from other great people. We have cultivated a unique culture and management approach that we call the Hacker Way. The word “hacker” has an unfairly negative connotation from being portrayed in the media as people who break into computers. In reality, hacking just means building something quickly or testing the boundaries of what can be done. Like most things, it can be used for good or bad, but the vast majority of hackers I’ve met tend to be idealistic people who want to have a positive impact on the world. The Hacker Way is an approach to building that involves continuous improvement and iteration. Hackers believe that something can always be better, and that nothing is ever complete. They just have to go fix it—often in the face of people who say it’s impossible or are content with the status quo.”
At Facebook, allegiance to the hacker way permeates every aspect of the business, from product innovation to organizational structure to management and training.
2) Offer your employees a nontraditional career path that is based on their contributions and value-based behaviors, and not on their age or credentials.
Some of the most successful businesses have a nontraditional, strengths-based approach to hiring—hire the best talent first, then worry about finding the right role for them. Facebook is one example of such a business.
Facebook knows how valuable the right people are. They hire engineers not only for their general skills but also their vision of the future. Once a new hire is in the office, wondering what his responsibilities are, his instructions will be something along the lines of, “Take a look around, figure out what the problems or opportunities are, and help bridge them.” The company encourages its workers to form teams around projects they’re passionate about, because Facebook’s leaders clearly understand that great work comes out of doing what you adore. Not only does this approach ensure that employees give their best to the project, but it also provides opportunities for career growth based on smarts and competence, not on credentials. In that sense, everyone is equal. You are recognized and respected based on your contributions to the improvement of the product; your résumé or your age doesn’t matter.
Facebook is a company where ideas turn into products whether you are an intern or the CEO himself. “Pixels talk,” says Joey Flynn, one of the designers of Timeline. “You can do anything here if you can prove it.” The flat management structure at Facebook supports that approach, since there are very few vice presidents.
3) Remember that the leadership skills can be taught.
In the book I talk about the “Hummingbird Effect of Leadership“. It is a combination of qualities that the successful leaders tend to possess (as can be seen in the graph at left). The amazing qualities of the hummingbird can be seen in the beauty and complexity of its flight. Just like this flyer, effective leaders soar in their purpose of serving others and, in the process, achieve unprecedented heights of success.
About the author: Ekaterina Walter is a social media innovator at Intel, a speaker, and an author of the book “Think Like Zuck: The Five Business Secrets of Facebook’s Improbably Brilliant CEO Mark Zuckerberg”. Walter was named among 25 Women Who Rock Social Media in 2012. She sits on a Board of Directors of Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA). You can find her on Twitter: @Ekaterina and her blog www.ekaterinawalter.com.