What Makes a CEO a Successful Leader?

"Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg"The golden boy of social media is teetering on his throne. That would be Mark Zuckerberg, 28-year-old founder of facebook.

Since the company went public last spring, the stock has fallen from its opening high of $38 to below $10 last week. It’s rebounded, but not by much. There are calls for Zuckerberg’s head. NBC-TV quoted a guest as saying “Zuckerberg should step down.” Another stated, “The game has changed.”

Is Zuckerberg a Good Leader?

The New York Times wrote in an article about facebook’s tumble, “Some of the scrutiny has been on Mr. Zuckerberg’s leadership. The very qualities that created the fairy tale aura around him, including his youth and ambition, are what even his admirers are questioning.”

Pretty harsh words for a young man who founded a company that has almost 1 billion users. But financial markets only care about how facebook can turn its huge fan base into a profitable revenue stream. Advertisers aren’t convinced yet.

What is Leadership?

So back to Zuckerberg’s leadership qualities. A while back I wrote a post based on an article the management guru John Kotter wrote in the Harvard Business Review. I cited Zuckerberg as one of the true visionaries of his time – but that was before the company went public and reality set in.

Here is Kotter’s definition of leadership, which is different than management.

Leadership is about coping with change

Management is about coping with complexity

When facebook went public, it was a seismic change, opening the company up to close scrutiny. Leaders need to be visionaries, says Kotter, but “what’s crucial about a vision is not its originality but how well it serves the interests of important constituencies – customers, stockholders, employees – and how easily it can be translated into a realistic competitive strategy.”

So, by Kotter’s definition, is Zuckerberg lacking the necessary leadership skills to move the company forward? Time will tell.

What do you think? Should Mark Zuckerberg step down – or maybe step up to chairman – and bring a new CEO on board to right the ship?

Leave a Reply


    • Shoya — It’s very hard for a founder to let go. I personally think Zuckerberg won’t quit. I do believe he still holds a majority interest in the company. We have to remember, though, that even Steve Jobs was kicked out and didn’t return to Apple until years later.

  1. Jeannette, personally doubt that he is a good CEO. To be a master communicator is one of the most important aspects of a leader. How can the guy who used to sit in a corner and not talk to anybody be a good communicator?

    Leadership and all it entails, is a huge subject. It would take a series of books, or more, to cover all aspects of it.

    • Catarina — you are so right. I wrote a post The CEO as Chief Communication Champion about the necessity for the CEO to be the chief communicator for the company. Appearances count, too. Many on Wall Street were offended when Zuckerberg showed up in sneakers and his trademark hoodie on the floor of the stock exchange. It wasn’t respectful and certainly not what a leader would do.

  2. Hi Jeanette,

    Like Catarina I doubt he is a good CEO. Most CEOs I have met developed their skills over time being taught and mentored by others. The other thing he is young and hasn’t had many life experiences which help develop I believe leadership skills.

    • Susan — with experience comes wisdom, as you point out. We need to remember that he just turned 28 and he’s running a company with almost 1 billion customers! Even seasoned leaders would find that responsibility confounding. When Michael Dell was in his 20s he understood his limitations and hired a President to run the company. They made a great team for many years.

  3. Innovators and visionaries are not always good or have the skill set to move a company to the next and necessary level. Mark is an incredible innovator and visionary. He now needs to hire a CEO to operate the company he has created. This will allow him to opportunity to continue looking for new and creative innovations, his first love and truly where he is the most gifted. Just my thoughts… 🙂

    • Susan — You’re right. Zuckerberg has always been a “techie.” That’s why he was able to see the potential for facebook while he was still in college. He also had the technical skills to realize his vision. Maybe he should let go and move on to his next innovations.

  4. Given the pace at which social networking is changing, I think it’s hard to place a bet with the amount of certainty investors require. Few of these firms have gone through a full business cycle yet, so we’re not sure how they’ll weather the changes (leadership vs. management). Look at Groupon — they’re having similar difficulties. Google’s share price set expectations that apply to Google only, not to others. Looking at Google and Amazon (the latter in terms of longevity, not profitability) is the wrong lens — rather we should view firms like Facebook as mere start-ups in a world constantly evolving and being disrupted.

    • Frank – a very thoughtful observation, as usual. We forget that all these social media companies are less than 10 years old. It’s quite mind boggling to observe their growth and acceptance among consumers. But they are far from mature companies, as you point out. So we don’t know whether they will essentially disappear from our radar screens, i.e., My Space, or flourish. I was very surprised at the hoopla surrounding Groupon. The barriers to entry for this kind of enterprise are so low technologically. It was only a matter of time before imitators jumped into the game.

  5. I guess, we should wait to see more of how can he possibly cope with the complexities at this time. I believe that it is still a bit early to label him in terms of leadership. I know not much about Zuckerberg, but to think how Facebook reaches the world is a big point for him.

    • Welcome, Chris. Well, Mark Zuckerberg is still so young, only 28 and heading up a company with some 1 billion customers. Even the most able leader would be intimidated by that!

  6. Walter — thanks for visiting. Well, you can’t fault Mark Zuckerberg in one respect — he’s built a humongous company and become a billionaire. Maybe not such a bad role model!