How do successful businesses deal with the trials and tribulations of constant innovation, and what can we learn from their leaders? In her book, “Think Like Zuck: The Five Business Secrets of Facebook’s Improbably Brilliant CEO Mark Zuckerberg,” business leader and social media guru at Intel Ekaterina Walter describes the successes and failures of multiple companies while drawing on what made them prosperous, all through the lens of one of the most innovative and successful brands and its leader: Facebook and its wunderkind CEO (and “The Social Network” inspiration) Mark Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg, by his own admission, has made plenty of mistakes–but as Walter sees it, it’s how he and his company have dealt with such missteps that set him and Facebook apart.
An innovator herself, Walter was named one of the 25 Women Who Rock Social Media in 2012; in this essay, she reveals the five things any good leader must do to recognize when things aren’t working, and how to recover from setbacks in order to take a company forward.
Whoever said success came easy never won a darned thing. No matter what you do–even if you’re Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg–there will always be something that goes wrong: Decisions will have to be made without the full set of data and, whether you like it or not, mistakes will happen. It’s how you react to things that go wrong that determine the ultimate success or failure of your business. Straight from Zuck’s own playbook, here are five ways to lead when things don’t go your way.
1. Getting to no
Knowing when to let go or when to say no is an important part of strategic leadership. No successful company can afford to take on more than necessary to execute its vision and strategy. Mark Zuckerberg learned this lesson early. When Facebook was starting out, Zuckerberg started working on developing new software he called Wirehog. Zuckerberg envisioned Wirehog as a service that would allow users to share content (music, video, text files) with each other. The service would be integrated into Facebook, making it the company’s first application. Zuckerberg was passionate about Wirehog. Sean Parker, the founding president of Facebook (and Napster alum) was opposed to developing the service. He had experience dealing with the music industry in his Napster days, and he was wary of the possibility that Facebook might be accused of stealing content. Zuckerberg didn’t seem to hear the pleas of his friend to drop Wirehog and focus on Facebook–he never got to ‘No.’
2. Cut your losses fast
Wirehog launched as an invite-only site in November 2004. The service recognized who your Facebook friends were and allowed you to share your files within your circle of connections. But Wirehog wasn’t taking off as Zuckerberg predicted–the service was hard to use, and users simply didn’t love it. In the meantime, Facebook needed Zuckerberg’s attention more than ever. Eventually, Zuckerberg made the hard decision to shut down Wirehog.
3. Leading from behind
In 2005, Zuckerberg was approached with multiple buyout offers, and the situation inside the company became tense. Rumors about selling were rampant. Zuckerberg didn’t seem to notice and didn’t bother to explain his thinking and his plans to the most important people of all: his employees.
A recruiter for the company, Robin Reed, remembers the dire situation they were in. One night, she caught up with Zuck and asked to chat. She told him about her frustration and that the team was ready to mutiny. “You’d better take CEO lessons,” she advised, “or this isn’t going to work out for you.”
Over the next several weeks, Reed noticed a real change in Zuckerberg: Not only did he agree to start seeing an executive coach but he called for weekly “all-hands” meetings in which he shared his thoughts and his vision with all of the employees. He started having more meetings with his executive team. Almost immediately, things improved.
4. Learn to say you’re sorry
In the wake of these changes, the 22-year-old founder showed admirable candor when he admitted to his team: “It may not make you comfortable to hear me saying this, but I’m sort of learning on the job here.” He also readily owned up to his errors, saying publicly: “Almost any mistake you can make in running a company, I’ve probably made.” To this day, Zuckerberg works hard on correcting his mistakes and learning from them. His candor–with himself and with others–is consistent with his belief in integrity and transparency. And, it makes for good business.
5. If at first you don’t succeed, start over
Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.” I love this quote, because it shows the amazing and unlimited potential of human race, as well as the pitfalls of self-imposed limits. The reality is: there is no such thing as failure if you really want to pursue your dream. And false starts are simply invaluable learning experiences toward the next iteration of an idea or development of a product.
Ekaterina Walter is a social media innovator at Intel, a speaker, and an author of the Wall Street Journal best-selling “Think Like Zuck: The Five Business Secrets of Facebook’s Improbably Brilliant CEO Mark Zuckerberg.” Walter is an industry thought-leader and 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.