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Learning from Zuckerberg’s Leadership Style

Like him or hate him, you’ve got to hand it to Mark Zuckerberg—there’s no denying that, at a mere 30 years old, he’s a multibillion-dollar success. His baby—the social-networking site Facebook—recently posted shares worth nearly $75, almost double its May 2012 IPO price of $38 per share. Which means that, not only did he have a solid, viable idea in social networking, he also has had some success at company leadership. And we all—millennial and office veteran alike—could learn a thing or two from his style.

To start, Zuckerberg shows us that, to be a good leader, you first need to be true to yourself and have passion. Continually in the pursuit of the next cool thing, Zuckerberg proves he believes in his goals and is passionate about what innovation can do for his product. And it’s worked. As the old adage says, you can’t sell what you don’t believe in, and Facebook’s creator believes in the product, which cultivates in his employees the unwavering confidence and support that leads to success. And all of that is reflected in the fact that the company’s mission, “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected,” is the same today as it was ten years ago, at Facebook’s inception.

A good leader should be well-rounded. In Zuckerberg’s case, he’s obviously skilled with coding. And to boot, he can see outside the computer; he has an eye for consumer needs—his passion for connecting people with each other online spurred other social networking sites and influenced a movement that will likely only grow. Plus, he recognized that, as a leader who has some gaps, he would need to surround himself with people whose skills would fill in those gaps—the most notable of which is his COO, Sheryl Sandberg, who, with her business-savvy execution, is a complement to Zuck’s fiery, imaginative drive.

Good leaders are also unconventional, because straying from convention creates the unexpected. And Zuckerberg is certainly that. Eschewing standard corporation politics, he established the “Hacker Way,” which reminds employees that “the best idea and implementation should always win—not the person who is best at lobbying for an idea or the person who manages the most people.”

Finally, good leaders recognize that they are not infallible. They make mistakes; they learn from them. They listen to criticism; they grow from it. Even early in his career, Zuckerberg proved true to both of these. At a time when employee speculation about multiple buyouts was causing fear and unrest, a recruiter for the company, Robin Reed, pulled Zuck aside and told him that he needed to “take CEO lessons.” Instead of blowing her or her criticism off, Zuckerberg started seeing an executive coach and began to turn things around. He now admits to having made errors, saying publicly, “Almost any mistake you can make in running a company, I’ve probably made.” And that makes him that much more of a followable leader.

Despite years of positive and negative press, Zuckerberg has maintained focus on his goals, steadily moving his site to even newer possibilities and raising the leadership bar ever higher. Which is something, whether we like him or not, we all can aspire to do.