How much influence does a CEO really have?

Kate Cooper
Head of Research, Policy and Standards
Institute of Leadership and Management
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Facebook’s stock took a multi-billion-dollar hit last week after co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced massive changes to the social network site’s newsfeed – including fewer posts from businesses, brands and media.

But that’s not the only reason 33-year-old Zuckerberg has hit headlines this year. On the 4 January, he shared his “personal mission” for 2018: to improve Facebook’s response to abuse and hacking. And he communicated the message of this renewed commitment to the day-to-day control of his company via a post on his personal Facebook timeline, generating a huge response.

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Judging by this Facebook post, Zuckerberg’s view is that as well as leading an organisation, a CEO should be directly involved in the day-to-day running of their company.

The CEO of any company is the figurehead of an organisation and their personality and leadership undoubtably influences the culture and direction of their company. Zuckerberg’s leadership style has always been hands-on. But when it comes to running a company the size of Facebook – with a workforce of 17,000+, not to mention those at Facebook-owned Instagram - you have to wonder how much influence a CEO can really have?

So far, Zuckerberg's Facebook post has generated over 279,000 likes, 17,502 shares and more than 20,000 comments. One of these comments came from Facebook’s Chief Operating Office (COO) Sheryl Sandberg. She said, “Grateful as ever for your leadership and look forward to working with you and our colleagues on these important issues this year.”

As noble as Zuckerberg’s intentions sound, his post has attracted some derision. A column on Fast Company suggested that all Zuckerberg was pledging to do was his “job as CEO” of Facebook – a move that will benefit him financially. But what struck me about his Facebook post was that Zuckerberg seemed to consider himself as embarking on a solo mission. 

In his post, he even calls it his “personal mission”. But it’s not Zuckerberg alone who can follow up the abuses on the site and deal with its fake-news problem. A leader’s most crucial contribution by far is to hire the right people to manage their organisation. Visionary leaders inspire those around them

At the Institute of Leadership & Management, we recognise five dimensions of great leadership as:

  • Authenticity
  • Vision
  • Achievement
  • Ownership
  • Collaboration

And it’s “collaboration” that seems most relevant when it comes to Zuckerberg’s mission statement for 2018. A collaborative leader understands the dynamics of all teams and the value of internal and external networks, as Sheryl Sandberg obviously appreciates.  In an organisation the size of Facebook, it’s difficult to see how much Zuckerberg can achieve alone, he has to get the buy-in from his colleagues to pursue the mission with him. It’s these people whom Zuckerberg has chosen to run Facebook – and their teams - who will ultimately translate his vision into a reality.

Despite what he says, Zuckerberg’s real job this year is to ensure that Facebook flourishes in an ethical way –he can only really achieve that through thoughtful and effective leadership. Announcing that he’s turning his attention full time to Facebook’s more problematic areas doesn’t hurt. Nurturing and inspiring his team requires rather more than posting on his Facebook timeline.  

Zuckerberg’s “personal mission” for 2018 does mark a positive move in the Facebook story. If the company can successfully tackle the issues that Zuckerberg highlights it will be a huge achievement. But exactly how the company will go about doing this won’t be down to Zuckerberg alone: it will be a team effort. And the important details will be executed by those he has around him and the teams that report to them.

 

About Kate Cooper

About Kate Cooper

Prior to joining The Institute of Leadership & Management Kate Cooper worked in the university sector. She has appeared on, amongst others, BBC Television, BBC Radio 4 and has a regular column in Dialogue magazine. She is a key note speaker at conferences and provides expert commentary on a range of topics arising from the Institute’s research agenda. 

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