Mark Zuckerberg’s leadership puts Meta on the path to failure, says a Harvard management expert — but it’s not a lost cause. All Zuckerberg has to do is take a long vacation.
That’s the proposal for Zuckerberg from Bill George, a senior fellow at Harvard Business School and former CEO of medical technology company Medtronic. George’s top advice to the Meta co-founder: Take some time off from your work and rest your brain.
“You have to retire, take a sabbatical, to ground yourself in your purpose and values,” he tells CNBC Make It. “It can help you and the company get back on track.”
George has spent the last two decades studying leadership failure and compiling his findings in a new book, True North: Leading Authentically in Today’s Workplace, Emerging Leader Edition. He cites Zuckerberg as just one example of a boss who has lost sight of his deeply rooted beliefs, values and purpose as a leader. Instead, according to George, Zuckerberg has become a leader who prioritizes profits, doesn’t take advice, and blames others.
George has argued that this leadership failure certainly hasn’t helped Meta fix the ship at a time when the company has lost more than 60% of its market value since last year. Various factors have contributed to Meta’s struggles, including increased competition from rivals like TikTok and an Apple iOS privacy update making it harder for Meta to target ads to its users, as well as Zuckerberg’s heavy investment in the burgeoning Metaverse space, which he admits is in the lose “substantial” amounts of money in the next few years.
George says he still has “a lot of empathy” for Zuckerberg and admits the “brilliant” CEO has been under a lot of pressure since he co-founded Facebook in 2004.
Zuckerberg has worked steadily to grow his company into a tech behemoth, which has a market cap of $381.86 billion as of Thursday morning. He helped build the modern social media industry that reaches billions of people every day – and now he’s made a big bet on the metaverse in hopes he can repeat his previous success by launching a new online economy builds.
Of course, Zuckerberg’s past success is precisely why, despite recent struggles, he still has many believers. In February, CNBC’s Jim Cramer said he had “complete faith in Mark Zuckerberg” when it came to Meta’s bet on the Metaverse.
George says Zuckerberg’s past success has likely come with its fair share of stress, so it’s a “good, healthy idea” for the CEO to take a sabbatical now.
He recommends that Zuckerberg stay away from the company for a few months, which means not checking email, remotely managing team members, or doing other work-related tasks. Zuckerberg should spend this time thinking deeply about the purpose and future of his company, and what values he needs to build on to improve as a leader, George adds.
Why a sabbatical for Zuckerberg is unlikely
But the likelihood of Zuckerberg actually following George’s advice is unlikely. A lengthy absence could potentially drag Meta’s stock price further in the short term: it could create uncertainty about who would run the company in his absence, and a temporary reshuffle of leadership at the company could alarm analysts and investors.
Take what happened to Jack Dorsey, the co-founder and former CEO of Twitter, after he announced he was relocating to Africa for six months in 2019 “recklessly” because “proximity matters” to run a business.
The closest thing to a sabbatical Zuckerberg could get is paternity leave: On Wednesday, he and wife Priscilla Chan announced they are expecting their third child. Zuckerberg took paternity leave in the summer of 2017 after the birth of his second child, splitting it into two one-month blocks: immediately after the birth and again in December.
Zuckerberg and Meta did not immediately respond to CNBC Make It’s request for comment.
Realistic or not, other experts say George’s advice is spot on. In fact, DJ DiDonna, who studies sabbaticals and is the founder of the nonprofit research and advocacy organization The Sabbatical Project, recommends that Zuckerberg travel anywhere far from Meta’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California, for a sabbatical because “geographical separation” can help him to completely detach from work. DiDonna adds that participating in any physical or creative activity during this time, whether it’s sports or painting, could help Zuckerberg reignite a real sense of passion and energy that he can then apply to his leadership at Meta.
DiDonna points to his own research, including interviews with dozens of sabbatical participants over several years, showing that sabbaticals are a “transformational experience” that can aid in personal development. In some cases, people may discover a more authentic version of themselves and see other benefits: a restored sense of enthusiasm for work, more confidence in their voice, and a better work-life balance.
“[Zuckerberg’s] literally been thinking about his company since college. He probably has no idea who he is or what his personality has become after all these years,” DiDonna told CNBC Make It.
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