Mark Zuckerberg’s leadership is setting Meta up for failure, a Harvard management expert says — but it’s not a lost cause. All Zuckerberg has to do is take a long vacation.
That’s the pitch to Zuckerberg from Bill George, a senior fellow at Harvard Business School and former CEO of medical technology company Medtronic. George’s top tip for the Meta co-founder: Take some time away from work and rest your brain.
“You have to step back, take time off to solidify your purpose and your values,” he tells CNBC Make It. “This can help you and the company get back on track.”
George has spent the past two decades studying leadership failures, compiling his findings into a new book called True North: Authentic Leadership in Today’s Workplace, Emerging Leaders Edition. He cited Zuckerberg as just one example of a boss who lost sight of his deeply held beliefs, values and purpose as a leader. Instead, Zuckerberg has become a leader who prioritizes profits, doesn’t take advice and blames others, according to George.
George argues that these management failures certainly haven’t helped Meta right 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 Apple’s iOS privacy update, which made it harder for Meta to target ads to its users, as well as Zuckerberg’s heavy investment in the growing metaverse space. which he admits could be losing “significant” amounts of money over the next few years.
George says he still has “a lot of empathy” for Zuckerberg, admitting the “brilliant” CEO has been under enormous pressure since co-founding Facebook in 2004.
Zuckerberg has been steadily working to turn his company into a tech giant that now boasts a market capitalization 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 huge bet on the metaverse in hopes that he can repeat his past success by building a new online economy.
Of course, Zuckerberg’s past success is exactly why he still has many believers despite his recent struggles. In February, CNBC’s Jim Cramer said he has “full faith in Mark Zuckerberg” when it comes to Meta’s bet on the metaverse.
George says Zuckerberg’s previous success probably came with his fair share of stress, which is why it’s a “good, healthy idea” for the CEO to take time off now through the sabbatical.
He recommends that Zuckerberg spend a few months away from the company entirely, which means not checking email, managing team members remotely, or performing other work-related tasks. Zuckerberg needs to spend this time thinking deeply about his company’s purpose and future, and what values he needs to build on to improve as a leader, George adds.
Why a sabbatical may be unlikely for Zuckerberg
But the chances of Zuckerberg actually following George’s advice may be unlikely. A long absence could potentially further depress Meta’s share price in the short term: it could create uncertainty about who will run the company in his absence, and a temporary change in leadership at the company could unnerve analysts and investors.
Take what happened to Jack Dorsey, the co-founder and former CEO of Twitter, after he announced plans to relocate to Africa for six months in 2019. Before his plans fell through, Dorsey faced sharp criticism from some analysts , who said the move would be a “no-brainer” because “proximity matters” in running a company.
The closest thing to time off Zuckerberg can get is paternity leave: On Wednesday, he and his wife, Priscilla Chan, announced they are expecting their third child. Zuckerberg took paternity leave in 2017 after his second child was born in the summer, 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. DJ DiDonna, who studies sabbaticals and is the founder of the nonprofit research and advocacy organization The Sabbatical Project, even recommends that Zuckerberg travel somewhere away from Metta’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., for a sabbatical because the “geographical separation” might help to completely disengage from work. Didona adds that engaging in physical or creative activities during this time, whether it’s sports or painting, can help Zuckerberg rekindle a real sense of passion and energy that he can then apply to his leadership at Meta.
DiDonna points to her own research, including interviews with dozens of sabbatical takers over several years, which shows that sabbaticals are “transformative experiences” that can help with personal development. In some cases, people can reveal a more authentic version of themselves and see other benefits: a renewed sense of enthusiasm for work, more confidence in their voice, and a better work-life balance.
“[Zuckerberg’s] he literally thinks about his company since college. He probably has no idea who he is or what his personality has become after all these years,” Didona told CNBC Make It. “Vacations are a way for people like him to break away from their routine, heal and rebuild.”
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