What Mark Zuckerberg can teach us about leadership

This past week, as I watched Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg outmaneuver U.S. senators, it struck me that perhaps the world’s most well-known and arguably most successful millennial might have something to teach us when it comes to leadership.

Dozens of people – both inside and outside the Facebook organization – have written everything from blog posts to scholarly articles about Zuckerberg’s leadership style. Authors talk about his vision, his generosity, his belief that passion drives hard work, and his openness. But in all the articles I read, two key takeaways bubbled up to the top for me: Zuckerberg embraces risk and he believes in his people.

The two ideas are related. Many first-time managers assume that their role is to provide guidance and to protect the company from risk by ensuring their employs don’t make mistakes. In some ways, both are true. However, if employees feel directed rather than guided and hamstrung rather than protected, they aren’t likely to be highly productive or at all innovative.

Zuckerberg knows that failure is often necessary in the pursuit of something new, and (according to several authors), he encourages employees to try new things without fear of failure. He fosters an environment where risk is part of the process. This might seem ironic considering that Zuckerberg is now under fire over a data privacy breach, but in an interview with Fortune this week, Zuckerberg stayed true to his philosophy saying: “I think life is about learning from mistakes and then learning what you need to do to move forward.”

That’s easiest when you work in a company like Facebook with a culture built around mutual trust. Several authors have said that Zuckerberg has focused on hiring good people from day one. Interestingly, that doesn’t always mean finding the person with the longest list of credentials. He once said: “We look for people who are passionate about something. In a way, it almost doesn’t matter what you’re passionate about.”

He hires capable, motivated, hard-working, passionate employees, and puts them to work seeking new solutions and innovations in an environment that allows for failure in the pursuit of success.

If you’re thinking: “Man, I want to work at Facebook,” keep this in mind: You can build the same culture at the organization where you work now or the one you are passionate about working for next. All it takes is the right leader. That’s you.