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Mark Zuckerberg has never worked at a company besides Facebook, and that's a blessing and a curse

Shana Lebowitz
Mark Zuckerberg

AP


  • Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's CEO and founder, has spent his entire career at one company.
  • According to The New Yorker, Zuckerberg often relies on COO Sheryl Sandberg to find out how things work at other companies.
  • Workplace experts say it's important for long-tenured leaders like Zuckerberg to surround themselves with other perspectives.
  • As for individuals, it can be helpful to move around between companies, or between departments at the same company, to develop new skills.


A recent New Yorker profile of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg includes a telling quotation from COO Sheryl Sandberg:

"Sometimes Mark will say, in front of the company, 'Well, I've never worked anywhere else, but Sheryl tells me...'"

Sandberg added: "He acknowledges he doesn't always have the most experience. He's only had the experience he's had, and being Mark Zuckerberg is pretty extraordinary."

Zuckerberg is 34 years old; he founded Facebook in college. As The New Yorker's Evan Osnos points out, Zuckerberg has designed the entire company to suit his unique preferences. (Osnos writes that Zuckerberg chose Facebook's signature royal blue because he is red-green color-blind and can see royal blue most clearly.)

While Zuckerberg is an extreme example, the quotation from Sandberg raises questions about the relative benefits and drawbacks of building your career in one place. We asked two workplace experts for their opinions, although they can't comment on Zuckerberg specifically since they don't know him personally.

Long-tenured leaders should surround themselves with people who have different perspectives

Jaime Klein, who is the founder of Inspire Human Resources, mentioned some organizational benefits of having a long-tenured leader, including "institutional knowledge" and "cultural stability." Klein has observed that, when organizations go through a leadership transition, there tends to be a period of time where everyone is unproductive.

That said, Klein added that the downside of having a long-tenured leader is that "you don't have the importing of fresh ideas." We tend to "surround ourselves with fabulous people that remind us of our fabulous selves," Klein said, as opposed to people with different perspectives.

One potential solution, according to Klein and Erica Keswin, who is a workplace strategist, an executive coach, and the author of the forthcoming book "Bring Your Human to Work," is for CEOs to surround themselves with leaders who have more diverse backgrounds. That's what Zuckerberg seems to have done in hiring Sandberg, who came from Google and has government experience.

"It takes a strong leader," Keswin said, to recognize the gaps in their skill set and hire people whose competencies complement theirs.

Klein called it "cross-pollination": The leaders with outside experience bring innovative ideas and the more tenured leaders know how to implement those ideas in the context of their particular organization.

Keswin had another suggestion for long-tenured CEOs and founders: Join organizations with people in top leadership positions from other companies. That way, they can get candid feedback on their performance and hear how other leaders have tackled similar challenges.

Individuals can find it helpful to move around between — or within — organizations

As for people who aren't in top leadership positions, Keswin had a similar tip: Seek out opportunities to work across the organization so that you're constantly learning and growing. That might mean volunteering for side projects in other departments.

"You become more valuable to that business because you can connect the dots," Keswin said.

Klein's view is that moving between different organizations can be beneficial for individual employees, specifically because they develop different skills at each one. "Many times it does help people, if they feel like they can't reach their career potential," to move companies, she said.

It can also be helpful to work under a new leader, "with new ideas, new mentoring techniques, and new ways to develop that person."

Often, the decision to switch companies comes down to intuition over logic. As Klein said, "Everyone knows deep in their souls when it's time to go."

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