Fourteen years ago, Mark Zuckerberg hired Sheryl Sandberg to be the heart and soul of Facebook, a role he had a hard time playing with his hyper-logical and often mechanical management style.
With her departure, Meta’s
Tin Man may finally have to find his own heart and lead the emotional side of the business. Zuckerberg can use this moment to become the leader the world wants — and Facebook needs — if he follows five simple rules and learns to lead with heart.
Make people feel seen
First, Zuckerberg must learn to give people what they need to feel seen and appreciated. For years, Sandberg has been the beating heart at the company who has made employees feel valued as people. She was known for making time to chitchat with assistants about shopping or what was being served for lunch in the cafeteria that day.
She also made the company more friendly toward women and employees with families by pushing for much-needed work-life balance. And when her husband tragically passed, she spoke and wrote openly about it, which created an opening for other people in the firm to speak about their struggles and losses.
Zuckerberg isn’t known for having the best people skills, but it’s never too late to learn. By being actively curious about what people need to feel safe and creative, he can engender a culture of care and support that will be lacking in Sandberg’s absence.
Help people confront fears
Second, Zuckerberg has to learn to hold space for people’s fears in the way that Sandberg has done during all the ups and downs of the last 14 years. With the Meta stock price down 41% this year through Thursday and the wider economic and political environment in turmoil, many Meta employees are likely not feeling very secure these days.
In times of fear and uncertainty, employees need to hear from a leader that what they are feeling is OK. Attempts to gloss over the bad news only erodes trust and makes people question the leader’s integrity.
By acknowledging people’s fears and providing coaching and mental-health resources to help them talk things through, Zuckerberg can help employees avoid falling into unhealthy fear responses like infighting or just calling it quits.
Understand what drives people
Third, Zuckerberg will have to learn something Sandberg was exceptional at: Tapping into people’s core motivators. By knowing what people really want, she was able to get seemingly unreasonable performance out of the team for years on end.
Recent research has indicated that employees aren’t leaving their posts as part of the Great Resignation due to compensation and benefits. Instead, after over two years of mostly working from home, many employees are feeling starved for the No. 1 motivator of all: recognition and appreciation. This is likely the case at Meta as well.
But Zuckerberg should remember that recognition can’t come in the form of platitudes and generalizations during an annual performance review. Instead, he must institute a system of providing specific and immediate feedback for employees, so they feel that same continuous drip of good neurochemicals his app has been known to provide.
Help people tap into their gifts
Fourth, Sandberg was known for being exceptional at identifying and recruiting gifted talent. Zuckerberg will have to take the lead there from now on. Great leaders often see gifts that are hiding in plain sight within people throughout the organization. Often, those people are not even aware of their gifts.
Scanning for talent requires spending quality time with your people. In an age of nonstop Slack and Zoom, emotionally connected leaders know when it’s time to Slack Off and Zoom Out to build real relationships with high potentials in their orgs. That’s right, Zuckerberg — it’s time for some real face time.
Help people find their purpose
Finally, Zuckerberg must help his team reconnect to their core purpose in a way they have been unable to do for a while now. Although Meta was once a company that helped friends and family keep up on each other’s lives, in recent years it has become an echo chamber of political extremism and conspiracy theories.
Meta’s damaged reputation and lack of clarity around purpose has created disillusionment and a flight of talent at all levels in the firm. Zuckerberg must help people feel that the company is once again a force of good in the world, rather than a place people go to organize attacks on the Capitol.
Some may think Sandberg’s departure is the worst thing that could be happening for Meta right now, but it represents an incredible opportunity for Zuckerberg to step into an entirely new style of leadership – one that is heart-centered and more connected to the emotional needs of his team and not just the technological needs of the metaverse.
With a little effort, perhaps even the Tin Man can learn to lead with heart.
Edward Sullivan is the CEO of Velocity Coaching and co-author with John Baird of “Leading with Heart: Five Conversations that Unlock Creativity, Purpose, and Results.”