How Mark Zuckerberg can get Facebook ‘back on track’

Mark Zuckerberg’s leadership is putting Meta on track to fail, 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 suggestion for Zuckerberg from Bill George, a senior fellow at Harvard Business School and former CEO of medical technology company Medtronic. George’s most important advice for the Meta co-founder: Take some time away from your work and rest your brain. 

“You need to pull back, take a sabbatical to ground yourself in your purpose and your 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 failures, compiling his findings in a new book called “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 their deeply held beliefs, values and purpose as a leader. Instead, Zuckerberg has become a leader who prioritizes profits, doesn’t accept advice and blames others, according to George. 

George has argued that those failures of leadership have certainly not 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 an Apple iOS privacy update that’s made it more difficult for Meta to target ads to its users, as well as Zuckerberg’s heavy investment in the burgeoning metaverse space that he admits could lose “significant” amounts of money over the next several years.

George says he still has “a lot of empathy” for Zuckerberg, acknowledging that the “brilliant” CEO has been under an enormous amount of pressure ever since he co-founded Facebook in 2004. 

Zuckerberg has constantly worked to grow his company into a tech behemoth that now boasts a $381.86 billion market cap, as of Thursday morning. He helped build the modern-day social media industry that reaches billions of people each day — and now he’s made a huge bet on the metaverse in the hope 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 plenty of believers, in spite of recent struggles. In February, CNBC’s Jim Cramer said he has “total faith in Mark Zuckerberg” when it comes to Meta’s bet on the metaverse.

George says Zuckerberg’s prior success likely came with its fair share of stress, which is why it’s a “good, healthy idea” for the CEO to take time off now through a sabbatical. 

He recommends Zuckerberg spend a few months away from the company entirely, which means not checking emails, managing team members from afar or doing any other work-related tasks. Zuckerberg should spend that time deeply reflecting about the purpose and future of his company, and what values he needs to ground himself in to improve as a leader, George adds. 

Why a sabbatical may be unlikely for Zuckerberg

But the odds of Zuckerberg actually following George’s advice may be unlikely. A long leave of absence could potentially further drag down Meta’s stock price in the short-term: It could create uncertainty about who would run the company in his absence, and a temporary leadership shakeup in the company could alarm analysts and investors.

Take what happened to Jack Dorsey, the co-founder and former CEO of Twitter, after he announced plans to move 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 “reckless” because “proximity matters” for leading a company.

The closest to a sabbatical that Zuckerberg may get is paternity leave: On Wednesday, he and his wife Priscilla Chan announced they’re expecting their third child. Zuckerberg took paternity leave in 2017 after his second child was born in the summer, breaking it up 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 research and advocacy nonprofit The Sabbatical Project, even recommends that Zuckerberg travel somewhere far from Meta’s Menlo Park, California headquarters for a sabbatical because “geographic separation” can help him fully disconnect from work. DiDonna adds that engaging in physical or creative activities during that time, whether that’s playing a sport or taking up painting, could help Zuckerberg reignite a genuine 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-takers over the course of several years, that shows sabbaticals are a “transformational experience” that can help with personal development. In some cases, people can uncover 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 tells CNBC Make It. “Sabbaticals are a way for people like him to disconnect from their routine life, to heal and restore themselves.”

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