Opinion - At Work

Facebook under fire: Mark Zuckerberg’s actions questionable in data scandal

Vishal Agarwal, author of Give to Get and former senior executive at General Electric and PwC
Key Points
  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg finally admitted this week that Cambridge Analytica had gained unauthorized access to information about tens of millions of Facebook users.
  • Questions remain whether Zuckerberg acted responsibly when faced with the data scandal.
  • Great business leaders rely on these simple tips to gain respect, maintain transparency and win success.
Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook
Getty Images

Much of the news this past week has focused on what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg did — or did not do — when he found out that Cambridge Analytica had gained unauthorized access to information about tens of millions of Facebook users.

While much of the anger is connected to the billions of dollars of wiped-out stock value, little has been said about his leadership style: Only a few have questioned how the CEO of such an influential company could lack such self-awareness.

Anyone can talk a big game, but true leaders follow through on their promises and commitments with their actions. Zuckerberg has faced the privacy of the data question, as well as the consumer protection question for as long as Facebook has existed. Over the recent years, his assurances have been more forthright. Words aside, did Zuckerberg act sufficiently over this recent debacle? Did he do everything he could to live up to the promises he made to his consumers with his actions, no matter what?

Here are some of the basic things great leaders in business do to gain respect, maintain transparency and win success.

They say what they mean and mean what they say.

Too many senior executives say things they don't really mean. What they often don't realize is that their subordinates and colleagues notice. As a result, they lose credibility. The last thing executives want is to lose credibility and trust from their team. The outcry of former employees — senior and junior — of late against Zuckerberg seem to suggest a credibility issue with teams and former colleagues.

A common response is, "I take full responsibility"; "The buck stops with me"; "We will sort this one out." The reality is measured by actions. Delayed, reluctant or indecisive actions do not build trust when the house is on fire. Actions speak louder than words.

They fully support their subordinates.

The best way to secure your team's support is to win their hearts and minds. A good leader takes action — consistent action.

The notion of servant leadership is grossly underrated and ignored by many. This means the leader exists to serve those under him. In contrast, traditional leadership is a top-down pyramid where the leader sits at the top, and subordinates do as the leader commands. Servant leaders turn that pyramid upside down by sharing power with their teams, placing the needs of their team before their own, and helping subordinates develop and grow so they can perform at the highest level possible.

The path to fulfillment as a corporate leader doesn't run through the boardroom; it runs through others.

6 ways servant leaders achieve great results

1. Commit genuine acts of empathy and self-sacrifice.

2. Take bullets for the team so they don't have to.

3. Stand up and stand tall for the team with stakeholders.

4. Prioritize team learning and development and find opportunities to accelerate self-development.

5. Create an empowering atmosphere, and encourage the team to take risks by letting them know they'll have the team's back if they fail.

6. Above all, walk the talk; servant leaders make sure their own actions are consistent with what they expect from the team.

They overcome their fear of failure.

I have seen corporate executives become crippled by fear of failure. When they face a big obstacle or a tenacious competitor, all they can think about is, "What if I lose? What will the board say?" They become so worried about losing that they can't focus on what they should be doing — executing. In a sense, they end up defeating themselves.

Fear of failure often limits an executive's ability to act decisively and take action. As a result, these leaders and their companies tend to lose their "priceless asset" — their reputations.

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— Vishal Agarwal is the bestselling author of Give to Get. As a senior leader, he has navigated corporate life for the past 24 years and has served as a top global executive for General Electric and as a senior leader at PricewaterhouseCooper.