A few days ago Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, announced that he would be taking two months of paternity leave upon the birth of his daughter (half of the four months of leave available at Facebook). Having a male CEO of a major company take two months of leave is seen as setting an example of men and leaders that do not always place work above family and are still successful.
While Zuckerberg makes for a nice illustration on the surface, the reality is he, like Marissa Mayer, is not a good role model for the average American parent. He already has the power and authority to do what he believes right and can tell his team to make that decision work. Most men don’t have that option. So, while I am happy for him and his family, I don’t think his status as a parental role model is all that important.
What is surprising is that there is a different thread in the discussion of his leave than there has been in conversations about similar situations for other leaders. Rather than focus the conversation on him and his status as a good father/bad father (as was the unfortunate reality for Mayer), the conversation is more about Facebook and how the company will fare while he is distracted.
It’s not hard to imagine that Facebook’s investors would demand that he subscribe to the old model of leadership where being indispensible and taking personal control of every major project is an essential component of good leadership — a model that would demand that he not take such a leave. Similarly, Zuckerberg could have seen Sheryl Sandberg (a highly acclaimed visionary leader in her own right) as a threat and that giving her and others control of the company he founded would loosen his hold on the organization and create the potential for a takeover. With such thoughts in mind, it is difficult to imagine him taking one minute off, much less two months.
Yet, we see something very different playing out as shown by this quote from Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter in USA Today:
Zuckerberg has assembled a very deep bench at Facebook with Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, product chief Chris Cox and chief technology officer Michael Schroepfer, among others.
“It is a great example to set for their employees, and he has a pretty solid team, so I don’t think that it is a very big deal … They will survive without him for nine weeks …”
What Zuckerberg is really role modeling for his fellow leaders is the idea that leadership is about assembling a strong team that can make decisions and keep the organization moving forward even if that leader moves on to other projects (personal or professional). With followers like Sheryl Sandberg on deck, Facebook will continue to thrive while he is away and be ready for his eventual return.
A two month parental leave for the company’s most public and essential employee is no big deal because he has a good team. If that is possible for him, it can be possible all the way down the ladder. Each employee should be embedded in a solid team that can keep things moving in the case of a leave.
That’s not just a tenet of a good work-life policy, it’s good management policy. Allowing any organization or team to become so dependent on a single person that it cannot function smoothly in the event of a new child, resignation, promotion, relocation, illness or other disruptive event is both bad management and bad leadership. A resilient organization is evidenced not by individuals making Herculean efforts and sacrifices, but by networks of cooperative teammates who can manage even titanic responsibilities in the face of dynamic personal and organizational circumstances.
So, don’t look at Zuckerberg as a role model for your life, look to his leadership style as a role model for your organization and your team.