How Facebook Develops its Global Leaders
davelivermore | October 18th, 20135 Comments
[Excerpt from upcoming global issue in People & Strategy Journal]
I recently sat down with Bill McLawhon, head of leadership development at Facebook and a seasoned executive coach….First a little context: Many of Facebook’s nearly 5,300 staff are under the age of 30. It’s a company Bill describes as being “hierarchical and title-agnostic”. But don’t expect one more boomer rant about narcissistic, entitled Millennials from Bill.
So how does the first Millennial-run organization to hit the Fortune 500 develop its global leaders?
Silicon Valley has a reputation—young, entitled engineers who don’t believe they have a whole lot to learn from seasoned, corporate leaders. To what degree is that fair and how, if at all, does this influence the way you develop leaders at Facebook?
Bill: As a 56-year-old guy, I went through a period where I looked at these young kids and thought, “Wait until you get your butt kicked out in the real world.” But I quickly realized this is the real world. And they’re making it their own. This is the future of work. It doesn’t look much like the world of work where I started. But I’m completely awed by the high performing individuals I get to coach everyday, most of whom are young enough to be my kids.
Our whole approach to leadership development at Facebook is coherent with the fact that we’re an engineering company to the core, and we’re led and run by Millennials. We have no interest in a competency-based model of leadership. That doesn’t fit who we are. Our engineering, Millennial roots shape who we are from top to bottom.
How does that shape the way you approach leadership development?
Bill: Engineers are trained to be skeptics. As a result, you see an embedded-skepticism all across the company. There’s zero tolerance for talking heads. The driving question is “What works?” There are posters all over campus that say things like, “Move fast and break things” and “Done is better than perfect.” Our engineering DNA shapes everything we do, including leadership development.
How do you convince engineering techies that soft skills like cultural intelligence matter?
Bill: I haven’t thought about my coaching work as providing “soft skills” in a long time because there’s a hunger for these kinds of skills by our people. We’re an extremely flat, meritocratic company. So it’s impossible to get anything done unless you have the ability to influence and inspire people. You can’t run to a boss and have them issue a mandate to get something done. You’re going to have to figure out how to get it done yourself. So I don’t have to convince leaders at Facebook that they need these capabilities. They almost unconsciously know that these skills are the only way to get things done in such a flat, meritocratic organization…. Read more on http://davidlivermore.com/2013/10/18/how-facebook-develops-its-global-leaders/#comment-3135