Struggles in High Places

By Mark A. Taylor

Like leaders you may know, Mark Zuckerberg is struggling.

Zuckerberg, 23-year-old CEO of the phenomenally popular social networking Web site Facebook, is figuring out how to cope with his own success. His brainchild began as an idea he pursued as a college dropout. Now, a little more than three years later, the site is attracting at least 101 million visitors and the dollars of investors like Microsoft (the company spent $240 million for a stake in Facebook last year).

Although Facebook’s revenues reportedly reached $150 million in 2007, the company still isn’t profitable. And Zuckerberg’s efforts to change that have yet to work.

“Is being a CEO always this hard?” he asked a Silicon Valley mentor, according to a front-page article in The Wall Street Journal.

In his question I heard the echo of more than one church or parachurch leader frustrated or even overwhelmed by the challenges of making his ministry more effective. In fact, the Journal’s report on Zuckerberg contained several parallels with church leadership.

The article spoke of the “accelerated culture” in some Silicon Valley startups that “change more in a few years than most companies do in decades,” challenging the style and skill of their CEOs. And I thought of some church plants that in similarly short times shoot from dozens to a thousand in attendance. More than one minister in such a place has struggled to grow with the church.

Sometimes a minister, like a corporate CEO, is his own worst enemy. “Part of the struggle for quickly maturing startups is that founders don’t want to lose their stamp on the company,” the Journal commented. “Mr. Zuckerberg says he is trying to build Facebook on his own terms.” And most of us have seen the same tendency among some leaders of local churches or parachurch ministries.

Earlier this year Zuckerberg was interviewed by Lesley Stahl for the CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes. “We have to make money,” he told her. “We have 400 employees. We have to support all that, and make a profit.”

Isn’t it interesting that Zuckerberg, a poster child for the cutting edge, sounds so much like a 50-year-old parachurch president fighting to keep his institution alive?

Perhaps we can take heart in the fact that focusing on oneself and survival is a malady not mitigated by youth or creativity or intellect—outside or inside the church. Or perhaps we can see in entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg some traps that any leader can watch for.

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