Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg listens while testifying before a joint Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees hearing regarding the company’s use and protection of user data, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis.
(photo credit: REUTERS/LEAH MILLIS)
Watching Facebook’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg address members of Congress in a public hearing to defend his company’s – and his own – reputation could easily be viewed as a modern example of ancient leadership. Zuckerberg’s presence before the legislative power of the United States was a test that would have been as much of a leadership challenge for Moses as for any contemporary CEO who must defend and provide assurance to external and internal stakeholders. After all, Zuckerberg heads a pioneering company in social networking, whose most valuable asset is arguably its users’ personal data.
Facebook’s failure to protect some 87 million members’ private data – mined by Cambridge Analytica for the purpose of influencing election outcomes – meant that Zuckerberg not only needed to apologize but to assure the public, Congress, even employees, that his company is not just part of the problem but could be part of the solution in helping protect personal data.
Zuckerberg needed to prove his leadership skills to assure everyone with even a remotely vested interest – whether Facebook members, clients, or government regulators – that his company could protect user data while still probing it for the targeted ads that have helped the popular social media platform earn billions of dollars in revenues.
Whether he knew or didn’t know all of the particulars that led to the breach of users’ privacy, Zuckerberg concedes he and his company have a responsibility to protect it. Facebook failed. In a March 21 personal post on his Facebook page, Zuckerberg conceded failure – demonstrating humility – when he stated, “We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you.” What else could he say? The damage had been done and damage control is essential for any business facing lack of public confidence. But how appropriate leadership is exercised becomes crucial. Zuckerberg needed to emulate and exude the authority of the likes of Moses to help protect every - one’s interests.
Why Moses? And how can Moses’ leadership example address Zuckerberg’s plight at Facebook? Among many leadership traits the Torah ascribes to Moses are humility, empathy, vision, self-reflection and the ability to cultivate trust and demonstrate wisdom. An effective leader does not have to demonstrate all these traits, but the more that can be demonstrated, the better. Moses had much more at stake than worries over money, legal and/or ethical breaches and maintaining a stellar reputation, which are Zuckerberg’s primary concerns as CEO of Facebook. The biblical leader often had to defend the very lives of his people while also accounting for his own and their transgressions to convince those he led that he was a strong and effective leader who could be believed.
Moses approached Pharaoh and ultimately led the Israelite slaves out of Egypt. He effectively defended his people after they committed the breach of idol worship, creating a golden calf in his absence. Moses was indeed a leader who served his people, was humble, held a vision, showed empathy and engendered trust.
Zuckerberg attempted to show all of these traits in his appearances before the nation’s legislators in April.
In his March 21 Facebook post, not only did Zuckerberg issue an apology and acknowledge a “breach of trust” between Facebook and the public who provide their personal data to Facebook, but he outlined concrete approaches Facebook would take to safeguard personal data, particularly how third-party applications will be prevented from accessing particular information about users that was formerly easily obtained. It will no longer permit applications to obtain very personal information about users, whether their religious and political views or their personal likes, education, relationship status and friends’ lists.
And other important changes will be made to help ensure personal data is protected. These are very important assertions of leadership intended to demonstrate to everyone concerned that pro- active and powerful measures will be taken to protect the integrity of personal data.
Zuckerberg seems to be trying to show he is a principled leader who can lead an ethical company that can win the support of users, customers, and legislators. Will he succeed? Time will tell. But the powerful leadership example of Moses cannot be underestimated as a time-tested means for Zuckerberg to follow. So far at least, he appears to be emulating Moses’ influential example. What more can one ask? Facebook is still a free platform that users opt into, willingly trading personal information for a user experience that appeals to many all over the world.The writer, a member of the board of governors of Gratz College, is author of Religion and Contemporary Management: Moses as a Model for Effective Leadership, available in hard- cover and e-book formats from all online retailers.
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