Mark Zuckerberg became a billionaire at the age of 23. Clearly, the guy is brilliant. But he's also been known to be, well, a little awkward.
From his wooden Facebook expressions while testifying before Congress to a less-than-funny appearance on Saturday Night Live, Zuck can sometimes come across as what he likely is -- an earnest nerd who sometimes struggles with the finer points of human interaction. And this inability to predict exactly how his actions might appear was on full display again this week when the Facebook founder recommended a book.
The whole business started when NBC journalist Dylan Byers asked a host of Silicon Valley luminaries to recommend some summer reads. Zuckerberg kindly agreed to participate, suggesting The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore.
"It's about the competition to electrify the nation between Edison, Westinghouse and Tesla," Zuckerberg tells Byers. "Graham is a great storyteller." So far, so innocent-sounding. But that's only until you learn more about the "competition" detailed in the book.
The Beginner's Guide to How to Build a Monopoly and Crush Your Competition
Mark Zuckerberg says he's reading a novel about a winner-take-all battle for control of core technological infrastructure, in which one of the players is a talented inventor closely associated with a town called Menlo Park. https://t.co/S0nxV4E4lI-- David McCabe (@dmccabe) August 2, 2019
Let's break that down: the CEO of Facebook, a company currently under intense scrutiny for squashing (or buying) its competitors and abusing its market dominance, is publicly recommending a book that's basically a how-to guide for would-be monopolists. How could he have missed that, in a time where both presidential contenders and his own co-founder are calling for the company to be broken up, this might not be the best title to suggest?
McCabe wasn't alone in picking up on the irony and roasting Zuckerberg for his apparent lack of self-awareness.
Zuck's summer reading is a novel about Edison's attempt to maintain monopoly power by running Westinghouse out of business https://t.co/a5L9an8qhL-- Shawn DuBravac, PhD (@shawndubravac) August 2, 2019
Zuckerberg has faced plenty of mockery before (see: these 'Zuck is a robot' memes) and I am sure that this misstep is far from his biggest worry at the moment. But his tone deaf recommendation is a reminder that leadership isn't just about intelligence and strategic vision. It's also about EQ and communication. And being excellent at the former definitely doesn't mean you're good at the former.
Zuckerberg is living proof. So is Bill Gates, who has gone on the record with his own regret that he focused too much on IQ and not enough on EQ in his early years. Gates eventually learned the value of a human touch in management, and other CEOs like Spotify's Daniel Ek have talked openly about their own struggles to overcome their natural awkwardness.
The bottom line is that even the smartest minds can be dumb when it comes to empathy and connection, and that these skills are learnable. Zuckerberg clearly needs to keep working on this area, and if you're an ambitious professional who shares his tendency towards nerdy awkwardness, so should you.