How Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg learned his toughest lesson as CEO

'It's not enough to have purpose yourself. You have to create a sense of purpose for others'

According to Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, a good leader should be able to impart a sense of purpose to others.

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That was a lesson he had to learn the hard way, he said.

In fact, he said learning that was his "hardest time leading Facebook," in a 2017 commencement speech to Harvard University graduates.

"It's not enough to have purpose yourself," he told the graduates. "You have to create a sense of purpose for others."

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When he was only 19, Zuckerberg created Facebook. He was a student at Harvard but dropped out a year later to focus on the company.

Mark Zuckerberg is pictured in January (George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

"My hope was never to build a company, but to make an impact," he told the graduates. "And as all these people started joining us, I just assumed that's what they cared about too, so I never explained what I hoped we'd build."

He soon found out that was a mistake.

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Facebook was so successful that within a few years, "some big companies wanted to buy us," Zuckerberg said.

According to CNBC, one of those big companies was Yahoo, which made a billion-dollar offer on the company. But Zuckerberg didn’t want it. Instead, he was focused on launching Facebook's first News Feed, which would "connect more people," he said.

Meanwhile, "nearly everyone else wanted to sell," he said. "Without a sense of higher purpose, this was the startup dream come true. It tore our company apart."

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Within a year, he said, the entire management team had left Facebook and one advisor even told him he would always regret not selling the company.

"That was my hardest time leading Facebook," Zuckerberg said. "I believed in what we were doing, but I felt alone. And worse, it was my fault. I wondered if I was just wrong, an imposter, a 22-year-old kid who had no idea how the world worked."

Mark Zuckerberg is pictured in Brussels in February. (Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty Images)

Eventually, he explained, he learned that the world does work that way "with no sense of higher purpose," he said.

"It's up to us to create it so we can all keep moving forward together," he added.

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FBFACEBOOK INC.245.07+0.57+0.23%

Just three years after Yahoo made its offer, in 2009, Facebook became profitable for the first time, according to a report from The Atlantic. In 2012, Facebook launched its IPO.

Last year, the company's annual revenue was $73.4 billion, according to Forbes. And Zuckerberg himself is estimated to be worth $82.9 billion, according to Forbes' real-time net worth calculator.

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