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In conversation with Facebook's Derya Matras: Using her superpower to lead

Derya Matras

Talk with Derya Matras, Facebook’s Managing Director for Middle East, Africa, and Turkey for just five minutes and it’s immediately clear that she’s a smart, confident, and inspiring leader. With more than 20 years of experience in strategic roles and leadership positions — including 15 in management consulting — she’s well-versed in what it takes to make critical business decisions, lead teams of varying size and scale, and in her words, ‘prioritize ruthlessly’. We asked Derya to share her insight on how she’s used failure as a tool to learn, and how each of her unique experiences has helped shape her perspective and leadership style.

 

Growth mindset and agility

Over the course of my career, I’ve advised more than 100 companies — across verticals, teams, and geographies. I thought I'd seen it all before I came to Facebook, but quickly realized Facebook is in a league of its own. Previously I would have two to three hours problem-solving sessions, which is in stark contrast to having 15-30 minute meetings I now have at Facebook. I sometimes have 10-15 meetings a day, in very diverse topics covering everything from product to revenue, influencer strategies, policy discussions with ministers and even roundtable discussions with community leaders.

It was a challenge to adapt to Facebook’s culture of moving fast and making decisions quickly. With 20 years of experience, I could’ve easily been set in my ways. Instead, I’ve learned to love the fast pace. I will never be able to take as much time as I want with something, so I’ve learned how to be comfortable being uncomfortable.

What has really helped me grow at Facebook was realizing I thrive when I have autonomy, which I didn’t previously have. We focus on impact, which has helped me develop a strong business intuition. I’ve applied this mentality to the way I lead my team, relying on them to work efficiently and autonomously. This work style is empowering for everyone.

 

Focus on ruthless prioritization

I’m a big believer in hard work and ruthless prioritization. It’s the only way to drive results. We are all juggling so much at work and at home. The question I always ask myself is: how many balls can I juggle at once? Because I believe we should be the ones to choose which balls to drop. Personally, I prioritize family, work, and health. I want to drive impact at Facebook, be a good mom, exercise, eat well, and get through this difficult year [2020]. This means I do not have time to watch TV or have a nightlife — it is OK, because I choose to do so. If I don’t prioritize, I’ll drop the ball on something that I truly value.

Her superpower is relentless execution. She has an outcome mindset, and never accepts no as an answer. This has opened a lot of doors for us that we previously thought were shut. She always pushes for the best outcome for our team.

Business Lead Yigit Y on Derya’s work style

 

Pay it forward through mentorship and allyship

Being an ally is a verb. You don’t say you’re an ally, you act it out. At Facebook, we're not shy when it comes to demonstrating allyship. I’ve seen people advocate for others first-hand by ensuring that everyone — whether in a meeting or a casual conversation — has an opportunity to speak and share their opinion.

I love Picasso’s words: ‘The meaning of life is to find your gift; the purpose of life is to give it away.’ So when it comes to mentoring, I always advise to find your purpose in life. Ask yourself, what’s your gift? Where do you thrive? I believe we can only thrive at the intersection of where we find meaning and what we are good at. Once we discover that, we can teach others so they can learn and grow.

I believe in inclusive, strength-based leadership. This type of leadership requires active listening and making sure you’re playing up the strengths of others. If we can leverage different teams and their various superpowers in the right moment, then we'll drive better results for the entire team.

 

Learn from failure

During my time as a consultant, I learned to be a perfectionist. There was a lot less tolerance for mistakes. Facebook has helped me discover that learning from failures is a powerful way to grow. I am a big believer in ‘nobody grows in their comfort zone’. Leaving the comfort zone comes with making mistakes and failures. It requires a growth mindset. Your success in life will never be defined by how you perform on sunny days, but it will be defined by how you navigate storms.

As leaders, we need to fail by example. If you’re successful, you don’t think about why or how you got there, but when you fail, you analyse it 1,000 times. Failures are hard. However, my biggest failures have also been my biggest learnings. For example, I’ve made a decision under quick time constraints and expectations that ended up being the wrong call. I didn’t hang around and dwell on the failure, but took what I learned with me and moved on. I feel like a better leader thanks to all the challenges that I had on the journey.