Monday, May 26, 2014

The Caché of Leadership: the Marissa Mayer Effect

 This is the CEO of Yahoo.

First, she's a geek.
Second, she loves numbers.
Third, she is open about being a straight talker, fiercely intelligent, and aggressively ambitious.

Here's a bit of how she thinks as per the Vogue piece on her:

In her words: “I really like even numbers, and I like heavily divisible numbers. Twelve is my lucky number—I just love how divisible it is. I don’t like odd numbers, and I really don’t like primes. When I turned 37, I put on a strong face, but I was not looking forward to 37. But 37 turned out to be a pretty amazing year. Especially considering that 36 is divisible by twelve!”

I especially liked reading about her when I first found out that she was the choice for Yahoo CEO after the company blew through three 3 different CEO's in less than a year! I remember having a chat with one of my business friends in the States right before she was picked for her current gig and he saying that the reason why Yahoo never seemed to get its act together was because of who they were hiring as their CEO's. They were all basically the same. And you can't get innovation from same ol', same ol'. Innovation, by definition, is about change, difference, newness. And Marissa Mayer was wildly different from the other three CEO's. Ergo, she was successful.

What Marissa has, that the other three didn't, was the courage to be different, be a change agent in her company and choose to publicly stand for something new. Marissa made decisions with little regard for popularity, such as requiring that people not work from home. She required people to come to work and not telecommute because she firmly believed that working together in the same space and at the same time made people "more collaborative and innovative." While this idea and decision did not make her popular in the short run, it proved to be a smart move. And she stuck by it. This is yet another important trait of leadership: needing to stick by one's well thought out and well researched decisions.

Because sticking to one's well-thought out and researched decisions is not intransigence. It's intelligence!

Plus, her idea was not just born in thin air. There is much academic work that backs up her decision. The Research of Richard Florida, Dean of the Rottman School of Business, rests on the notion that in order for people, industries, and cities to succeed, they all have to congregate and cluster. His work on Who's Your City stipulates that proximity leads to results and success and the internet cannot bridge what person-to-person closeness can.

As the Vogue article says:

"She also instituted a weekly all-hands meeting and added new perks with symbolic importance: free food in the cafeterias, on par with the standard at Google and elsewhere, iPhones instead of BlackBerrys, and the elimination of turnstiles that were costing employees an average of six minutes a day going in and out of buildings. While insisting that everyone show up for work, she also began removing cubicle barriers and office walls to foster a more collaborative work environment." 

Mayer's open and courageous leadership has already yielded much fruit. The result has been an immediate turnaround at Yahoo. Because that's just what leadership is: the desire and courage to stand for something, to make decisions, to act.

And Marissa is different. She seems to have chosen to operate in a gender-neutral reality. And I love that! In a male-dominated business, Mayer stands out. Not only is she a force to be reckoned with who doesn't just accept the landscape in which she is playing, she reinvents the rules of the game with a kind of swagger that is very now. As the Vogue spread on her back in September so defiantly said to the world, "Look at me. I'm smart, I'm intense, I make decisions. Deal with it."

Deeply analytical, geeky to a fault, and a lover of technology, she epitomizes what a leader in technology ought to be like: capable, unapologetic about innovation, fierce. And she's one of my role models. A leader who I think ought to be emulated across industry channels. And one whose style is bound to get appropriated and replicated sooner rather than later. Because to thrive in business, one requires active hands-on leadership and courage to innovate.

Another thing the Vogue piece says:

"[Marissa]’s not kidding about being a geek. Mayer talks about numbers as if they were people, refers casually to x- and y-axes, and drops terms like stochastic factor (it means a random distribution) in conversation. On business issues, she speaks awkwardly, piling as many likes into a sentence as Alicia Silverstone in Clueless. But when she gets on to technology, she turns effortlessly articulate."

In short, she's interesting. And leaders, in order for them to be followed, thus have real caché, they need to be interesting. They need to stand out. They need to be quotable. That's what leadership is. It's, at the core, about swagger, about newness, and a tad about quirkiness.

Those that resist quirkiness and novelty in leadership will not survive. Not in the world we live in. The world we live in eventually will side with the smart, quirky, different folks. Like Marissa. Like Steve Jobs. Like Richard Branson. 


Liam said...

Ya-Who? Good for them finally looking to the future a bit by hiring someone with ideas and attitude. Despite being the first search engine I ever used, I honestly haven't even been to their website in a decade.

Jenny said...

Like Liam, I can't remember when the last time was that I checked out Yahoo. Though I have to admit Marissa Mayer is interesting!
Why am I not surprised you dig her!
Is Bri working on a new article, btw?
Inquiring minds want to know.... ;)
Do write.