InsideOut Development

What Marissa Mayer Taught Me About Leadership

by Kim Capps
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I’m a big fan of 39-year-old Marissa Mayer. She is the CEO of Yahoo, a $40 billion company, and is on almost everyone’s list of high-octane leaders. In terms of personal wealth, she's made at least $500 million, but she has created much more value than that for the companies she has served.

In a new book, Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo!, the author, Nicholas Carlson, offers insight into how Mayer put together such a successful track record. Here are five lessons he learned from Mayer that can be helpful in increasing the performance of your organization:

1. Choose the opportunity that's scariest. When Mayer was finishing her graduate program at Stanford, she decided to take a risk by joining a tiny, money-losing startup. Because the startup was risky, and because its people were so smart, going there was, for Mayer, the scariest option. That startup? Google. Mayer was one of their first 25 employees.

2. Recognize your relative weaknesses. Mayer’s first big project was to build Google's advertising system. It took her months to make any progress. Then Google hired a star coder from DEC named Jeff Dean and he built the system Mayer was trying to build in a matter of weeks. Mayer realized she wasn't going to make her mark there as a coder and needed to find other ways to be useful.

3. Identify your company's problems and solve them. Mayer eventually found three areas where she could materially improve Google, including: 1) She ran Google CEO Larry Page's staff meetings. 2) She became the final authority on all Google products. 3) She launched the associate product manager program at Google—a training program where students with high technical skills are taught to manage.

4. Don't worry too much about stepping on toes. Throwing herself at all these problems, Mayer would sometimes throw herself at issues that other people were already trying to solve. Often, these people would get upset that Mayer was stepping on their toes. Mayer didn't care. More importantly, Google management didn't care. They were just happy Mayer fixed some of the issues.

5. Know when to say goodbye. Mayer's enemies at Google grew so powerful that they were able to have her sidelined. Mayer could have quit in a huff then but she did not. Instead, Mayer continued to do good work for Google in a lower-profile role. When Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz was fired in 2011, a friend of Mayer's told her she should consider that job. Mayer said she thought the company's board of directors was too unreliable to work for. Months later, that board was almost entirely gone. When Yahoo reached out about the gig, Mayer was interested. She soon signed a $200 million deal.

Category: Focus Leadership Performance Executives

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Kim Capps served as the CEO at InsideOut Development. As an executive and C-level leader, he focuses his more than 20 years of experience in human and business performance to helping everyday people (as well as team and organizations) do their best stuff. Kim was born and raised in Vale, Oregon where he began driving on the farm at just 10 years old. A former college basketball player with a no-effort dunk, he now spends his time fishing and hunting and hanging out with his wife Kathy and three adorable daughters.

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