Marissa Mayer’s unorthodox leadership at Yahoo


This Feb. 20, 2013 file image released by NBC shows Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer appearing on NBC News' "Today" show, in New York to introduce the website's redesign. (Peter Kramer/AP)
Jena McGregor
Columnist March 12, 2013

Marissa Mayer’s management style is in the news yet again. Reuters is reporting that the Yahoo CEO, who caused a stir recently after banning her employees from working from home, is now personally involving herself in reviewing every hire the company makes. The story, which cites unnamed sources, says she’s also grown more focused on the academic credentials and university pedigrees of new recruits. (A Yahoo spokesperson told me the company does not comment on internal matters.)

If true, it’s yet another example of how Mayer’s leading the Silicon Valley tech company in her own unorthodox way. Conventional management wisdom, after all, says that getting involved in the hire of every employee at a company of Yahoo’s size is probably not the best use of the CEO’s time. Critics in the Reuters story worry the higher standards and extra review at the top will prompt the company to lose out on good people. It can send signals that the leader doesn’t trust her senior team, create distractions from the big-picture strategic issues that a CEO leading a company in turnaround mode like Yahoo needs, and slow down decision-making by forming a bottleneck at the top.

Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section. View Archive

Ironically, that’s exactly what Sheryl Sandberg, another Silicon Valley executive who’s been in the headlines over and over again recently, says happened to her. In her much-discussed new book, “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead,” the Facebook COO relates a story from her time at Google (where Mayer also once worked) in which she interviewed every candidate before making an offer, even once the team had grown to 100 people. When she told her team she had decided to stop interviewing, she expected they would urge her to stay involved. Instead, “they applauded,” she writes. “They all jumped in to explain—in unison—that my insistence on speaking personally to every candidate had become a huge bottleneck.”

It’s possible, of course, that Yahoo’s culture is in such need of a jolt that getting the right talent in the door—or the right people on the bus, as management guru Jim Collins likes to say—really does require that much hand-holding from the CEO. But it’s just as likely this is a holdover practice from another company’s culture or a start-up era that will be hard to implement in a corporation Yahoo’s size.

Read also:

Let’s give Sheryl Sandberg and Melissa Mayer a break

Yahoo’s perplexing ban on working from home

A cheat sheet for Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’

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