4 Things Yahoo's New CEO Marissa Mayer Needs to Get Right

Yahoo CEO Marissa MayerOn July 16th, Yahoo announced Marissa Mayer as their new Chief Executive Officer. Even though this would be Mayer’s first time as a CEO, media feedback was favourable. Largely because of her success at Google where she was seen as a trailblazer who brought a unique combination of technical smarts, creativity, and leadership skills.

The task Mayer is taking on at Yahoo is significant - turning around the company, while going up against fierce competition like Google and Facebook. I’ve worked with clients in similar situations and here’s what I’ve gleaned from their success:

  1. Get Comfortable Leading Under Intense Scrutiny: As a new CEO (this really applies to any new leader), every action and word is watched and scrutinized. Everyone is trying to get a sense of what will be Mayer’s style and approach. In her case, she’s already experienced a heavy dose of media scrutiny, which started shortly after her appointment when she announced her pregnancy. This sparked considerable media controversy over women and mothers in leadership roles. This is the new reality of leadership in today’s world. Mayer will need to develop an even thicker skin.
  2. Provide a Sense of Stability: Mayer becomes the fifth CEO in the last five years at Yahoo. This organization needs a sense of stability and its Mayer’s responsibility to bring this, while driving much needed change. Stability will come from the consistency in her actions and words. It will come from the strength of the team she assembles around her. It is a tricky balance that she will need to master. 
  3. Establish Quick Wins That Build Hope: Given the turnstile at the top of Yahoo over the last few years, I suspect that morale among Yahoo employees is not strong. Mayer sent an email to all her employees recently outlining her promise to make Yahoo the absolute best place to work and she launched an initiative to make this happen. As a quick win, she also immediately made all food free for employees. This was a longstanding gripe in the organization that she resolved quickly.
  4. Be Decisive and Deliberate: Last week Business Insider ran a story outlining how she hired Kathy Savitt as the new Chief Marketing Officer. This was actually a good move. Unfortunately there was a misstep because the outgoing CMO was informed while on vacation and only ten minutes before the story broke. In the desire to bring about change, Mayer will need to be decisive. She’s already demonstrated she can do that. But she’ll also need to be deliberate.  The problem with last week’s misstep is it distracts employees. Instead of focusing on the addition of Savitt, everyone focuses on how it happened. I suspect this will long be forgotten by everyone, but in the short term it creates unnecessary noise.
  5. Be Humble: I’ve have found that many new CEOs and new leaders often are under tremendous pressure to prove themselves. This is certainly the case with Mayer. Investors, stakeholders, and employees are all looking to her as the new Yahoo saviour. While she brings tremendous capability, it will be important for her to be humble as well.

 All eyes are on Mayer to see how she leads the transformation of Yahoo. What’s your leadership advice to her?

…For a take on how this move affects the top team at Yahoo, check out Liane Davey’s blog. She’s worried about how the executives will behave now that Mayer has sent the message that heads will roll.