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Monday, November 17, 2008

Jerry Yang's Departure as Yahoo CEO: Nice Man, Bad Leadership

To lead with what should hopefully be obvious to all, in spite of the frustrations many of us have shown with Yahoo's recent progress, Kara's certainly right: Jerry Yang is a nice man.

We'll be back with a few more thoughts on this one, on top of the many we've shared about the company over the past few years.

But for starters I'll begin with what I think are a couple of serious indicators as to what was so misguided about Yang's and his predecessors' approach to running Yahoo.

First, the comment in Yang's departure memo, that "the company is in many ways stronger than it was 18 months ago," or some such claptrap. Sure, you can make a list. Point to many accomplishments and initiatives. But what if those things are being spun out in a rapidly deteriorating context, where they are unlikely to thoroughly succeed?

This persistent soft focus on harsh realities is the hallmark of a "comparison company" that "doesn't go from good to great." I've recently pored over Jim Collins' Good to Great for the umpteenth time. Although all of Collins' insights aren't bulletproof, the part about the most successful leaders who have ultimate faith in prevailing but also build a culture of confronting harsh reality rings so true. At Yahoo, everything always seemed to be just fine, until the broken parts began to be fixed, two years behind schedule.

At least Peanut Butter Exec Garlinghouse was willing to stand up and say this. He had to say he bled purple when he tore a strip off the company for its failings, but at least he did it.

The corollary to the first point, then; secondly, is the conflation of loyalty with performance. It seems that "bleeding purple" is a prerequisite for working in the management ranks at Yahoo.

Dammit, it's us consumers that need to bleed purple, not you guys. We need to love the company; you need to make it work.

Fortunately, that leads me to my next, hopeful point. A lot of us still do bleed purple. Yeah I said it! I don't hide my Yahoo schwag when guests come over. I still have my own pet ideas for how Yahoo could improve its best products and extend its beloved brand. I think Yahoo could partner offline with all kinds of business and consumer routines in a way that Google couldn't.

So there you have it. We're great customers, and many missteps by Yahoo's management have left the company a shell of what it might have been, lying next to a pool of purple blood, waiting for Microsoft to swoop in with a mop and a transfusion. Let's hope for better days ahead.

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Posted by Andrew Goodman




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