Analyzing Why Marissa Mayer's Leadership Style Is So Effective
In High Technology Companies
Attaining leadership effectiveness in rapidly changing, complex industries that requires a balanced approach to transformational, transactional and situational leadership requires a unique series of skills and training. For high technology companies including Google, finding leaders who have these innate skills and the training to define product, service and technology strategies effectively often requires the company to find leadership candidates with the core technology and leadership skills, then develop them over time. Google founders Sergei Brin and Larry Page took this approach when they hired Marissa Mayer in the formative years of their company's growth. The Google senior management team focused on integrating the core strengths of every member of the senior management team into a single, unified leadership platform predicated on deep technology expertise, coupled with strong leadership styles. Creating a consortium-based approach to integrating leadership talent from a broad spectrum of disciplines and leadership styles typifies many entrepreneurial companies (Darling, Leffel, 2010).
The intent of this analysis is to evaluate how Marissa Mayer's leadership style flourished at Google, relying on the four leadership styles defined by Darling & Leffel (2010). Examples of how she navigated Google from search engine to cloud platform are also discussed. Her leadership style is also assessed with recent examples of running Yahoo as their CEO.
Foundations of Entrepreneurial Leadership In High Technology
Leadership in a high technology company requires a unique and at times paradoxical skill set that can quickly capitalize on new opportunities for the company's growth while still staying focused on the immediate tasks that must be accomplished. Marissa Mayer shows that she has this unique, paradoxical mix of transformational leadership and very exacting, perfectionistic focus on individual tasks. Transformational leadership capable of defining a compelling vision for the company on the one hand while also staying focused on each individual task is essential in organizations going through rapid change (Beugre, Acar, Braun, 2006). To fully appreciate how unique Ms. Mayer's leadership ability is, it is important to first define the foundational areas of management and leadership.
It has often been said that leader is who one is, and a manager is what one does, an observation often credited to Dr. Warren Bennis (Fitzgerald, Schutte, 2010). Dr. Bennis studied how successful leaders in fast-changing, turbulent environments were able to successfully use a high level of Emotional Intelligence (EI), charismatic leadership abilities and the ability to motivate by explaining each person's role in helping to accomplish the vision of the company (Fitzgerald, Schutte, 2010). Managers who often have a strong set of transactional leadership skills are capable of motivating teams with short-term rewards and punishments yet fail at showing how each individual team member's performance helps to transform a compelling vision into reality (Shoujun, Rui, Runtian, 2013). Managers with transactional leadership skill sets excel at enforcing the status qou, while leaders with transformational skills concentrate on creating a compelling vision and creating a culture of accomplishment (Fitzgerald, Schutte, 2010).
Entrepreneurial leaders in high technology that succeed have the ability to define a very detailed vision of how their nascent businesses will transform entire industries rapidly, and how critical the role of each member of the team is in making that happen. Examples provided by Darling & Beebe (2007) underscore how important it is for entrepreneurial leaders to excel on the dimensions of transformational leadership. Of the many factors that lead to success in fast-moving, often chaotic high technology start-ups, trust is the most critical of all (Schmidt, 1993). As EI is one of the foundational aspects of successful transformational leadership, building and maintaining trust is essential for s shared sense of accountability and performance across an organization
(Beugre, Acar, Braun, 2006). When leaders consistently exhibit complete commitment to their teams or employees and their development, while also willingly making sacrifices for goal themselves, trust is achieved (Singh, Krishnan, 2008).
Marissa Mayer's Leadership Style
Marissa Mayer's success as the Vice President of Product Management at Google and today as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Yahoo is based in large part on her unique ability to analyze complex issues quickly and take action. Based on an analysis of her leadership style, skills and approach to solving complex problems that led to Google experiencing exceptional revenue growth, she most closely aligns with the Analyzer role as defined by Darling & Leffel (2010). She is known for her heavy reliance on analytics, key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics of performance to determine the best possible decision given alternatives, which makes her well aligned with the Analysers role. She is also known for having an exceptionally clear, accurate perspective on the nuanced nature of software, technologies and how algorithms can accelerate their value to people and businesses (Brin, 2010). When all of these skill sets are taken together, it is clear Marissa Mayer fits within an Analyzer role in the frameworks defined by Darling & Leffel (2010).
The Google organizational culture is heavily reliant on data, analysis and insights to drive decisions (Brin, 2010). Rarely if at all are decisions made in a vacuum without any supporting data or at least collected analysis from Google users to better define a decision making strategy and outcome. Marissa Mayer was one of the primary architects of this culture and continues on with a strong focus on measurable results and accountability today at Yahoo. Her decision-making approaches and strategies at Google also concentrated on testing and continually retesting outcomes to determine which had the highest probability of success over time. This led to the testing of specific colors on Google landing pages, tests of which types of navigation best suited the Google G-Mail application, and how best to manage the many changes to Google AdWords, one of the most profitable services the company operates today. All of these decisions are based on the analytical construct or framework Marissa Mayer initially put into place when first hired out of Stanford University, where she had been a professor teaching computer science.
At Google, the product management teams are known for their analytical rigor and focus on defining scalable, mathematically sound approaches to solving exceptionally difficult, changing computational problems. Under Marissa Mayer's leadership the product management team defined a methodology for creating entirely new products based on internal ideas and those found from collaborating with large-scale enterprises that had customized Google and its solutions to their specific needs
(Elgin, 2005). One of the outcomes of this work was the creation of the Rule of 20%, which gave engineers and product managers 20% of their time, or the equivalent of one day a week, to research ideas that had the potential to turn into new products and services Google could turn into ongoing financially successful businesses (Elgin, 2005). The results were dramatic, with 57% of revenue generated by Google today being a direct result of the rule of 20%.
Precise, systematic and often very critical of outcomes that didn't measure up to the performance level she expected, Marissa Mayer also had a reputation in Google for being very task-oriented and having very high standards for performance. There are many examples of how she demanded excellence from product management, including the requirement that each screen of Google AdWords before the application went live be tested and retested down to the shades of colors used on each screen. Her perfectionistic nature also made her very focused on measuring quality level of Google products, going so far as to post the performance of each development and product management teams' code on large-screen monitors throughout the development centers in headquarters (Elgin, 2005). She drive accountability deep into Google and that aspect of the culture remains today, as she defined the performance benchmarks for success on product management tasks.
Another aspect of Marissa Mayer's leadership style that further supports her being defined in the Analyzer role (Darling, Leffel, 2010) is the patience she has consistently shown when facing very large, complex problems from a products and service perspective at Google, and now Yahoo. This became clear in how the product management team had to overcome the limitations of the search algorithm at the time that content farms and search engine optimization (SEO) companies look to capitalize on. A content farm deliberately uses a series of link building technologies to drive up the PageRank of a given site. PageRank is the metric Google had relied exclusively on to determine which links shown up highest in search results. By using content farms and SEO techniques, companies were easily ending up on the front page of Google results without actually building the links or influence ethically that PageRank was used for ranking. Google product management was given the task of making PageRank a truer representation of true online influence and support for a given website relative to another. Marissa Mayer's approach was to completely redefine the algorithm, which in effect redefined the core intellectual property of the company, in a matter of months. This was a major task…