Hydra in Charge

Was Ross Levinsohn’s departure from Yahoo inevitable, or even necessary?

I once took on the role of CEO of a modest but well established business and on my first day in the job it was made pretty clear to me, by the shareholders, that they wanted me to keep the guy I had effectively disposed. The business was a subsidiary of a big group and its management felt a certain loyalty to him it seemed. I didn’t feel good about it and soon learnt that in that particular case it was a bad idea, but is that always the case? So, is it then a good thing that Ross Levinsohn has left Yahoo, in the circumstances, so that Marissa Mayer can get on with the herculean task of sorting out Yahoo, without the distraction of a potential power struggle at the top of the company?

From my personal experience, if the guy you replaced is going to undermine you then he needs to be shown the door, but if he isn’t why not keep him? In the ego-fuelled corridors of modern corporate America I can well understand why Ross decided to leave, but wouldn’t it have been better for Yahoo if he had found the personal courage to accept that, although no longer “the boss” he still had a very important role in the team and particularly when it came to his areas of expertise and experience, leadership of the business? Why does it always have to be an all or nothing decision – either I’m the boss, or I’m off?

I’m not a great fan of the hero CEO, flying between Wall Street buildings on thin threads of spider wire, trying to avoid other CEO’s criss-crossing the corporate skyline demonstrating their super powers to us poor mortals below. In spite of what it says in the comic books superheroes don’t really exist: like Peter Parker, CEO’s are just human beings too. I think it is a mistake to always see leadership in a big company as a solo performance with all the kudos and opprobrium falling on one person’s shoulders when things go either good, or bad. I think that leadership should actually be more of a team game and every player on a particular team needs to be the best at what they do. The person leading the team needs to be best at leading the team, that’s really what CEO’s should be concentrating on; if they are trying to be best at all the other stuff too they are somewhat missing the point.

I don’t know Ross and maybe it was just never going to work with him, but my fundamental point about Marissa’s task is that she needs a strong team of people, each one better than she is in their own fields and so on some level it would have been quite a coup if she could have kept Ross on the team as he clearly has strengths, experience and expertise that she doesn’t have. I guess she now faces several of “his” guys leaving too before she can start to rebuild the right team for her and for Yahoo. I’m hoping that a female leader will make a better fist of this than a man would because it will be the only way that she and the rest of the management team, working together, will transform Yahoo.

Leadership is a Hydrian task: two heads are always better than one and when it comes to a complex problem, like Marissa faces, the more heads the better.




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