Managing Through Fear and Intimidation

It seems I couldn’t get on any news wire without seeing something on Marissa Mayer last week.  I read a few different articles on Marissa, but The Truth About Marissa Mayer caught my attention the most.

This article from Business Insider talks about a view some at Google had of Marissa.

The other view, more common amongst long-time Googlers, is that Mayer is a publicity-craving, lucky early Googler, whose public persona outstripped her actual authority and power at the company, where she was once a rising star—thanks to a bullying managerial style—but had become marginalized over the past couple of years.

That is quite a view.  What could make people view her in that way?  The way she manage.

This source described an executive who “will work harder than anyone” and “is smarter than 99 percent of the people,” but “can’t scale herself” and “doesn’t understand managing any other way than intimidation or humiliation.”

This source says that when she worked with Mayer at Google, Mayer “was just a nightmare”—someone who had her own publicist, forced underlings to sign customized NDAs, and maintained “a shadow HR staff and a shadow recruiting staff just for her team.”

“No one understood why she had the power that she had, except that she will literally work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”

“She used to make people line up outside of her office, sit on couches and sign up with office hours with her. Then everybody had to publicly sit outside her office and she would see people in five minute increments. She would make VPs at Google wait for her. It’s like you’ve got to be kidding.”

This source says that for a time, Mayer attended executive coaching lessons with Bill Campbell, but that the gossip is he refused to keep teaching her because she was unreceptive to feedback. Another source confirms a falling out between Campbell and Mayer, but doesn’t know why it happened.

This sounds like a text book example of traditional management style through fear and intimidation to the extreme.  Really.  She made people (including executives) wait outside her office for 5 minute meetings!  Some of this is Google’s other leaders’ fault because they allowed it to happen.

It was mentioned that most of this happened earlier in her career and some believe she has changed.

This source is now a “huge fan” of Mayer’s, but says “I used to not be.”

“I honestly thought she was crazy [during her early years at Google].”

This person says that Mayer used to be a polarizing executive at Google because of quirks—like how she managed her underlings and fought political battles with other top executives—but that “she is really not so much any more.”

“She is 37 now, and she was in her late 20s less than a decade ago. Like all people, she matured and learned. It’s not fair to cast her in the mold of when she was 28 or 29. She is a different person and leader now.”


But, says this source, there are lots of people at Google who want to work for her. For example, there’s the story of Jen Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick went on maternity leave while working for Mayer. When she came back, she had a new boss. Google had gone through a massive re-org, and Mayer had been moved to a different organization. Mayer then asked Fitzpatrick to join her new team. If Mayer was a tyrant, this would have been a great opportunity for Fitzpatrick to say no, and escape. But she didn’t; she joined Mayer’s staff.

It sounds like Marissa Mayer is changing.  This is good.  I imagine she is still has a traditional fear and control style of management but it is softer.  If she hasn’t changed enough, will she lose the backing of Yahoo!’s employees?  The article points to the fact that it worked for Steve Jobs.  So we should copy that?  No way.  I see Steve Jobs as an exception.  Is Yahoo such a name brand company to work for that people will stay no matter what?

I wouldn’t expect Yahoo! to adopt lean anytime soon.  What do you think?

Posted on July 23, 2012, in Leadership, Respect for People and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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