Leadership — Did Carol Bartz Provide a Good Example at Yahoo?



Imagine, you’re at work and you suddenly get a boorish mass e-mail from the head of your company announcing she’s just been fired.

How would you feel? Would you respect the person sending such a message? Would you be confident in your company?

I don’t know about you, but I’d have a negative response to all three questions.

My perspective is three-fold: Early in my career, I worked in management, and found myself downsized. I’ve been an executive who decided to terminate employees. And now I’m a business-performance consultant who advises clients in human resources.

Yes, losing a job is painful. But making such announcements isn’t stately.

That’s my assessment in the case of Carol Bartz.

When she was terminated as Yahool’s chief executive officer in September 2011, published reports indicate she sent an e-mail blast to 13,400 employees. It read, “I’ve just been fired.”

Later, published reports indicate she used an expletive in describing her termination by Yahoo.

It isn’t hard to believe. Her job ended just as the events unfolded in her tenure – chaotic.

Here’s why:

All Ms. Bartz accomplished in her message was to act unprofessionally capping an unproductive pattern of behavior, which had led to poor performance, and her eventual demise.

What she never seemed to understand was that she never understood Yahoo’s mission. In her case, it should have been all about building Yahoo to satisfy its users.

Now, she’s the second woman to disrupt a major technology company. She didn’t learn from the lessons of Carly Fiorina, who misjudged Hewlett-Packard’s situation in the marketplace.

She came across as brash and ostentatious, too. Ms. Fiorina never should have tried to force the merger with Compaq. The cultures at the two companies were too different. Some 17,000 workers lost their jobs unnecessarily. And HP, my favorite printer company, still hasn’t found its way.

At least when Ms. Fiorina was terminated in 2005, she publicly indicated she respected the decision. In my view, that was her most stately act as head of HP.

But Ms. Bartz’s e-mail blast came across as angry, egotistical and manipulative. All Ms. Bartz accomplished was to continue an unproductive pattern of behavior, which led to poor performance, and an eventual demise. Her salty language more suitable at a football game.

Leaders might be confident in their abilities, but they evaluate their performance on a regular basis. They make corrections when necessary. But they don’t continue as if everything is good when it isn’t. They don’t consistently make brash statements. And don’t fail to take responsibility for setbacks in the marketplace.

Aside from her career, her crass announcement has at least two ramifications:

  1. It threatened to hinder Yahoo’s future.
  2. She sent an emotional message that makes it more difficult for women business leaders to break through the glass ceiling.

Unfortunately, for Yahoo stakeholders, Ms. Bartz was simply an example of the Peter Principle. She rose to her level of incompetence. The job was simply too challenging for her. But she didn’t have to make the situation worse. That’s not what leaders do.

The good news is that under CEO Marissa Mayer Yahoo is finally learning business management lessons.

From the Coach’s Corner, other editor’s picks:

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”

-Peter Drucker 


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Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.






Seattle business consultant Terry Corbell provides high-performance management services and strategies.