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Obama and Yang: Hopefully a Contrast of Leadership

If I was Barack Obama, I would take close note of Jerry Yang's current situation. Obama will be taking over a job held by an unpopular predecessor, the perception of whom is that he has made a mess of what otherwise was a good thing. If you follow Yahoo's fortunes over the past couple of years, this should sound familiar.

Jerry Yang's rise to the CEO role of Yahoo followed Terry Semel's ignominious departure in 2007. Semel's exit, because of a poor strategy around search as well as a culture clash with the company's rank and file, was not a tearful one. On the flip side though, people were cheering the idea that Jerry Yang (a technical founder!) was triumphantly returning to take over.

The groundswell of support had people believing that Jerry was not only going to right the ship, but was going to steer it to new heights. Clearly, those days are over.

So what went wrong? How could it all turn so bad so quickly? First things first - this goes way beyond the bungled Microsoft deal. Yes, that was screwed up royally. Steve Ballmer may end up looking like the smartest guy in the world if he buys Yahoo now for $20 billion or so less than what he would have paid a year ago. He can certainly thank Jerry for that.

But really Jerry's problems at Yahoo started much earlier. It all boils down to leadership. A leader's job is easy: inspire, motivate and lead. Go out, have a clear, explainable vision, communicate it well and inspire those around to execute on it. This is true whether you are talking about a platoon leader, a CEO, a President or a baseball team captain.

A bad leader doesn't make bad decisions - a bad leader actually makes no decisions. They are paralyzed by fear, modesty, vanity, lack of confidence, or whatever. Pretty normal stuff, if you think about it. That's why not everyone is meant to be a leader.

Jerry Yang's first order of business as Yahoo's CEO? Take 100 days to evaluate the company. Oy. Jerry announces layoffs - they'll happen over the course of "several weeks." Ugh. The masses want to be led. They don't want to hear your thinking about it, or you'll get back to them. They want you to have answers and make decisions. That's what inspires.

That's the heart of Jerry's problems: no vision, no authoritative decision-making, no inspiration. Throw on top of that the Microsoft fiasco and now you know how Yang completely lost support (other than friends on the board) in a remarkably short period of time.

So what's this have to do with Barack Obama? Well, it struck me that the situations were similar. Both Barack and Jerry took/ take over the chief office from a not so well liked predecessor. Both came/come in with a ton of support from the masses. And both have/ had huge expectations on what can be accomplished.

I hope Obama takes note of Jerry Yang's failures and doesn't repeat them. Articulate a vision, act decisively and remember the old adage that, if inspired, men can be led where they might otherwise not go.

I'll say it once more: bad leaders don't make bad decisions, they make no decisions.


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