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Trudy Bourgeois Headshot

Leadership Lessons for Marissa Mayer

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AP Photo/Keystone/Laurent Gillieron
AP Photo/Keystone/Laurent Gillieron

Has anyone else been waiting for it?

It's been over a month now since Marissa Mayer's Yahoo! memo was leaked, and I've been waiting for the other shoe to drop.

But it hasn't.

Frankly, I've been shocked at how "easy" people have been on Mayer's mandate about Yahoo! employees no longer working from home. Was she given a pass, of sorts, because she's a woman? I would say yes. Definitely.

Don't agree? Well then let me ask you this.

If a man had made that same decision, would the world be nailing him to the wall for not appreciating the needs of the workforce? I would say yes again. Definitely.

Mayer walks a dangerous road when it comes to her mandate... and when it comes to several other decisions she's made as a prominent woman leading a Fortune 500 company (i.e. recently choosing to take only two weeks of maternity leave, etc.).

In her February 26, 2013, article for The LA Times, Jessica Guynn writes:

From the start, Mayer, who at 37 is one of Silicon Valley's most notorious workaholics, was not the role model that some working moms were hoping for. The former Google Inc. executive stirred up controversy by taking the demanding top job at Yahoo when she was five months pregnant and then taking only two weeks of maternity leave. Mayer built a nursery next to her office at her own expense to be closer to her infant son and work even longer hours.

Now working moms are in an uproar because they believe that Mayer is setting them back by taking away their flexible working arrangements. Many view telecommuting as the only way time-crunched women can care for young children and advance their careers without the pay, privilege or perks that come with being the chief executive of a Fortune 500 company.

Jessica emphasizes the importance of the need for working moms to have the flexibility. I believe that it goes well beyond moms. Work life effectiveness (often referred to as work life balance) is something that every employee wants and deserves including men. In fact, from a generational perspective as many men as women want flexibility (not just for caring for elderly parents or children but for living life). It seems the next generation has gotten hold of a new mindset based upon an old adage "we should be working to live; not living to work."

Over my 30+ years in corporate America, I've learned a thing or two about leadership... especially as I led teams of thousands as one of only a few African American women in the consumer goods industry.

Below are a few leadership lessons for Marissa Mayer:

(And let me clarify... perhaps Mayer IS applying these leadership lessons behind the walls of Yahoo! -- I certainly hope so. The fact of the matter still stands: today's workforce works differently -- IS different. The old-school way of doing things simply will not work.)

Lesson #1: A lack of collaboration is directly connected to leadership --NOT to the location of your team.

Lesson #2: As the leader, you must focus on connecting your vision to the HEARTS of your employees. Engagement doesn't just happen within four walls of a building.

Lesson #3: Depending upon the role, there are numerous studies that suggest that people are actually MORE productive working from home. Leaders should avoid making "all" or "nothing" decisions.

Lesson #4: Managing virtual teams -- in a global economy such as ours -- requires flexibility. It you want to play on the global scene, flexibility is the price of entry.

Lesson #5: The most successful (read: clued in) leaders in corporate America today authentically utilize a balanced leadership style. I don't know the motivation behind Mayer's leadership and work decisions, but if feels uncomfortably as though she's trying to lead like a man (from a time when it was just men working who had stay-at-home wives to care for the house and children).

What the workforce of today must have are Hybrid Leaders. Hybrid leaders recognize that it is not about getting the results, it's "how" the results are obtained. They draw on BOTH sides of the brain to lead. Their balanced approach comes from embracing the need for a new style of leadership.

As I shared in an article for The Economist Group:

For decades, the business world has rewarded those characteristics traditionally associated with the left side of the brain. Leaders who were known for their visionary and strategic thinking skills were praised, while leaders who were more collaborative and intuitive were viewed as weak. In today's minute-to-minute global market, collaboration, innovation and intuition take on greater levels of importance. And these are right brain functions.

The business world needs leaders who can bring a balanced (both male and female) skill set and perspective.

I call this style of leader a Hybrid Leader. Hybrid because it represents the best of male AND female leadership styles. And it is precisely what is needed to manage a diverse workforce, to understand a changing and more demanding consumer, to thrive in a global economy and to create a successful future. Today's leaders must be able to coach, mentor and inspire their employees. In order to do this they must be able to connect with them as humans.

Time will tell if Mayer has made the right decision. In the meantime, we have to hope that this action doesn't give other CEOs a convenient opportunity to retract flexible work schedules or other work/life balance measures.

If that happens, it will not serve our workforce (or America) well.