Monday, November 20, 2006

Bold Visionary or Persona Non Grata?

Last weekend's leak of an internal memo from Brad Garlinghouse, VP Communications Products at Yahoo! (Garlinghouse oversees Mail, Photos, Community, etc) sheds light on one of the more interesting conundrums of the executive suite: at what point does an exec stick his/her own neck out to challenge the status quo? Moreover, will capturing the bully pulpit isolate your views and alienate colleagues? Will it create real change or be received as mere office politics?

Too often leaders in the executive suite, especially in relatively mature companies, get so wrapped up in defending "what is" as opposed to engaging in creative destruction to build "what might be". It is this fact that makes Garlinghouse's "Peanut Butter Manifesto" so striking as it is so rare to see this kind of open challenge to the status quo. The memo is remarkable if for nothing else in its willingness to be rejected.

While the Machiavellian among us may dismiss Garlinghouse's memo as a stunt designed to embarrass superiors and position himself for higher leadership position at Yahoo!, one must also consider the possibility that this memo was written with a pure intent. After all Garlinghouse has a long track record as a loyal employee and has demonstrated an enduring passion for Yahoo's products (to demonstrate his zeal for the company, Garlinghouse is reported to at one point shaved a "Y" into the back of his head). Having met Garlinghouse previously he presents himself as a well-balanced and thoughtful manager. Hardly the type that is taken to grandstanding merely for personal gains.

So why do it? Maybe, just maybe, he really does care. About the employees, customers, colleagues and shareholders he serves. Maybe he cares so much that he is willing to set aside his self interest to challenge Yahoo's leadership to focus on doing a few things better than any one else rather than dip its toes in every online business imaginable. Maybe, by focusing on personalization, an area Yahoo! does better than most, maybe, just maybe Yahoo! can become the Web 3.0 company that few current players have the potential to aspire to. And, maybe his integrity as a leader has compelled him to say 'the Emperor has no clothes" when the rest of the flock is willing to go along, get along.

My hope is that Brad's memo inspires real change at Yahoo! and in turn emboldens other leaders to speak out against convention. If this happens, maybe, just maybe, "integrity" won't become a flaccid platitude relegated to the corporate handbook, but will be the moral force behind bold actions execs call upon to avoid the ship from hitting the rocks.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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