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Leadership Transitions: Marissa Mayer to the Rescue

July 31st, 2012 by Steve Barry
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Why did Marissa Mayer accept the CEO position at Yahoo?” When that headline recently appeared in my inbox, it may as well have read, “Has Google’s top woman lost her mind?”

But Mayer, 37, the youngest CEO of a Fortune 500 company – who also happens to be a pregnant woman – is clearly looking for a challenge. Some leaders thrive in rescue situations such as the one she inherits at Yahoo.

Open any book about leadership transitions and you’re likely to see a model of the various business situations executives may need to navigate when they take on a new company, initiative, or project. We’ve synthesized those many models into one that we find especially useful:  we call it the Business Terrains framework.  In addition to the Rescue, the possible business terrains are:

  1. Launch – Starting up an initiative, project, product, business unit
  2. Accelerate – Managing rapid growth or momentum; expanding the activities, output, revenues, productivity, and so on of a business, product, initiative,
  3. Plateau – Managing in a mature, successful (though flat) growth environment
  4. Renew – Realigning or reinvigorating a successful business, product, project, and so on to take it to the next level and/or to avoid decay or dissolution

Each terrain has specific challenges.  The good news for Mayer is that everyone in Yahoo! should be on the same page about the company being in need of a turnaround. Regardless, she’ll certainly face her detractors and challenges. Here are three do’s and don’ts for a business leader in Rescue situations:


  • Be realistic and acknowledge the truth of the situation
  • Accept that there may be no right answer: decide quickly and act; reflect and readjust later
  • Provide consistent messages, and continue communicating – even when there is seemingly little to communicate


  • Downplay the urgency of the situation – but also don’t panic (people watch the leader very closely for signals)
  • Try to overhaul everything at once (for example, structure and strategy)
  • Overuse collaborative decision making

Ironically, while many are focused on Mayer, she should not lose sight of the fact that her success is tied to her ability to generate some collective quick wins through others. This could generate an even more interesting headline next year, such as: “How Can We Groom the Next Generation of Leaders to be like Marissa Mayer?”


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Steve Barry

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One Response to “Leadership Transitions: Marissa Mayer to the Rescue”

  1. Andi Roberts says:

    A great simple model that aligns well with my experience. I wonder with so many changes of direction and leadership recently, how Marissa will re-engage and re-energise what I imagine is a pretty demotivated workforce?
    Thanks for sharing, Andi

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