Functional Expert to Visionary Leader

by | Oct 22, 2013 | Insights

There’s been a lot said about how Marissa Mayer is doing as Yahoo’s CEO. Whether you think she was the right or wrong person for the job, we can all learn something about managing the transition from functional expert to visionary leader.

Get Ahead as a Functional Expert
Functional leaders are often promoted into bigger and bigger roles, without preparation for the adjustments they need to make to truly lead. This may the case for Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, the self-proclaimed “geek” who some criticize for micromanaging, even while she has engineered many strategic acquisitions.

Bridge the Gap from Technician to Leader
Essential to bridging the gap from technician to leader is building and sharing a vision that stirs employees’ passion and creativity.

  • Tell the Story: The first step is to articulate a story that inspires employees and that aligns talent within the organization.  The story explains where we’re going, why and how, and importantly – what employees can do to help achieve the vision.
  • Provide Tools: Next, the leader must provide managers and supervisors with tools so they can engage their employees in conversations about the vision and their role in achieving it.
  • The Benefit: Benefits include creating an environment where innovation and creativity can flourish because employees share the vision of the end-game and understand the parameters. This also strengthens retention.

Leadership is about building a vision, informing employees and simplifying so people know what to do

The actions Marissa Mayer has taken appear to be focused on executing functional changes rather than sharing a bigger, more inspirational story that creates space for employees to stretch and innovate. It’s the difference between saying “Apple is committed to bringing the best personal computing experience to students, educators, creative professionals and consumers around the world ” and Mayer saying “We’re acquiring Tumblr and we’re spinning off Alibaba.”

Until now, Mayer has been approaching the organization as an engineer, adding this and removing that. But she has yet to express to employees what all this means; how will Yahoo! be different from Google or Bing? She can begin to cast her role as a visionary leader with purpose by sharing the big picture and – simply – explaining how the changes she’s making support this purpose.

For more information on storytelling or employee engagement, download these white papers from our web site.


Tracy Benson

Tracy Benson, Founder and CEO, On the Same Page, LLC, provides executive coaching to senior leaders and their teams in Fortune 500 companies across industries, including: healthcare, pharma, energy, technology, consumer goods, manufacturing, hospitality, defense and financial.

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