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Driving the little search engine that could

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

Marissa Mayer used baby-sitting money she earned to buy her first computer. Later, she helped build a web site called Google.

These days, the vice president of search products for the world’s largest search engine has a few observations about leadership:
  • Take the spark of an idea and make it real. In 2001, one of her researchers wrote a program to help him read the news after Sept. 11. The program collected news from his favorite 15 sites and organized it using artificial intelligence. After a few weeks, he offered it to his colleagues. Mayer was excited. That little program became Google News.

  • Open your door, open the agenda. “One important thing about leadership is approachability,” she says, “people feeling they can come and talk to you about an issue.”

  • Maintain approachability with consistency. “People want to know that when they send you an e-mail, they’ll get an answer back in a day,” she says. “When they call your cell phone, they want to know that you pick up or call right back. … I actually publish a set of guidelines for my team so they understand what to expect from me.”

  • Wrestle with conflicting ideas. “I want people to come and challenge me, tell me that I’m wrong and show me the data or tell me why,” she says.

  • Know your stuff. Mayer likes managing managers because she’s been there and understands their challenges. “When I ask them to do something,” she says, “I know roughly how hard it is. And I think that being able to relate to people on that kind of level helps you be a better leader.” She adds, “I’m still learning.”
—Adapted from “Leading the Way,” Barbara Kantrowitz, et al., Newsweek.

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