Leadership

3 reasons why most CEOs are boring, according to former Yahoo chief executive Carol Bartz

Carol Bartz, then Autodesk CEO, sits with Silicon Valley author and journalist Michael Malone on September 13, 2005.
Kim Kulish | Getty Images
Carol Bartz, then Autodesk CEO, sits with Silicon Valley author and journalist Michael Malone on September 13, 2005.

While top U.S. CEOs share traits such as being reliable and decisive, according to a recent study, former Yahoo and Autodesk CEO Carol Bartz argues that chief executives can also be really boring.

"I'll say three things. They either have that as a basic personality. Two, they've been advised to be as benign as possible. Or three, they are scared," Bartz told Freakonomics podcast host Stephen Dubner on an episode that aired this week.

Though Bartz was previously one of only a few female CEOs in tech, she was notably booted from Yahoo in 2011. After nearly three years of trying to turn the company around, Bartz was controversially fired over the phone by Yahoo's chairman.

When Dubner noted how CEOs tend to come off "as uninteresting and unrevealing, almost as inhuman as possible" when they speak in public, Bartz said the executives might not be entirely at fault.

"I think they have bad advisers," Bartz said about CEOs, although she later added she doesn't "buy any of that."

"People want to know where you stand, where your company stands, what you stand for, where you're going," she said.

Consequently, she says there's plenty of room for CEOs to be themselves in the office, something she advocated for during her time at Yahoo.

"One of the things that I did in the early conference calls at Yahoo," Bartz said, was "stand up for the people, because they were so beaten down from this botched Microsoft deal that all the analysts wanted to ask me about is why we didn't do Microsoft."

Bartz referred to her efforts to get analysts to stop asking about Microsoft's years-long attempt to buy Yahoo and afford her employees a "chance to breathe."

The best leaders, according to former Google exec Kim Scott, aren't scared to be themselves or to be honest. They motivate people using "radical candor," she says; they genuinely care about their employees, and they also tell them the truth.

"It's not enough to care only about people's ability to perform a job," Scott wrote in her book "Radical Candor."

Having a CEO who is honest develops trust and can boost team morale, which has in turn been shown to boost productivity and results, Scott noted.

"It's about giving a damn," she added, "sharing more than just your work self and encouraging everyone who reports to you to do the same."

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