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Yahoo’s Chairman Of The Board On Keeping A Level Head

If you’ve been promoted and have a new sense of power, Yahoo chairman of the board Maynard Webb shares what he’s learned over his career.

Yahoo’s Chairman Of The Board On Keeping A Level Head
[Photo: Flickr user Lambert Liu]

There’s a funny paradox that happens as you rise in your career. Whereas at one time no one believed in you very much and you had to be bold and loud just to get anyone to listen to you and break through the resistance, later on, once you’ve “made it” and are in a position of power, everyone listens to you.

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Suddenly, you are expected to know all of the answers. And you are not expected to have any doubts. The problem is that is so unrealistic. No one is perfect and being promoted doesn’t suddenly make you so.

With experience you learn that being the best you can be doesn’t mean doing everything right; it means constantly striving to be better. You also learn that the behavior and aggressive stance that was essential to your success early in your career can derail your success in the second half of your career. Here are four unexpected things I’ve learned:

1. Showing Vulnerabilities Builds Trust

I remember thinking that revealing any vulnerability would be a sign of weakness. I was so worried when I got hearing aids in my 40s, thinking my career was over. How wrong was I about that!

It’s counterintuitive, but I found the more vulnerabilities I shared the more grace I received. As an executive you feel pressure to be perfect, but the more human you are, the more you are genuine and authentic, the more people relate to you and support you.

2. Jump On The Fumble

Every pro fumbles. What matters is that you jump on the fumble. When you do make a mistake, do not cover it up. It’s best to admit it right away. Apologize or explain it, fix it, and move on.

I learned this at eBay when I had to implement a hiring shutdown. It was necessary for the business, and it was effective, but we did it in an inelegant way that left managers feeling disempowered, poorly communicated to, and very bitter. We realized our mistake and apologized at a meeting. We received a nice round of applause for that, and I learned how to do better by being more inclusive of everyone the next time.

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It’s important to note however, that you cannot make a habit of making mistakes. Making large mistakes or routine errors erodes trust, and no one can survive that.

3. Your Critics Are Your Greatest Mentors

Sure, it sounds great to have everyone rally around you and think you are fabulous–until you recall the tale of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

When you strip away the good feelings that come with people saying nice things about your every move, you realize you don’t just want “yes” people around you. These people who support you and never question you will not help you get any better.

Instead of only having people who are drinking your happy juice, you need to have someone around you who is honest and critical. That is what will help you stay true to what you are good at and also help you get better at what you haven’t yet mastered.

It’s hard to do this so put policies in place that help. At my investment network, WIN, I am the final decision maker on every investment, but that doesn’t mean that people always have to agree with me. Everybody individually explores every deal and comes up with their own decision, and then we review everything together. And their opinion counts: We have a “silver bullet” clause where once a year they have the authority to veto me and invest in a company I don’t want to.

4. Stay Humble And Don’t Read Your Own Press Clippings

You cannot drink your own Kool-Aid!

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You will have to be tougher on yourself as you advance in your career. Of course you have to believe in yourself and be proud of what you’ve accomplished, but only feel that for two seconds. Don’t let that belief inflate your ego ahead of your capabilities.

Instead of getting too cocky, we have to all remember where we came from and recognize that no one gets where they are without a fair number of breaks. Pay attention to that, thank the people who helped you, and pay that forward by helping others the way people have helped you.

Maynard Webb is the founder of the Webb Investment Network, a seed investment firm dedicated to nurturing entrepreneurs, and cofounder of Everwise, a company that builds software and runs online programs for career advancement, leadership, development, and mentoring. Webb is currently the chairman of Yahoo and a board member at both Salesforce.com and Visa. He was previously COO of eBay.

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