Bartz Ego: the Start of the End?

Last Updated Oct 24, 2009 12:00 PM EDT

Yahoo Bartz egoPower is intoxicating. But when you take it and yourself too seriously, you set the stage for a big fall. The departure of Carl Icahn from Yahoo's board says as much about CEO Carol Bartz as it does about the investor. What it's saying isn't good.

Being a high tech CEO is at least as difficult as being one in any other industry, and in some ways may be worse. The boom-bust cycle that tints perceptions of how the business actually works can put a premium on the role of the hero-savior. But that mantle can be as deadly as the poisoned cloak that Hercules donned, because the ones in charge can come to think of themselves as the only reason things can happen in a company.

Clearly a healthy ego is as necessary for a CEO as for a doctor. In each case you're making decisions that affect the lives of others, and you must have enough faith in yourself to do what you think must be done, taking the rewards and consequences after. But the smart CEO also recognizes that much of what can happen for the good is due to other people, and that being able to work with others, and not just order them, is necessary for a healthy corporate culture.

Unfortunately, Bartz has already begun to show disturbing signs of rampaging ego: As Kara Swisher posited at All Things Digital, it may be that Icahn's departure was due to Swisher not paying attention to him and actually being dismissive:
In fact, Bartz often has gone out of her way to take little gibes at Icahn since she got the top job in January, whether it's to say he called her too much or that he could try to fire her if he did not like the job she was doing.For example, she just dissed him publicly in a piece in Forbes, tossing off a saucy insult:

"Icahn is just another shareholder. What's he going to do, fire me?"
Hmm, how to put this ... oh, right.

Yes.

If things don't turn around, no matter how much Bartz tries to put the bright bow on the package, then that's exactly what will happen. More accurately, Icahn, who owns one large block of stock, will work with others who want to see improvement. Think that Jerry Yang went out the door with no assistance from "just another shareholder" or two?

The CEO who forgets that she is ultimately beholding to the shareholders is the CEO like Carly Fiorina who eventually finds herself having to spin a favorable tale of what happened. But by then, no one is listening.

Image via stock.xchng user raichinger, site standard license.
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.

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