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Yahoo's Carol Bartz Just Doesn't Know When to Shut Up [Update]

Last Updated Sep 19, 2010 8:45 PM EDT

Some CEOs should leave their positions because they are so entirely inept. Others cause unnecessary spectacles. But Yahoo (YHOO) CEO Carol Bartz has created a new category: the leader who should leave for keeping a clown-sized foot in her mouth.

In an interview with Reuters, Bartz made one foolish statement after another, and then did the same thing talking to the Wall Street Journal -- whether it was writing off Apple's (AAPL) iAd service, not knowing when to shut up regarding Yahoo's Asian business partners, or seeming to think that she could be the next Steve Jobs. Bartz clearly missed learning the 5 things executives should never say in public.

It's not as though this is the first time Bartz has been controversial, questionable, or even clueless, in public:
But all these seem tame to her latest flurry. As Kara Swisher noted, it would have been difficult for Yahoo to do more to injure its position in Asia and antagonize important partners in the region than Bartz. She even announced that she'd "probably" join the board of Yahoo investment Alibaba, although Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang is already on that board and she apparently didn't talk to the company first. She has decided that the iAd advertising service will fall apart for Apple -- the day before comparing herself to a Steve Jobs who hasn't had enough time to turn a company around. Psst, Carol -- it's getting on to two years now. How long do you think it's supposed to take?

Bartz's pronouncements, observations, and repartee would be blazingly foolish if she kept them in private. But in open forums they raise new questions about how a chief executive can know so little about corporation positioning, the media, public relations, competitive monitoring and analysis, or even honorable conduct.

There are a number of things that any executive, CEO level or not, should know never to say in public based on experience, savvy, and common sense. Clearly we can't count on everyone having seen the list, so here it is:
  1. If you're in the middle of negotiations with another company, don't mention the details. You run a chance of spoiling the outcome.
  2. Don't dismiss a competitor who is bigger and badder than you.
  3. While they own shares, investors are family and you don't bad mouth even the black sheep in front of others.
  4. Don't talk about what you're going to do. Just do it. Talk about what you've done.
  5. Don't swear at the press. It makes you look petulant and childish.
[Update: An additional item drives up the irony factor by at least an order of magnitude. According to a new piece by Swisher, Yahoo actually uses iAd with an advertisement running on the Pandora music app. I wonder if the company has ever considered a roll of duct tape for the CEO? But Friday also brought the news that Yahoo had decided to stop flapping its collective gums about Alibaba. Maybe someone already headed to the hardware store.]

Related: Clown image: user BlueGum, site standard license.
  • Erik Sherman On Twitter» On Facebook»

    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.