How to Be a Better Leader: Marissa Mayer at Dreamforce 2013

There was more than just technology news and trends to take away at Salesforce's flagship conference. I attended Marissa Mayer and Marc Benioff's fireside chat only to discover that Mayer is a huge design fan – and she's using design to be a better leader.

If fireside chats bring to mind toasty, roaring fires, this one wasn't quite like that. While it was cold and damp, there was no actual fire – just Yahoo's chief executive alongside Salesforce's – covering such hot topics as team building, mobile technology and innovating with a design-first mindset.

As Yahoo's relative newbie chief executive, Marissa Mayer has had a lot to prove. How does someone so young (she's just 38) turn a once-great company around in the midst of others, like her former, that are getting bigger, stronger and ever more competitive? On one hand, she stays committed to a mobile- and design-first vision. On the other, she focuses on the following six ways to be a better leader:

  1. Commitment to employees. As a leader, Mayer spends a significant amount of time traveling to meet with her various teams around the world. Her choice is twofold: from a design perspective, it helps her understand how different users interact with Yahoo's products. But from a team-building perspective, traveling around the world is an incredible way to bond with employees and build integral relationships. As a creative leader, stay committed to your team's success. Don't overlook something as simple as having face-to-face time with them on a regular basis.
  2. Commitment to simplicity. As leaders and creatives, we can often get deep in the weeds of our daily lives. One thing Mayer never forgets is that it's all about the user. Whether you're designing an app for a client, writing ad copy in-house for a corporation or leading a team of designers or writers, the same rule applies. Understand your user. Know your audience. And be simple and straightforward in your approach.
  3. Commitment to vision. At Yahoo, Mayer's vision is to prioritize mobile and design. In fact, according to Benioff, they've become a seminal part of her leadership. As a creative leader, you too, should know your vision and never stray from it. Lead your team by making your vision clear and always orienting them in the right direction to achieve those goals.
  4. Commitment to listening. Leadership isn't talking or telling people what to do or how to do it. Leadership is listening. Listen to what is working. Listen to what is holding employees back and make the necessary changes. Mayer uses a system called PB&J – process, bureaucracy and jams – that empowers employees to simplify the processes that get in the way of doing their jobs, thus creating a more cohesive corporate culture.
  5. Commitment to hiring the best. Benioff said there are two types of leaders when it comes to hiring: those who want to hire people who aren't as good as they are and those who want to hire people who are. Mayer, he said, was in the latter camp. She went on to say that phenomenal leaders are those who surround themselves with the best they can find. She called it fluid leadership – the notion that everyone is equipped to do another's job and anyone could step in and succeed.
  6. Commitment to empowering others. As a leader, Mayer not only hires the most capable talent, but she empowers them as subject matter experts, allowing them to do what they know how to do and what they know is best. Rather than set up a plan of action for your team to implement, allow each one of them to weigh in given their respective expertise. You hired them for their unique skills and knowledge; now let them use it.

Whether you're a CEO, design executive officer, creative director or staff copywriter, there's a lot to learn when it comes to leading by example and allowing others to succeed. Share your thoughts on Marissa Mayer's leadership style and then let us know the qualities of other influential leaders in your life.