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Lessons from Yahoo’s Demise

Credit: Paul Sakuma via APWhile the country focuses on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, Wall Street finds itself immersed in third quarter earnings reports. Amidst the usual news of companies both missing and exceeding analysts' expectations, a rather remarkable acquisition was announced this week when Verizon agreed to buy Yahoo. One of the most iconic brands of the 90s dot com era, Yahoo had struggled for years to find its footing in the ever-changing world of Silicon Valley. This is the brief story of their demise and what leadership lessons we can learn from it.

Jim Collins book How the Mighty Fall chronicles companies that fail, offering a paradigm for the "Five Stages of Decline": 1) Hubris Born of Success; 2) Undisciplined Pursuit of More; 3) Denial of Risk and Peril; 4) Grasping for Salvation; and 5) Capitulation to Irrelevance. Yahoo's troubles can be traced through Collin's framework.

At the height of its prominence, Yahoo was valued at $125 billion. That was back in 2000, right before the dot com bubble burst in 2001. It was popular for its email service and its search capabilities, functioning as an "all in one" internet portal with its diverse offerings all accessible through its home site. Over the next several years, though, the internet changed in two monumental ways: first, through the growth and refinement of "search", and second, through the rise of social media. Google and Facebook emerged as the two leading powerhouses representing those phenomena, but it's easy to forget that Yahoo had an opportunity to buy both companies for around $1 billion each in the early 2000s.

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Leadership for Dark Days

Credit: LM Otero via APRonald Heifetz's best-known book on leadership is titled Leadership without Easy Answers. He wrote it in 1994, but twenty-two years later its title couldn't be a more accurate description of the problems confronting our society. We are facing massive leadership challenges that have no simple answer, no quick fix. We have a "fractured republic," as Yuval Levin describes in his new book.

Heifetz argues that leaders need to confront the adaptive challenge of dealing with problems head-on, and one of the first priorities is to accurately understand what the problems are. Here are just a smattering of some of our greatest leadership challenges: racism, poverty, terrorism, purposelessness. Each one of these is full of complex causes and effects, and to address each, along with the host of others I didn't mention, requires leadership that, frankly, many of us do not see in our present leaders.

We could consider some of the skills that leaders need to have in order to tackle these problems, but I'd rather discuss a component of leadership that does not receive enough attention. If it is discussed, it usually gets relegated to religious concerns or gets co-opted by political hucksters. I'm talking about hope.

My favorite passage in Isaiah is from chapter 43: "Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert." (43:18–19) It is the Old Testament version of what is echoed in Hebrews 10:23: "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful."

How do you lead with hope in dark days?

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Chief Brown's Outstanding Leadership

Credit: Eric Gay via APThe nation has become acquainted with Dallas Police Chief David Brown in recent days. He has appeared numerous times to speak to the public, making himself highly visible both during and after the attacks. Facing a situation in which no leader ever wants to find himself, Chief Brown has led with grace and courage. His words have galvanized a beleaguered police force and inspired a community to come together. His leadership is no accident but is built from years of struggle and personal development.

A New York Times profile, describing Chief Brown as "Calm at Center of Crisis," recounted how he dealt with the personal tragedy of his own son, who shot and killed a police officer before being killed himself in the confrontation. More recently, he has faced opposition to his leadership from within his own department. In September 2015, Chief Brown fired an officer who was videotaped using aggressive force in a skirmish with a panhandler, but the Dallas Police Association and others sided with the officer and criticized Brown's action. He narrowly survived that episode along with others that threatened his standing as police chief.

The adversity he has faced has shaped him, and the leadership we are seeing on a national stage now is directly related to how he has chosen to face that kind of adversity. Instead of becoming jaded and self-protective, Chief Brown has allowed the challenges of his past to make him more humble and compassionate, two characteristics that often are not present in leaders thrust in the limelight during a tragedy.

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Malcolm Gladwell's new podcast

Credit: Dennis Van Tine/Geisler-Fotopres via APMalcolm Gladwell has a new podcast, and you should listen to it. Titled "Revisionist History," the medium length (under an hour) episodes focus on people and events that have been overlooked or misunderstood. The show's tagline, "because sometimes the past deserves a second chance," accurately summarizes how Gladwell wants to bring his literary dexterity to the world of podcasting.

He is, of course, the bestselling author of The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, and, most recently, David and Goliath, and that's how most fans know him. His New Yorker columns, however, are what bring him the most joy, as he recently revealed in an interview on the Freakonomics podcast, and are similar in form to what he is trying to achieve with "Revisionist History."

Gladwell is a perfect example of what Howard Gardner terms an "indirect leader." He isn't a CEO or leader of an organization. He doesn't have a title that gives him authority over a particular group of people. He peddles, rather, in the art of influencing others through ideas. The best way to summarize how he embodies indirect leadership is that he makes ideas come alive.

If you've read any of his published works, you know that he has a unique flair for causing "a ha" moments, making connections between big ideas seem serendipitous. His writing process, though, is anything but simplistic. Behind every "a ha" moment is a process that leaders everywhere can learn from as they seek to make their own ideas come alive.

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Stephen Hawking and what's wrong with humanity

Credit: Van Tine Dennis via APPhysicist Stephen Hawking is one of the more widely respected voices in the scientific community. While his work is not without its detractors, few argue the fact that he is both intelligent and insightful on a number of issues. In a recent interview with Larry King, Hawking attempted to apply that intelligence and insight to what he sees as the chief problems facing humanity. He rather bluntly stated that those problems are greed and stupidity, which manifest in a continually growing population and our inability to halt climate change.

While many are likely to hear Hawking's assertions and tell him to stick to space, others will listen and take those beliefs seriously. Because that latter group so respects his genius in theoretical physics, they are more willing to give credence to his thoughts on other subjects as well. That willingness to extend credibility beyond the field in which it was earned can teach us an important lesson about what is required to effectively share our faith with the unbelieving world around us.

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