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sHeroes: Author Marissa Orr: “When women come together around a common goal, and can work together cooperatively we’re unflappable; But when we’re pitted against each other in these competitive games in the corporate world, and it erodes a lot of our natural inherent power”

…One is trust, I think you can’t have anything of meaning or value if people don’t operate in an environment where they not only trust their leader, but trust that things are fair. Like they’re not gonna be arbitrarily punished, and that there’s a lot of secrecy, and that there’s not a lot of secrecy […]

…One is trust, I think you can’t have anything of meaning or value if people don’t operate in an environment where they not only trust their leader, but trust that things are fair. Like they’re not gonna be arbitrarily punished, and that there’s a lot of secrecy, and that there’s not a lot of secrecy and that things are fairly transparent. So I think trust is number one.

Number two, I do think it’s important to understand the individual strengths of people on your team. People will work harder when they’re given the room to express their unique capabilities. That’s very threatening to a lot of people though, so it’s tough. I would say, show people that you care, really listen to them is number three.

And then number four is engender respect by doing what you say you’re gonna do, and following up and setting an example, and being reliable, and somebody who keeps their word.


As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing, Marissa Orr who spent 15 years working at today’s top tech giants, Google and Facebook. She is the author of “Lean Out” which will be available in June 2019. A self-proclaimed corporate rebel, Marissa has taken her ‘bumps in the road’ and turned them into transformational experiences. With “Lean Out,” she provides a fresh voice for a new generation of thinkers.


Thank you so much for joining us Marissa! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?

While I was at Google, I started writing, I was there for 13 years. In my 11th year I started writing a perspective on female leadership that I hadn’t heard elsewhere in the national conversation. And it grew into this lecture series, it was a side passion project kind of thing. And in 2015 when this was taking off, I got a call from Facebook and decided to leave Google and start a new job there. I left Google in the beginning of 2016 for Facebook.

I had planned to continue working on that lecture series, but the experience there was much different than I expected and I had a really terrible experience being bullied by a very powerful senior female executive. That had never happened to me in a work environment before, and it was one of the most dark and isolating experiences of my life. I started asking myself those questions, when you get to the very bottom, you only ask them when you’re at the very bottom. And the question were just very simple but profound. What do I want? Who am I? What do I wanna spend the next 10 years doing?

That whole experience, it really forced me to come to terms with the fact that I was never truly gonna be happy in the corporate world, I had never actually fit in very well there. I felt like I was forcing myself, a round peg into a square hole. Because I’m very creative, and when you get into the large power dynamics of a corporation, creativity is hard to express. So there was a lot of dissatisfaction around that, and I really knew in my heart that I truly wanted to expand that lecture series into a book and do that full-time.

So despite the experience at Facebook being a negative while I was there, it was actually really a gift, because had I stayed very comfortable and happy at Google. I was very comfortable and secure there, but had I stayed I probably would never have ended up writing this book and following my passion.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

The most interesting part of my professional journey was the realization that I did not want to lead in my company, and recognizing that I didn’t have aspirations toward running, or even climbing the corporate ladder, being an executive. But as far as an interesting story along the journey of writing this book, it was a team building exercise that we did at Google offsite.

Each person was assigned a color, one of four, that represented their personality type, so I was a green. We used to do these all the time at Google, and every time I came up as a green. And that means I have a strong drive to help people and my primary focus is on maintaining harmony. And I joke in the book that that just means I’m a hippie, and to underscore the point, it wasn’t just called green, it was called earth green. So I make the joke in the book that this is, in the corporate world, this is akin to being a sex offender, to be a hippie.

And the opposite personality type of earth green was fiery red. And reds are competitive, and they have a strong drive to be in control, and they focus on results, versus greens who focus on relationships. So after we got into our groups by color I asked our HR person who was leading the exercise what the colors of our executive leadership team was, and it turned out nine out of 10 were red.

And it was a profound insight for me, and gave me a whole new perspective on diversity.

But it’s not surprising. When I give this talk, the premise of the book is a talk, I talk about that story a lot. And I usually say, before I give away, I say nine out of 10 were, and I let the audience answer. And every time, everyone unanimously in unison says red. So it’s not surprising right? It’s like something we all kind of intuitively know.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

It’s funny now, it was not funny then. But I was just starting out, I was chatting with a friend who was a coworker on AOL instant messenger, and that’s how long ago it was, and we were complaining about one of the senior managers on our team. And then I accidentally sent one of those messages to the manager instead of my friend.

I can look back on it now and laugh, but then I was mortified, and I guess I learned to be super careful about who I’m sending messages to, and always double check.

What makes your company stand out? Can you share a story about that?

I would say ironically what stands out about my story is how little it actually stands out. Because women really connect with it, and they can relate to the feelings and experiences I had because they’re so common. We don’t usually share that side of the story. So I think it’s the fact that what I’m talking about is so, people identify with it so much, but they don’t hear it. So I think that’s really what makes it stand out, and it’s very honest.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? And how do you think that will help people?

Well there’s four weeks now until the book is released, so my time now is mostly dedicated to the official launch, and making sure that goes really well, ’cause you only get one chance to release a book or launch a book. But apart from that I recently started working with a friend from Google who’s a comedy writer, and we started fleshing out some ideas for a screenplay, but it’s really secondary to focusing on the book launch for now.

It’s a lot of work but to my friends and family, none of whom have ever been in this industry including me, so I’m learning as I go along, but everyone’s like, “So what are you doing now? You finished the book like five months ago. Or four months ago.” And I’m like, “You guys have no idea how much work it is to launch a book.” So that’s really what I’ve been doing.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

I think the qualities and behaviors that make great leaders are the same for both men and women.

I think they’re human, so I would say it would be the same to both. And there’s so many different aspects to it, but I would refer to the quote, “If you wanna build a ship don’t drum up people to collect wood, and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immediacy.” I have that quote on my desk, which is why I read that so quickly, but I think that does a really good job capturing what it means to be a leader, which is really inspiring and motivating people to want to follow you, and to understand the vision and be excited to help you bring it to life.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

The best way to manage a large team. That’s a great question. I don’t know if I’m in a real position to answer it ’cause I’ve never managed a large team. But I’ve been a part of one, and I think I would give you the same answer really, which is making people really believe in your vision, and giving them an idea of what success looks like. But then trusting them to deliver in their unique way, versus legislating tasks and being too much of a micromanager.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you’re grateful towards, who helped you get to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I would say there’s two people, I’ll just share two quick different stories. One was a manager I had at Google in the latter part of my career. And she really trusted me, and she understood that I’m creative, and that my way of doing things is not always the same, or linear, as other people. But that if she gave me a goal and trusted me, that I would over deliver for her.

And it’s as simple as that seems, I had never had a manager like that until I’d already been at Google 10 or 11 years. Because of her trust, I really was able to work in a way, it really became the best highlight of my career. I did the best work, and I was the happiest, and it allowed me to discover some strengths I have that I didn’t even know, and eventually used to shift gears and go down this other path.

The other person, when I was at Facebook, like I said, it was a very, very dark time. At Google I was really used to having a respected reputation. I had tons of friends there, everyone in my org knew me, and I’m very, as a green, earth green hippie, my relationships are so important to me, and at Facebook it was so the opposite. It was such a dark and isolating experience because I think people felt like I was, it was almost as if they would catch something, like I was contagious.

Because when people understand if there’s a person in power that is targeting somebody, a lot of times everyone understands that person is not somebody that you wanna associate with. It was really isolating, and I didn’t know who I was almost, I didn’t see myself reflected in any of the people around me and I was sinking. And then one person who worked there saw something in me, we had worked together on a, we did some stories for the sales people together, and he had commented on, that I was very good at that. So when he saw that I was sinking, and he was in a totally different office, but he reached out to me and said, “I see you.” This was like the Sixth Sense you know? When he’s like, “I see dead people.”

He’s like “I see you, I see your talent.” And it was kind of, so profoundly impacted by that. Like, “Oh my God you, wait you could see me?” Like you see that I have something here to give? And as simple as that was it was profound and it really, we started to just catch up for an hour a week. And to just have one person that sees you in a time where you feel invisible, is so powerful that I kind of motivated me to get things, get myself together and figure out a plan. So I’m very grateful to him.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I think I’m on the precipice of being able to help a lot of people, and I think that’s the whole reason, I know that’s the whole reason I wrote the book was I feel that I have something to say that I know other people will connect with, and hopefully it will help them. So I took a huge risk leaving everything behind to write this book. I’m a single mom of three kids and I left a really comfortable job, and security and safety into this whole thing, with no guarantee. But it was important enough to do, because I do feel that many women can benefit from hearing my story.

Yeah, well that’s the thing, it’s like hopefully people, when they know they’re not alone in these experiences, it gives you a little bit of strength to move on and pick something that’s better.

What are your five leadership lessons that I learned from, that you learned from your experience and why?

One is trust, I think you can’t have anything of meaning or value if people don’t operate in an environment where they not only trust their leader, but trust that things are fair. Like they’re not gonna be arbitrarily punished, and that there’s a lot of secrecy, and that there’s not a lot of secrecy and that things are fairly transparent. So I think trust is number one.

Number two, I do think it’s important to understand the individual strengths of people on your team. People will work harder when they’re given the room to express their unique capabilities. That’s very threatening to a lot of people though, so it’s tough. I would say, show people that you care, really listen to them is number three.

And then number four is engender respect by doing what you say you’re gonna do, and following up and setting an example, and being reliable, and somebody who keeps their word.

Embrace the ideas in the book. Specifically when women come together around a common goal, and can work together cooperatively we’re unflappable. But that we’re pitted against each other in these competitive games in the corporate world, and it erodes a lot of our natural inherent power.

Can you give us your favorite life lesson quote? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

One that I refer to still a lot, and it’s another ship analogy but a different quote, “Ships don’t sink because of the water around them, they sink because of the water that gets in them.” And to me it’s a good reminder that success can only happen by taking control of your own thoughts and emotions, and not letting outside forces have power over you.

Some of the biggest names in business, VC Funding, Sports and Entertainment read this column, is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Eminem. Eminem.

I have struggled throughout my life with saying what I think, because I’m too concerned with how it comes off, or what people will think. When I listen to his music it touches my soul. It just makes me feel powerful, and I just love him.

How can people learn about your book? Follow you on social media? What’s the best way for people to learn more about you in addition obviously, to this interview?

People can buy the book on pre-order now. It comes out on June 11th, but they can pre-order it now on Amazon. Or if they go to leanoutthebook.com and pre-order it, they’ll receive half the book in the format immediately, in the form of a digital download, and then the second half once June 11th hits.

Follow on Twitter at Marissa__Orr

Medium, it’s @marissag.

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