5 things I have learned from Steve Ballmer

Following in the footsteps of giants, you’re made their king. Though you’re small and unsure, you’ve watched them long enough to know what they need. The giants trust you and accept your decisions. You know you’ll never match the success of the previous king, and few will love you the way they loved him, but you do your best. Within a few years, the giant kingdom has grown in geography, population, and wealth. You make mistakes and money is lost, but under your kingship, the giants continue to improve. They still talk about your predecessor constantly, but more and more come to respect you and acknowledge all you’ve done for them.

Following Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer was the Microsoft CEO from 2000 through 2013, and at the end of his tenure, he left behind advice for those stepping into this kind of life. Microsoft tripled revenue and doubled profits under his leadership, and though he made some mistakes he was proud of the work he did. Steve Ballmer isn’t Bill Gates and he certainly isn’t Steve Jobs, but he was very successful in a role that most people would flounder under. It may sound easy to take the reigns of an international tech giant like Microsoft and keep it successful, but he did more than sustain it. He caused it to grow and develop. Here are a few of the best pieces of advice he left behind.

1. See the big picture.

Being CEO means always looking at the wider spectrum. Your employees need to understand what they’re doing and why they’re doing it, but they only need to see the space they exist in. A CEO needs to see all the spaces, even the ones beyond the playing field. If you can’t see the different paths and spaces, then you can’t make the right decisions. If you become too focused on one aspect, you’ll find your entire company stuck on that element. Running a business is about seeing the entire competitive space and understanding how to use it.

2. Talent is only one part of success.

When we think of men like Steve Jobs, we must accept that we’ll never be like him. He was a creative genius, and there’s not taking that away from him. But it’s not the only way to succeed. If you’re in charge of a company, you need to have more than talent, and you need more than talent from your employees. You need to understand how people work and how they’re going to work together. Use people’s talents to complement one another and use your own talents to complement them.

3. Constantly re-evaluate.

Industries change. What works today may not work tomorrow. What works this decade may not work next decade. You need to constantly be re-assessing how your company and industry work. Don’t settle for one good idea and hope it carries you forever. Be on the lookout for the next era, because it’ll either surprise you or come from you.

4. Invest in the short and long term.

Companies have cycles, and they have a short cycle and long one. Understand the difference between the long term and short term with help you understand how to create success. Your products may be the short term, and their short term success can translate into long term success, but you need to look past that one product or service and look at where your company is heading in the long term. If this short term fails, can you sustain yourself into the long term? Seeing both business cycles and understanding their rhythms will ensure success.

5. Know yourself.

Understand who you are as a person, and know what your limitations are. Don’t just accept your limitations, though. Use them to your advantage. More than that, know yourself well enough to know that you need help at times.

Steve Ballmer is one of the most important CEOs of the last fifteen years and his lessons are well worth examining and studying. Sometimes advice is free, and when you can get it from a real expert, it’s worth your time to pay attention.

Can Akdeniz

Can Akdeniz is the author of seven books and founder of Business Hacker, a popular business blog. His books such as Go Nuts, Cool Boss, Happy Company and MBA 2.0 have changed how people think about business, productivity and work.