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.

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The one thing I have learned from Tony Hsieh

Tony Hsieh invested in the idea for Zappos in 2000, and then quickly became the company’s CEO. He didn’t want to make the same mistakes as he had in his first business, so he instituted the lessons he had learned and made sure that the company culture was well founded and understood by every single member of the team. He had no interest in sitting in his office and reaping profits; he wanted to build something important and impacting, a unique destination for customers and employees alike. (more…)

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How to lead like James Dyson

James Dyson is the embodiment of determination and dedication, not only to himself, but to his cause. Most entrepreneurs, without financial backing, wouldn’t risk $40,000 on an idea, let alone $4 million, and they wouldn’t have the patience to try 50 different models of a new product, whereas Dyson tried over 5,000. If you glance at the first 40 years of Dyson’s life, you may judge him as a failure, but if you look at his entire 66 years, you might judge him as one of the most innovative and successful businessmen on the planet. However, the most impressive thing about this visionary British business mogul is not the ingenious nature of his designs, but rather the stubborn drive to realize his dreams, no matter what the cost.

He risked his family, his house, his reputation, and his future in order to make his vision into a reality, and for that, he stands above much of the timid and secure leaders of the modern business world. He embraced failure as a learning tool for so many years that it must have become synonymous with going to work. He was ahead of his time with many of his ideas, and as is often the case with visionary thinkers, he was also going against the grain of popular culture and the market of his chosen industry. He wasn’t looking to fall into the rat race of product design; he wanted to create a completely new sport instead.

The new generation of leadership must be confident enough to spread their creativity in all directions, both forward and behind, so long as they don’t become stuck in the present and remain stagnant and comfortable. Labeling something as “good enough” cannot be in the vocabulary of an entrepreneur, innovator, or corporate leader, because that implies being content with something less than perfection. Today, at the Dyson laboratories, more than 600 engineers disassemble and reassemble the products that they have already “perfected”, trying to constantly update and improve the things which hundreds of others may have already overlooked. These might be the most creative minds of the industry, but they have been taught by a master of diligence and detail that nothing can be overlooked, and that perfection is never to be assumed.

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Role model leadership: leading by example

The evolution of modern leadership is an ongoing process that is sweeping across the business world and changing the way that the most successful companies perform and moderate their practices. Leaders are changing their approach to running their business and altering the way that they are seen both within their companies and to the general public. One of the most important ways that this is being done is reinventing their position as a role model for their employees and other leaders of their industry.

The old style of leadership was more disconnected, with the CEO or upper management behaving as figureheads, providing general oversight and being the ultimate decision maker, but otherwise being relatively distanced from the general populace of the workforce. Today, a leader is in the public eye to a much higher degree, and must inspire their workers with their own behavior. In other words, they must lead by example. The most successful modern leaders are the first to arrive and the last to leave, and their life in the office and outside of it is heavily connected to the vision and goals of the company.

Their employees look up to them as the embodiment of company vision, and as the primary driver behind progress. They motivate and lead from the center, welcoming other contributions, but still maintaining a firm direction towards the ultimate goals of the business. Those leaders are genuinely passionate about their product and company, and are more interested in the effect that it has on society as a whole and the innovative standard that they are setting, rather than on massive profit margins and self-serving ends.

Without this change in focus, businesses will begin to fall behind their competitors, because there is an increasingly small space in the market for apathy or profit-driven progress. Consumers should also look to a leader as an admirable individual that they trust, and who they can see standing in front of the company and communicating its vision, new ideas, and up to date relevance in a way that the common man understands. As technology moves forward and products become more necessary, and subsequently more expensive, consumers want to be confident in their investments and purchases, and much of that comfort and confidence stems from their visceral feelings toward the way the business is run, and the personality of its respective leaders.

Being a role model is only one of the many qualities that current leaders must adopt if they intend to stay at the top of their industry, as well as a quality that young, cool leaders must embody in their early efforts to break into an increasingly competitive global market.

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How to lead like Steve Jobs

One of the most important parts of modern business theory is the necessity for innovation, but there is a slightly different component that is often overlooked, the importance of adaptation. Being dedicated to pushing forward in a variety of directions is a powerful tool of finding new avenues for progress and filling gaps in the consumer market, but being adaptive means taking more precise and surgical approach to product development and company vision. The world is changing, and in response, the business world has had to adapt accordingly. However, the massive wave of innovation and technological leaps often occur so quickly that the market becomes deluged with too many options and promises. A cool, modern leader should have the presence of mind to take their company out of the proverbial rat race and slow things down, following the mantra of quality over quantity.

By focusing on smaller number of products, the short term can look bleak, and most risk assessment teams would advise against slowing down productivity based on a far-fetched dream. The theory of diversification behind umbrella corporations is based primarily on the idea that constant movement is far better than stasis, so spreading assets around to diverse industries will always keep a solid flow of profits coming in. However, for a leader with the confidence and intelligence to lead a dedicated team of innovators on a small number of extremely significant projects that could alter the entire landscape of the modern world, than brief starts and stops in productivity are probably worthwhile.

Take Apple – Steve Jobs, for example, the technology titan that specifically focused their efforts on a small number of products, perfecting and releasing them only when they were far superior to other products on the market. Being a detail-oriented individual is another factor of strong, modern leadership, particularly if you are involved and invested in the creative process. Leaders should not be afraid of getting their hands dirty and being heavily involved in the development, testing, and approval process of their products and services. This may seem “beneath” leaders of the Old Guard of the business world, but this is the sort of personal investment and genuine interest that makes modern leaders so successful, admired, and knowledgeable about the services they offer.

The ancient dichotomy of quantity vs. quality has arguments on both side of the coin, but for a handful of visionary and confident leaders, the choice is clear. By leaping into the future with design concepts that function within the times, a company can change not only the industrial landscape, but also cultural behavior as a whole. That is an important ability, and one that can raise your company to unimaginable heights.

As you can see, being adaptive can be risky, but also hugely rewarding, yet that is only one of a dozen other qualities that define some of today’s most influential and successful business leaders.

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6 Leadership Styles and How to be Successful

Being a good leader often means knowing what to do and when to do it. A good leader is an adaptive leader. Just like in a combat situation, different circumstances require different tactics. At times everyone knows what to do and the team members outperform themselves. That sort of situation will require a different leadership response than one in which you are dealing with a challenging project, where your team members are confused about what to do next. So, a successful leader needs to know when to give recognition, when to ‘boss people around’, when to direct efforts, or when to step out of the way and observe. That is why great leaders are comfortable changing their leadership style depending on what the goals and what the needs of the team are at that specific moment in time.

David Goldman presented the six leadership styles he found among managers, and how they can affect the future of the organization. When and if you choose to adapt these strategies is your call alone.

The authoritative leader focuses on the end goals. He doesn’t care about how everyone does it, as long as they follow his vision. It’s a style suited for situations where the team has the know-how, but needs a new outlook on things. It’s not suited for teams where the leader has less experience than the other members of the team. It bolsters initiative and enthusiasm.

The pacesetting leader focuses on speed. He expects everyone to know what to do, and he wants things done quickly. It’s great if the team is motivated and has the skill expected, but in the long run it can deter innovation and demotivate the team.

The coaching leader focuses on the people. He wants to make sure everyone reaches their full potential. It’s perfect for assessing your team or for low-paced projects. It can lead to negative reactions if the team doesn’t like change, so be careful.

The affiliative leader focuses on group structure. He focuses on getting people together and giving them a sense of belonging. It’s useful for stressful projects, or with new teams. On its own, it can lead to people feeling that low performance is tolerated, so it needs to be combined with another leadership style.

The coercive leader focuses on hierarchy. The leader expects everyone to do as he tells them to. It’s a style suited for a crisis, or for controlling a conflict or a conflict-causing team member if an amiable solution cannot be found. Used carelessly it can cause distrust, a hostile work environment, and discourage innovation.

The democratic leader focuses on empowerment. The leader will ask for the opinion of teammates, a very useful method for those situations where the leader lacks experience in a matter, or he wants the team to take responsibility and feel responsible for an idea or goal. It should be avoided in a crisis situation when it would just cost you irreplaceable time.

 

If you want to know why your leadership style is important, read our article – “Why your leadership style matters

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Leadership lesson from Bill Gates: Lead by example

Bill Gates is the ultimate role model, capable of inspiring millions of people through the power of his ideas and his personal dedication to his product and vision. But more than that, Gates is not a “one trick pony”, making his billions and stamping his name on the history books, only to disappear into the luxurious life of the global elite. He has pushed past his first revolutionary vision, leaving it in capable hands, and has sought to change the world in another, even more important way.

Being a leader in today’s modern world of business goes far beyond standing at the head of a company and making speeches about product launches and strategy. To inspire a workforce of thousands (Microsoft currently has over 97,800), a leader must show more than tell. Sending out memos from the highest offices of a company may eventually trickle down to affect change and inspire workers to innovate and invest creatively in the business, but seeing the most powerful man in the company (or the world) actively participating in the same effort is far more important. Bill Gates once famously confessed, “I never took a day off in my twenties. Not one.” Although in the decades since, he admits that some of his fanaticism has shrunk, it is that sort of overwhelming dedication and work ethic that modern leaders need to display in order to inspire and lead an entire company of unique and creative individuals.

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5 tips for leadership development

You’ve no doubt heard the old adage that absolute power corrupts absolutely. While this can be an instructive warning, your success as a business leader is not doomed to collapse in on itself, and you don’t have to turn into a malevolent dictator as your company grows. Effective and sustainable leadership is a very tricky thing to get right, but it can certainly be achieved with a little vigilance. (more…)

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How to lead like Mark Zuckerberg

Changing the world is often the lofty goal of business leaders, yet in the past, it was the exception rather than the rule. Fortunately for the world, and for those living in this modern generation, that sad fact of stagnant business procedures and snail’s-pace change is being eliminated. Innovation and progress are the cornerstones of cool leadership and the new age of business theory. As a leader of today, innovation should be a major goal in the complex structure of your company vision. Even in the past decade, the world has watched as companies have experienced meteoric rises on the back of great ideas, while others have plummeted to bankruptcy and obsolescence because they simply can’t keep up with the rate of change.

A strong leader that wants to keep his company relevant and in the public eye of consumers needs to push the envelope and think outside the box as a rule, not the exception. That complete shift from the old way of thinking may be frightening, and the inherent risks are enough to dissuade plenty of leaders from going down that ambitious path, but if you take a hard look at those leaders who are legitimately changing the world, they are doing it through constant progress and a tireless effort to think in new ways. A simple example is the proliferation of social media platforms, and how many of the early websites and programs are now barely a memory because they established their style and stuck to it, unwilling or unable to keep up with the changing demands that seem to shift every month or quarter in the market. Facebook with Mark Zuckerberg, however, manages to stay relevant and successful because it is a company that operates in flux, trying new things, analyzing their success and readjusting, only to begin the process all over again.

That exhausting, but worthwhile, dedication to change and progress is what will keep your business moving forward, and help it keep pace with the other companies that are doing the same thing. A common phrase in the past was to call an idea “ahead of its time”, but that span of time may have been years, or even decades. In today’s transient and fickle global marketplace, being “ahead of its time” may mean an idea gained a few months on the competition, so there is barely time for celebration before something new must be developed and launched. It is a fast-paced world, but the key is to inspire your workers with your own ideas, capitalize on your innovative employees, and construct a culture of advancement that seeps into every corner of your business. There is no time for standing around and congratulating one another on staying in business for another year; the only direction to move is forward, the only time to relax is once perfection has been reached. That being said, the smartest leaders know that perfection can’t be reached, only reached for.

Being innovative is integral to success, but there are many other qualities that modern leaders must possess and employ in order to find and maintain excellence in their industry.

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