Leadership is a process by which a person influences others to accomplish an objective and directs the organization in a way that makes it more cohesive and coherent.
To be successful, to realize business objectives, leaders carry out this process continuously and consistently by applying their knowledge, skills and appropriate leadership styles to be in line with the organizational maturity level and industry dynamics.
Bill Gates can be described in many ways – billionaire philanthropist, computer tycoon, astute predictor of future technology so on and so forth. He is more than just the world richest man; an influential leader transformed the whole world.
Early on his life, Bill Gates inherited the ambition, intelligence, and competitive spirit that had helped him to rise to the top. Under his leadership, Microsoft revolutionized IT industry and became one of the most important trendsetters in the modern world. In this analysis we will be discussing an important façade of his leadership styleduring initial stages of Microsoft – “Transactional Leadership”.
From creating Microsoft in 1975 until 2006, Gates had primary responsibility for the company’s product strategy. He aggressively broadened the company’s range of products, and wherever Microsoft achieved a dominant position he vigorously defended it. Bill was intensely focused and glued onto his target from his younger days –so much so - during early days at Microsoft, when he programmed-he’d sit with a marker clenched in his mouth, tapping his feet and rocking, impervious to distraction. It was an indication to see how Gates would someday maintain a razor-like focus on making Microsoft successful over decades.
Powerful and strict
Bill Gates often presents himself as a powerful and strict leader to rivals and his subordinates. He has successfully transformed Microsoft into a stable monopoly. To maintain the company’s status, Gates had to focus on creating barriers to new entrants. Besides, he had to strictly control the organization’s production process so that the products can be well accepted by consumers.
Both these situations require a leader’s toughness and task orientation on management. Bill Gates’ style will work better if the company is a monopolist, as rigid control and toughness on partners and subordinates can create difficulties to the survival of new entrants.
At the initial stages of Microsoft, focus was very much on accomplishment than comfort, well-being and continuity of the staff. For example - when Bill realized that Paul Allen’s (Microsoft Cofounder) contribution towards a startup company (Microsoft) was not adequate (due to poor health of Allen) Bill was ruthless in sidelining Allen from the company.
Some argued that Microsoft was not a creative and innovative company. They wereof the view that Bill Gates reformed existing products to satisfy markets needs instead of inventing something new. Microsoft was not just the market leader, but also the standards provider for the industry, some critics claimed that winning was so important to Gates that he would go to any extent to beat his competitor. With his aggressive business acumen, Gates has been in and out of courtrooms to deal with legal problems almost since Microsoft began. Many of the large technology companies have been legally against the actions of Microsoft, including -Opera, APPLE, NETSCAPE, Etc.
Bill Gates is not known for engaging or adaptive communication. Rather, he is well known to be rude, abrasive, and sometimes dismissive of others’ ideas. He once stated his hiring practice as, “I don’t hire bozos,” who will tell me how to run my business, and demonstrated foresight in his hiring by actively selecting dedicated, hard-working individuals at the initial development stages of Microsoft. His task oriented behavior is evident on displayed strong personality attributes such as:
Bill Gates has demonstrated over nearly thirty years the importance of clarity of thought and execution unlike many of his contemporaries. Allen recalls meeting Gates in the late 1960s. He was a “freckle-faced eighth grader” at an old Teletype computer.
He was “really smart,” “really competitive,” and “really, really persistent.” says Allan. While his lack of interest in personal habits and social convention is legendary, the story of Gates’s first dinner with Allen and his girlfriend is priceless:”Did you see that?” she said after he’d left. “He ate his chicken with a spoon. I have never in my life seen anyone eat chicken with a spoon.” When Bill was thinking hard about something, he paid no heed to social convention.
Young Gates read Fortune magazine religiously, and once asked Allen, “What do you think it’s like to run a Fortune 500 company?” Already a budding entrepreneur at 13, Gates said maybe they’d have their own company together someday. “A computer on every desk and Microsoft software on every computer” – this was Bill’s vison for Microsoft. His philosophy was, if anything is worth doing, it is worth doing well. From a simple thank you note to a complex proposal, it is critical to place the stamp of excellence on whatever one undertakes.
Microsoft was a high-stress environment because Bill drove others as hard as he drove himself. He was growing into the taskmaster who would prowl the parking lot on weekends to see who’d made it in. People were already busting their tails, and it got under their skin when Bill hectored them into doing more.
Bill liked to hash things out in intense, one-on-one discussions; he thrived on conflict and wasn’t shy about instigating it. Being a task-oriented leader he helped the team understand their goal by providing a series of steps that structure their initial meetings. He said “I believe that if you show people the problems and if you show them the solutions they will be moved to act”.
At an interview, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak said Steve Jobs had “a very futuristic forward vision, almost a bit of the science fiction, ‘Here’s what life could be,’ but Bill Gates had more of an execution ability to build the things that are needed now, to build a company now, make the profits now, in the short-term.
“You really need the vision like Steve Jobs had, but the vision doesn’t go anywhere if you try to jump in and build products before they are cost effective for what they do, return on investment is there, that’s where Bill Gates was brilliant” he said.
Throughout the growth stages of Microsoft, Bill’s dominance on transactional leadership style contributed towards phenomenal growth of the organization endorsing there is a time and place for transactional leadership style to be successful.
(This is the 15th article of the leadership series. The writer B.Sc. Eng. (Hons.); M.B.A.; C.Eng.; F.I.E. (SL); M.C.S. (SL); M.I.D.P.M. (UK); F.I.A.P. (UK); M.B.C.S. (UK) Management, HR, OD & ICT Consultant, Corporate Trainer, Executive Coach Consultant – HRD- Goodhope Asia Holdings Ltd. E Mail :firstname.lastname@example.org, Skype : gamini7147 )