“Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.”
I decided that when I got my second shot at working at Microsoft I was going to treat that opportunity very differently. I had a little bit of experience in the real world now. Even I could now see how PC’s were going to completely transform the workplace. I was not visionary enough to fully understand how much PC’s were going to change the home, but it was pretty obvious that PC’s were going to be important in many homes very soon. Of course, Bill Gates had the powerful vision of a PC on every desktop in every home, but that seemed like a distant pipe dream back in 1994. But when Bill spoke, people listened, and he had a way of making the un-seeable seeable. For all that has been said and written about Bill Gates, to me at least, he exemplified a bold and strong leadership combined with an amazing vision unlike I had ever seen.
Gates in my very limited interactions with him, was the real deal, just an absolutely incredible person. Bill’s vision, intelligence, drive, his massive depth and breadth of so many different areas was just unbelievable to witness. I was amazed and impressed whenever I was fortunate enough to have a meeting with him or hear him speak. It was just an incredible privilege to be around him. Whatever you think about Microsoft, its products, its business practices, you can never take away the incredible person that is Bill Gates, and the lasting impact he has had and will continue to have on our planet. He has made a big dent in the universe.
So much has been written about Bill Gates that it is hard to come up with anything particularly novel or new to say about the man. One of the things I always appreciated about Bill was his unique ability to take extremely complex and technically difficult problems and simplify them so that anybody could understand them.
A meeting with Bill was something that could take weeks to prepare for. Most of the meetings with Bill were to seek strategic direction, either for a product specifically, or for some kind of directional or strategic advice on the business. Bill was always amazingly deep on both topics, so much so that you would fear he might ask a question that you had not thought of, and he often would! When particularly difficult decisions needed to be made, Bill had an incredibly elegant way of weaving his deep technical product knowledge with his insanely good business acumen to come up with what would often be an obvious solution, where he would plainly explain the answer.
It was amazing to watch Bill lord over meetings with his superior intellect combined with his reputation as the great founder of Microsoft; with his jabbing quick smarts, and his sometimes wicked tongue, he was the only person I have ever seen who could command the respect of Microsoft’s biggest egos and bring them quickly inline. His leadership was simply unmatched.
Learning Lesson #3 – Only work at a company where you truly admire the leadership. When you truly admire the leadership of the company you work at, the hard times and the difficult things you encounter each day are much easier to deal with. There were plenty of hard times, bad days, and screwed up things happening at Microsoft during the 20+ years I was there. When you are lucky enough to have great leadership at the top, you end up trusting that good decisions will ultimately be made about the big things that really matter. This makes it infinitely easier to deal with all the little stupid things that happen in big organizations all day long. After Bill left the company, it was clear that Steve Ballmer didn’t have anywhere near the intellect, vision or leadership qualities that Bill did. You could never be sure if Steve would make a good decision on the big things that really mattered, he was more random, insecure and for my taste and a more difficult personality to deal with. The longer Steve was in power, the more you could see the company lose its way on so many things. When a company feels lost at the top, the stupid things that happen every day at all companies seem to feel much worse. You can put up with a TON of bullshit if you feel like you are heading in a great direction overall.