Would You Want Bill Gates as Your Boss?
Rhetoric skills and the ability to adapt language to different groups is key to communicating vision and engaging with followers
In the early days of the Microsoft Corporation, Bill Gates has demonstrated the traits of a charismatic leader (Guo, Ruane, Galli-Debicella, Nguyen, & Manz, 2008). Before his innovative new software company had a single employee, Gates showed the drive and vision that foreshadowed his future leadership. “Gates himself is dismissive of the visionary role” (Dearlove, 1999, p. 111) he plays as a leader, but his business success proves ability to see trends and adapt to them as well as be a trendsetter. This vision was apparent from the onset, when Gates dropped out of Harvard to pursue programming (Hughes, et al., 2009), and continued over his many years as CEO of Microsoft such as in product development and organizational structure. His vision seems almost instinctive, and his followers have come to know and respect it (Dearlove, 1999).
Vision is a characteristic shared by charismatic leadership and transformational leadership, as in Bass’s Theory of Transformational and Transactional leadership (Hughes, et al., 2009), and not the only such trait Bill gates demonstrates as a leader. As the company grew, Gates maintained his charismatic features but shifted into a more transformational approach (Guo, et al., 2008). He clearly demonstrated attention to a fundamental value system within his organization. His leadership expected and recognized hard work and intellectualism as key values (Dearlove, 1999), and he also regarded reflection and introspection as essential aspects of leadership and followership. For example, Gates ensured that the main Microsoft campus would have plenty of open space for employees to “sit and think,” (Dearlove, 1999, p. 68).
Despite Bill Gates’s great successes during his leadership at Microsoft, not all of his qualities neatly fit under the umbrellas of charismatic or transformational leadership. Rhetoric skills and the ability to adapt language to different groups is key to communicating vision and engaging with followers (Hughes, et al., 2009). However, 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 (Dearlove, 1999). According to Dearlove, Gates has improved somewhat in his communication style, but it is not Gates’s strongpoint and can be intimidating to some followers. Additionally, as Microsoft grew to epic proportions and took on a great deal of legal challenges, Gates’s strongpoints of vision and values were not enough to sustain his leadership; he passed the reins to Steve Ballmer in 2005 (Guo, 2008).
Would you want Bill Gates for a boss?
Bill Gates once stated his hiring practice as, “I don’t hire bozos,” (Dearlove, 1999, p.65). Gates demonstrated foresight in his hiring, actively selecting dedicated, hard-working individuals. He did not look for drones or conformist followers, but rather expected exemplary followers (Hughes, et al., 2009): those who are intelligent and innovative. This seems to contrast with Gates’s sometimes rude, authoritative demeanor, but he fully recognized that without strong talent, Microsoft could not be what it is today (Dearlove, 1999).
When the company began, Microsoft employees knew that they could not compete with Bill Gates’s skill or dedication, but they worked extremely hard nonetheless, competing with one another and building their own dedication to the company (Hughes, et al., 2009). Employees were very “green,” looking to prove themselves to Gates and to each other, and to put in whatever work necessary to meet deadlines, even forgoing sleep or spending nights in the office. This extreme level of motivation does not always equate to job satisfaction, but generally demonstrate the type of appeal and impact Gates has on followers.
“Whatever their night-time habits, what Gates has created at Redmond is a unique working environment. It is at one and the same time a hothouse of creativity, and highly efficient at project management to ensure products are, with some notable exceptions, delivered on time,” (Dearlove, 1999, p. 72).
Gates’s approach and the internal competition at Microsoft mirror the characteristics of followers in a transformational leadership environment outlined by Hughes, Ginnett, and Curphy (2009). Followers accept being subordinates, but effectively work toward a larger, common goal, and do so with intense passion (Dearlove, 1999). Many achieve leadership at Microsoft in their own right through these characteristics that Ruben (2006) would define as personal competencies. These competencies, combined with positional expertise, make Microsoft employees uniquely dedicated and sought-after by other employers, and help define Gates as one of the most influential leaders in corporate history.
Dearlove, D. (1999). Business the Bill Gates way: 10 secrets of the world’s richest business leader. Oxford, UK: Capstone Publishing, Ltd.
Hughes, R. L., Ginnet, R. C., & Curphy, G. J. (2009). Leadership: Enhancing the lessons of experience (6th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Irwin.
Guo, C., Ruane, S. G., Galli-Debicella, A., Nguyen, P. A., & Manz, C. C. (2008, Summer/Fall). Dynamic leadership: Toolbox for the values-based entrepreneur. Journal of Values Based Leadership. Retrieved November 21, 2009 from http://valuesbasedleadershipjournal.com/archived_issues/issue2/manz_et_al.php
Ruben, B. D. (2006). What leaders need to know and do. Washington, DC: NACUBO.