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Learning from Steve Ballmer’s Leadership Mistakes

Guest Post by John Perrin

With the news that Steve Ballmer is set to retire as CEO of Microsoft, it seems that the market’s appreciation and joy towards the news was right. Ballmer, as eccentric as he may be, has had his share of product and service failures and successes yet he has managed to really hurt the most important part of any business – the culture.

Microsoft was once a key innovator in the world of technology and was considered to be the benchmark for innovation and opening up new horizons. Since the boom, Microsoft has remained somewhat stale, little has happened in the stock market with the price and even less has happened when it comes to innovation.

Since the news broke, there have been various articles highlighting what Ballmer has created and what he has managed to shut down. All-in-all, his effect on the culture and the Microsoft team has created what some would consider an uneasy environment.

However, there has been a recent trend with the top innovating technology companies out there – Google has eliminated it’s once famous 20% time and Facebook has adopted the test, test and test some more approach, vastly different from its “Move fast and break things” mantra.

Let’s look at what Ballmer’s mistakes were and how we can avoid them ourselves:

Leadership Mistake to Avoid 1: No Time to Grow

  • Courier – Microsoft’s first attempts at a tablet in 2010.
  • Netdocs – Online version of Office.
  • Car Software – Allow the user to listen and change their music in the car.
  • Office for iPhone/iPad

Microsoft Misfires

Source: WSJ.com

The common trend with the above is that Ballmer cut them short; for one reason or another, he felt that the potential for ROI was never there. However, if you consider the product/service and the time they would have been released, then Microsoft would have been the first in those fields and also own the majority of the market.

What should we take away from this? Let ideas grow; let them grow into something that can be directly measurable and then decide to adopt/delay/cut loose the idea. One of the key aspects of building up a culture of innovation is to give the creators the freedom to grow the idea and test it viably on the marketplace.

Which takes us to the next point.

Leadership Mistake to Avoid 2: Fear

You can have all the fancy buildings, cafeterias and foosball tables littered around the campus; however, the idea that culture is created with these materialistic things is further demolished, thanks to Microsoft.

Microsoft has one of the best campuses out of all the companies in the world yet they have engineers and tech geniuses that fear to branch out of the norm of Microsoft.

No one in any business will ever try to pitch or promote a new innovative idea if they are consistently shot down or told that the idea is “too” risky.

Technology + Risk = Potential Success

Whatever industry you’re in, it’s always important to look at how you can offer something different or innovative to your market. However, the only way the company geniuses are willing to push boundaries and innovate is by having the freedom of creativity and minimal fear of punishment if they do go completely out of the ordinary.

There is little difference between fear of being fired and fear from a constant barrage of “no” – both promote a monotone attitude and deliver mediocre results.

Leadership Mistake to Avoid 3: Cash Cows

Although Ballmer did manage to grow revenue and profits greatly, he managed to do this by simply focusing on the cash cows of Microsoft – Operating systems, Office, etc. Again, the innovation lacked because, once an idea was started, Ballmer would regularly take teams off projects to focus on new Operating System production.

The last few Windows Operating Systems have been nothing short of failures and, if you consider the fear of failure and lack of culture, it’s hard to imagine anything else being created but a bland product.

As a business owner or leader we always need to focus on the bottom line to remain in business but we also need to realise that the bottom line, once functional, is our safe house if ideas should fail. Therefore, time and money should always be allocated to new ideas that are going to threaten the industry normalities or stagnation.

Conclusion

Business and leadership success are about remembering that growth doesn’t come from stagnate performance. It comes from the push to increase the value of your brand and product to your market. Cash cows are your safety harness for the bottom line, but innovation is the key to your growth and expansion.

Guest Author

John Perrin John Perrin is the Founder and CEO of Tactical Sales Training where they focus on providing B2B focused sales training courses. John has had previous success with a software sales company that he co-founded and successfully exited after achieving a vast range of successes. Follow John on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+.

 

Guest Author

Guest Author

From time to time, guest writers contribute to Thin Difference. Topics include leadership, career development, creativity, and mindfulness. Our mission is to "Cross the gap and lead with a new story line," inspiring Millennial leaders.

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  • Alli Polin

    Fascinating article, John! I admit, I’ve been ignoring Microsoft for a number of years and have only been using Apple products for a long time. I never really reflected on Steve Ballmer’s leadership and what we could learn from him and from Microsoft. He was clearly key in not only keeping Microsoft products a big yawn but also instigating a me-too mentality in the market and within the organization. Will be interesting to see what happens next.

    • Marius Fermi

      Hi Alli, I’ll be relaying John’s replies – due to a super hectic schedule he has asked me to pass on his replies and any further replies to this article :) I’m Marius by the way.

      John – Microsoft seems to be somewhat stagnant these days and it seems that Apple is now getting into the “me-too” mentality as well. It’s a shame to see companies of such dominance fall from grace however 2 key aspects have changes – Bill Gates left as CEO and Steve Jobs passed away, both the originial visionaries behind the companies initial successes.