Bill Gates is an interesting study when looking at leadership styles. He is the antithesis of what one would expect from a leader. He dropped out of school, pursued a dream, and took risks based on his personal knowledge and creativity instead of what others had taught him.
Those risks paid off for Gates. He often trades spots with Jeff Bezos as the richest person in the world.
His leadership style is one that would be included in the descriptions of a transformational leader. That is because he followed a strong vision, had passion for the work he was doing, and that emotion helped to energize the people who would start following him.
Key Attributes of Transformational Leadership
Bill Gates focused on transformational leadership because that style came naturally to him. He could adapt to other types of leadership when the need arose, but for the most part, his time at Microsoft was dominated by this leadership style.
The qualities of a transformational leader include the following points of emphasis.
- There is a desire to encourage personal creativity in oneself and the rest of the team.
- Support and encouragement are provided at the individual level instead of focusing this resource on team-based perspectives.
- Motivation is individualized and inspirational, with clear communication coming from the leader to promote a specific path toward an end result.
The development of trust from followers, which leads to respect, because there is evidence provided that the ideas being implemented will actually work.
It is because of these qualities that many of the people who started working for Gates began to emulate his leadership style.
Traits of the Bill Gates Leadership Style
There are 6 clear traits that are a fundamental part of how Bill Gates approaches the concept of leadership.
Knowing something is much different than having wisdom. Gates focuses on the one thing he knows best, which is software, and then he makes it the best it can become. He worked hard to dominate his industry, made execution a top priority, and stuck with the skills that he considered to be his strongest. You can still see this focus through the work he does with his charitable foundation.
2. Big Picture
Gates also takes a practical approach to setting goals. He has a big picture that he keeps in mind. Instead of creating a vision that is unapproachable, Gates uses a step-based approach to make progress toward his vision. It’s like trying to walk up a staircase. With this leadership style, you’re taking one step at a time instead of trying to jump from the bottom to the top.
Instead of staying in a zone of comfort, Gates encouraged himself and his people to embrace creativity. His leadership style works to empower people because individual perspectives create new opportunities to explore ideas. Although some people followed him because of the charisma he exudes, many people followed Gates because they knew he could help them transform themselves into better leaders too.
Even though Gates is often listed as one of the richest people in the world, he is also one of the most prolific givers to philanthropic causes in the world today. In 2010, Gates (with Warren Buffett) promised to give away a majority of his wealth. Over $28 billion has been donated to his foundation, with the goal of giving away $90 billion in time. That caring attitude was also present in the workplace, making sure people had the best possible opportunity to find success if they wanted it.
Bill Gates may have dropped out of school, but that doesn’t mean he ignores what a good education is able to provide. Learning is a lifelong process under his leadership style. There is always something new to learn every day if one is willing to look for it in their life. Even after he helped to found Microsoft and built it into a software empire, Gates was working on his public speaking skills, his communication skills, and ways that he could improve social interactions with others.
Love Microsoft products or hate them, there is no denying the fact that Gates put a lot of love into everything he did for the company. Even if the only thing he needed to do was write a thank you note, you were guaranteed a message that came straight from his heart. Like many transformational leaders, the belief of Bill Gates is that if something is worth doing, then it is worth doing to the best of one’s ability.
Weaknesses of the Bill Gates Leadership Style
No one is perfect. Every leader makes mistakes from time to time. Leaders have specific weaknesses which they must identify to work on as well. To ignore one’s weaknesses is a sign that they are not yet ready to take on the responsibility of leadership.
Here are the key weaknesses that Gates has identified as being part of his overall leadership perspective.
When a person is passionate and knowledgeable about a subject, there is a fine line that is walked between cockiness and arrogance. Gates communicates opinions or ideas that he feels are correct. If he feels like his idea is the best solution, then that is the idea which is pursued. Should that idea not pan out, then his approach to the work can become a weakness, especially if there are other ideas presented to consider.
Most transformational leaders look for outcomes over processes. Bill Gates is one of the few exceptions to this rule. Although he was often results-driven, taking an approach sometimes where the “ends justified the means,” there were times when the logical steps of progression were ignored. He became so focused on obtaining the goals that he’d set for himself and his team that he lost track of those steps.
3. Conflict Avoidance
Transformational leaders want to get people onto the same page. The goal is to have the entire team focused on reaching a specific goal, mission, or vision. When you push people hard, there are times when those folks will begin to push back. Gates would often avoid conflict whenever he could, rather than confront the situation head-on, because the act of conflict made him uncomfortable. When there is an unwillingness to confront an issue, it becomes possible for negative energy to explode and cover a team with its influence.
Being a leader like Bill Gates is not always easy. You must be willing to take risks. There must be a personal desire to transform the workplace into a creative safe-haven where forward progress is a top priority. Include a little patience and you’ll find a recipe for leadership success.
Keith Miller has over 25 years experience as a CEO and serial entrepreneur. As an entreprenuer, he has founded several multi-million dollar companies. As a writer, Keith's work has been mentioned in CIO Magazine, Workable, BizTech, and The Charlotte Observer. If you have any questions about the content of this blog post, then please send our content editing team a message here.