Check out technology critic David Pogue’s “How Ballmer Missed the Tidal Shifts in Tech” which appeared on the New York Times’ website on August 24. I believe the most relevant question to ask in assessing Ballmer’s leadership and why Microsoft missed the tidal shifts in tech is: did Ballmer and his leadership team develop a culture of control, a culture of indifference or a “connection culture?” (These are the three types of psychosocial cultures in organizations.) Connection Cultures are required to maximize innovation, employee engagement and productivity, a case we made in our book Fired Up or Burned Out: How to Reignite Your Team’s Passion, Creativity and Productivity.
A second question to ask is: was the leadership team at Microsoft overwhelmingly comprised of linear-thinking, execution-oriented (and perhaps, at times, stubborn and bullying) leaders like Ballmer, or did it include curious, open-minded, integrative thinkers? An excellent book that examines and promotes integrative thinkers as CEOs is Roger Martin’s The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking.
Some years ago I gave a presentation on Connection Cultures at the Innovation Council. In the Q&A following my presentation, one of the attendees, a venture capitalist from Silicon Valley, shared with the audience that despite the public’s impression of Apple’s Steve Jobs, a leader who was no stranger to bullying, Apple’s senior leadership team included leaders who collectively brought the Vision, Value and Voice elements of a Connection Culture. If so, it would suggest some wisdom on the part of Jobs to see that he needed a senior leadership team comprised of people whose wiring and talents differed than his. I don’t have any personal experience with Apple’s or Microsoft’s leadership teams to know but I am curious if anyone out there has any experiences or observations they would be willing to share that shed light on the answers to these two questions. If so, please post your comments below or, if you prefer, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your comments can be either on or off the record (on the record comments may appear in future articles or books I’m writing).