Microsoft's strategies relating to leadership. First, an overview of the company will be provided, followed by a discussion of the company's leadership strategies. These strategies will be assessed as to their effectiveness, and compared to leading theories of effective management.
An Overview of Microsoft
Today, Microsoft is one of the world's largest businesses, and the world's largest and most influential software company (Wired News). The company's products have an extensive impact on both the personal and business world, and are seen in almost every office in North America.
Financially, Microsoft is a giant. Its founder, Bill Gates, was the richest man in the world in 2003, with a staggering estimated personal wealth of $40.7 billion dollars. He has been rated the richest man in the world for seven of the past eight years, and was ranked number two in 1997 (Wikipedia).
Microsoft's product range is varied, but focuses almost exclusively on computer software. The company's success hinges on the enormously popular operating software that is the company's trademark, Microsoft Windows. Microsoft's Office Suite contains the popular Microsoft Word processing software, the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet software, and the Microsoft PowerPoint presentation software. Microsoft also makes Microsoft Money, highly successful financial software, in addition to numerous other successful software packages that are aimed at business, personal, and educational needs.
While Microsoft has been largely successful at outmaneuvering business competitors, the company has faced criticism from consumers, and legal action by the federal government within the United States. Specifically, recently Microsoft has been hit by a series of government-initiated anti-trust lawsuits that contend the company does not allow for fair competition with its software products. In October, the company agreed to pay $200 million in damages to settle lawsuits in several states. The payment will consist of vouchers for Microsoft products (Wired News).
In a June, 2003 statement of mission and values, Microsoft has reiterated its commitment to being a leader in the technological field. The company's mission is to help people use new technologies to help both individuals and corporations to "realize their full potential" (Microsoft; Mission). The company's vision statement for the educational part of the corporation states that it wants to create tools to help students and educators facilitate education (Microsoft; Education). Thus Microsoft's vision and mission seem to be focused on creating technology that helps corporation and businesses to fulfill their needs.
Microsoft and Leadership
Providing effective leadership is one of the greatest challenges faced by today's corporations. Effective leadership can help bring out both enthusiasm and creativity in employees, and facilitate a shared vision and values. Effective leadership helps create a positive environment of collaboration, learning, teamwork and participation within an organization.
In contrast, ineffective leadership can lead to employee dissatisfaction, a dysfunctional corporate structure, and ultimately harm a company's financial position.
There is a wealth of information and theory on effective corporate leadership. Today, leadership theory seems to focus on creating healthy relationships with employees over a traditional, hierarchical leadership style. Max Dupree sees effective leadership as incorporating a very humanistic approach to employee relations. He argues that a good leader recognizes and makes use of his or her employee's capabilities. Further, he argues that leaders are responsible for company ethics, as well as a company bottom line. Dupree argues for a democratic style of leadership that focuses on cooperation rather than the exercise of power by executives. Similarly, Coffmann and Gonzalez-Molina argue that effective management comes from an understanding of the role of emotion on management. They argue that in order to be truly effective, employees must feel emotionally connected to managers that value employee contribution.
Microsoft has proven to be a corporation that has incorporated effective leadership into its corporate structure through encouraging employee creativity. In particular, Microsoft has used specific recruiting techniques as part of its leadership strategies. Microsoft employee interviews are famous for their difficult logic questions designed to pinpoint creative thinkers. This technique includes asking questions like "why are manhole covers round?" And "how do they make M&Ms?" (Poundstone).
Despite his strong vision, Gates' leadership has been strongly criticized. Wallace and Erickson note that Gates has earned the nickname "The Silicon Bully" through his abrasive interactions with rivals and employees. One disturbing anecdote is of Gates' supposed reaction to the hiring of female executives at Microsoft in order to meet federal guidelines for affirmative action. Gates is reported to have responded by saying that he would pay them half the amount of male executives, and give the females the "crap work."
Certainly, if these reports are true, Gates' personal leadership violates (at least in some instances) the theories of successful leadership by the like of Dupree and Coffmann and Gonzalez-Molina. Perhaps the success of Gates' leadership, and the leadership of other Microsoft executives lies more in their ability to motivate through example, than through their ability to successfully nurture their employees.
Leadership has long been considered to be about motivation and the personal charisma of leaders. A company's CEO and other executives are often considered to be the driving force behind its success. Thus, good leadership can inspire a corporation to great productivity and success.
Microsoft has clearly been successful at providing a visionary form of leadership. In particular, its founder Bill Gates has acted to create a vision for the company that has ultimately resulted in Microsoft's domination of the software industry. Gates founded Microsoft on the idea that computer software should be a commercial entity, rather than distributed freely. This idea was relatively novel at the time. Gates went on to negotiate a near monopoly for the Microsoft operating system by giving manufacturers MS-DOS on every computer system sold (Wikipedia). Gates' personal reputation and vision undoubtedly play a large role in the success of Microsoft's leadership.
Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates continues to act as a visionary for Microsoft. In a recent speech, he noted that he sees the coming decade as the Digital Decade. Gates feels that the digital era will end with close to a half billion people using digital technologies in their everyday lives. Further, he argues that the challenges of software design will be the important obstacles to overcome in coming years (Gates; Remarks).
In conclusion, Microsoft's executives have provided effective leadership. Effective leadership has allowed Microsoft employees to create software products and develop strategies to keep Microsoft competitive. Ultimately, leadership within Microsoft has helped the company to remain one of America's most influential and powerful corporations.
Coffman, Curt and Gonzalez-Molina, Gabriel. 2002. Follow this Path: How the World's Greatest Organizations Drive Growth by Unleashing Human Potential. Warner Books.
Dupree, Max. 1990. Leadership is an Art. DTP.
Gates, Bill. Remarks by Bill Gates, Chairman and Chief Software Architect, Microsoft Corporation, COMDEX Las Vegas 2003, Las Vegas, Nevada, November 16, 2003. 08 December 2003. http://www.microsoft.com/billgates/speeches/2003/11-16comdex2003.asp
Microsoft. Education: Vision Statement. 08 December 2003. http://www.microsoft.com/education/?ID=He'd
Microsoft. Mission and Values, June 25, 2003. 08 December 2003. http://www.microsoft.com/mscorp/mission/
Poundstone, William. 1993. How Would You Move Mount Fuji? Microsoft's Cult of the Puzzle - How the World's Smartest Company Selects the Most Creative Thinkers. Little Brown & Company.
Wallace, James and Erickson, Jim. 1993. Hard Drive: Bill Gates and the Making of the Microsoft Empire. HarperBusiness.
Wikipedia. Bill Gates. 08 December 2003. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Gates
Wired News. Microsoft Reaches for Its Wallet. Reuters, 12:45 PM Oct. 28, 2003 PT. 08 December 2003. http://www.wired.com/news/antitrust/0,1551,60998,00.html
Microsoft.com. Mission and Values, June 25, 2003. 08 December 2003. http://www.microsoft.com/mscorp/mission/
Over the last three decades, technology has transformed the way we work, play, and communicate. Today, we access information and people from around the world in an instant. Groundbreaking technologies have opened the door to innovations in every field of human endeavor, delivering new opportunity, convenience, and value to our lives.
Since its founding in 1975, Microsoft has been a leader in this transformation. As a…