What I’ve learned about leadership from Steve Balmer

Steve Balmer doesn’t need a lot of introductions. Former CEO of Microsoft, Balmer is known for his monkey-energy public image and for wearing his heart on his sleeve (for the good and for the bad).

Steve Ballmer at MIX in 2008. 
originally posted to Flickr as Le Ballmer
by Jesús Gorriti
Steve Ballmer at MIX in 2008. Originally posted to Flickr as Le Ballmer
by Jesús Gorriti ( Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic )

I think that by analyzing and embracing some of his behaviors we can learn a lot about good leadership. 

Being a naturally introverted awkward person, Balmer is my spirit animal. His raw excitement is very powerful. He is the person that first you laugh at, then you laugh with, then you cry when they’re no longer around.

Appreciation and commitment

Having a sense of appreciation for what you are doing, for your circumstances is something that is underrated. We live in a time when it’s almost taboo to say that you don’t work at a dream job. But like Balmer, more important than having a dream job is to make your job a dream every day. 

Although challenging, if you raise everyone around you, you will also raise up.

Take moments to reflect and appreciate where you’re at. Raise up your colleagues. Infect them with your energy. You’ll get back what you give. However, if you aren’t getting back a good part of what you’re giving this is a red flag, be careful!

With regard to commitment, it’s no secret that millennials have a reputation of commitmentphobia (https://www.businessinsider.com/millennials-commitment-issues-are-giving-employers-a-run-for-their-money-2012-3?r=US&IR=T). Part of it is justified by today’s economy, growing uncertainty with regards to things like pension, permanent employment. This is tough on young professionals because the best work requires deep commitment and the ability to align personal motivations with the team’s strategy.

I love what I do, and that doesn’t mean I can’t love other things that I’m not currently doing. I’m blessed with the gift of curiosity.

“Fall in love with some activity, and do it! Nobody ever figures out what life is all about, and it doesn’t matter. Explore the world. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough. Work as hard and as much as you want to on the things you like to do the best. Don’t think about what you want to be, but what you want to do. Keep up some kind of a minimum with other things so that society doesn’t stop you from doing anything at all.”

― Richard P. Feynman


Hindsight is always 20/20. Balmer gets often criticized for not having seen the iPhone coming.

However, a leader needs to have a vision. The vision might not be the best in hindsight. However, being the head of a big corporation means having a strong direction and reacting to every trend in the market is detrimental to the productivity of the organization.

Believing is a great quality of a leader.

Standing up for something

There’s an easy path in life to being generally liked and to avoid confrontation: not standing up behind your opinions and thoughts.

Standing up for something puts you at risk of being confronted in your belief, being labeled provocative, revolutionary, to polarise, to instill both passion and hate. There’s a huge overlap in standing up for something and being a great leader/entrepreneur. Balmer is a good example of that. He was completely unashamed of wearing the Microsoft shirt.

Balmer is a great example of a team player, a leader, someone who believed that the whole was far far greater than the sum of the parts. A shy introvert who learned to get out of his shell and connect with likeminded people to work on great things. He left tears when he left. He left us with an image of someone who enjoys life to the fullest and to whom we can aspire to.

Developers Developers Developers Developers

―  Steve Balmer

This is the first article of a series of leadership profile analysis. My motivation to start this was born out of introspection. Mr. Balmer’s style is not for everyone. However, it resonates with me and I hoped that by distilling it, I can become a more purposeful communicator.

Disclaimer, Mr. Balmer is a human being and thus not perfect. =)

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