This Entrepreneur.com "Best Read" was originally posted Sept. 15, 2015.
The born-a-leader/become-a-leader argument that has carried on for decades is refreshed with each extraordinary leader who takes the stage. The rise of Bill Gates is no different in terms of debating the born/became conundrum. No one can say for sure if he was born to be a leader, but his life’s work shows a pattern of actions that illustrate how he became a legend among historical business leaders.
Pursuing what he loves.
Gates was fascinated by computers when he was young and spent most of his time learning how to program. Although he wasn’t a model student, Gates decided it was important to pursue what he was passionate about. That led to many breakthroughs in computers, including the programming language BASIC and, later the MS-DOS program for IBM. It was only a matter of time until his love for computers became the foundation for Microsoft.
If you have to work, make sure it is something you truly love doing. Don't get stuck in an industry that does not interest you. It’s hard to imagine creating a strategy or inspiring others as a leader in an industry that just doesn’t ignite a passion inside you. If you are just in it for the money, it will show. However, when doing what you love you can enjoy every day and want to go to work, but you are also more likely to become successful.
Gates knew success doesn't happen overnight but is, and always will be, the culmination of a lot of hard work. Fueled by his passion, he spent years working from his garage, developing coding and programming, and learning how to create a solution with global reach. This took seemingly endless hours.
A leader gets in there and rolls his sleeves up because success it is not just about thinking up a good idea. Leadership requires action and the passion to put the effort into turning that good idea into a sustainable revenue machine. Even after Microsoft began gaining success, Gates worked long days and nights on understanding the target audience and developing the products that would speak to their business, education and consumer needs.
No matter what happens, a legendary leader continues to look forward, unfazed by any barriers or missteps along the way. Despite Gates’ phenomenal success, he did have to contend with anti-trust litigation claiming that Microsoft was a monopoly. In 2011, after a 21-year battle in the court system, the case was finally put to rest after numerous threats to break the company up. Throughout the battle, Gates continued to pursue the strategy that he had laid out and stayed the course, preferring to focus on the future rather than be distracted by present challenges. I recommend staying ahead of trends and not behind them.
Gates has never been someone to simply be satisfied with the success he has achieved to date. As he has pointed out, “It's fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” He also reminded others: “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”
Gates never lets the Microsoft team become complacent, even when they held the market leader position and were achieving multi-billion dollar revenues.
A leader should not be static; they should dynamic. Gates has become a legend by continuing to evolve to stay relevant. He has always understood the market continues to shift in its needs and desires. Gates knew that Microsoft, to maintain its leadership position, had to continually reinvent itself, moving from just software packages for Office to a web browser and new enterprise solutions. He led the pursuit to diversify the Microsoft product line and ingrained that need in the organization’s culture.
As Gates said, “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don't let yourself be lulled into inaction.”
Helping others by giving back.
An admirable leader has taken charge to help others by guiding them in the right direction, imparting knowledge, and experience, or even providing the necessary resources that will improve the lives or careers of others. Gates has always taken a selfless approach to his leadership, spending considerable money and time in philanthropic efforts to give to others. In return, as a leader, he receives happiness by knowing he is providing benefits that can create the leaders of the future who will then shape the planet for those generations to come.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has donated billions of dollars to causes all over the world, making significant differences in the lives of children and adults. This level of giving back illustrates Gates’ character and focus on social responsibility as a global corporate citizen. It also shows that his pursuit of solutions and making life better went beyond just making a profit. Instead, it was about driving significant change in the world that would make a difference for those who need it the most. His legend status has now become more about what he has accomplished on a social level than business. As Gates noted, “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.”
Lessons to be learned.
Leaders have always been viewed as fundamentally different from other people. There are many people who are smart, ambitious, and extroverted. However, it goes beyond these ingredients that may be part of a person’s DNA.
For Gates, his parents encouraged him to think independently and provided a values system that encouraged hard work, ethics, consideration for others and determination. Gates leveraged this framework to become a legend based on the expert knowledge he pursued and collected, the emotional intelligence he developed, the passion he developed for industries and communities, the visionary ideas he proposed and executed on, the social network he created to mentor and exchange with others and the personal power he passed onto others.
His leadership style is often described as transformational and serves as a model for many of today’s entrepreneurs who are just as determined, focused and passionate about what they are doing. Gates provides an excellent model of how transformational qualities can help create a successful leader, but he also proves that the individual human spirit that all makes us unique and the influence of parents and mentors also play a critical role in creating the legends.