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Can Leadership Lead from a Deficit?

October 7, 2010

In the Register today, there’s a pickup of a story that was picked up from CNN Money on Microsoft and their leader, Steve Ballmer.

Over 1,000 employees responded to the question: “Do you approve of the way this person [Ballmer] is handling the job of leading this company [Microsoft]?”

And 50 per cent of those responding clearly aren’t happy with their shouty boss.

I thought of this while also thinking about the constant approval/disapproval ratings of various presidents while they run the country.  The instance is the same: sometime people think not liking someone’s job equates to the person not being able to do that job.

I’ve worked for plenty of people I didn’t like.  In fact, a couple of them I would be reasonably vocal about the fact that I didn’t like them.  It’s not the best career move if you want to be a future exec at the company, but it does allow you to sleep at night.  I remember a conversation I had with one once, where I noted very strongly that I respected his ability to do the job I couldn’t do.  He was surprised, and commented that he thought I didn’t like him.  So, I agreed.  I didn’t like him that much (some personal actions towards my employees), but I respected and supported his ability to do the job.  It was an interesting disucssion, and one that allowed us to find middle ground to effectively work together.

The CNN article doesn’t say much more about the question or how it was specifically worded.  Frankly, though, knowing a bit about Microsoft and also about Mr. Ballmer’s internal and external perception (I’ve met him once, but it was brief, so no data there), I’m not surprised if he’s not liked… but he also seems to still garner respect.  I’d be interested in the survey and how it really words the question.

I do find this interesting, though, just as a point:

“Those surveyed for that report equates to about 0.625 per cent of Microosft [sic] employees… again, hardly representative at all. Seems very flawed,” he defensively tweeted this morning.

A separate question in the same survey also showed that more than 1,500 Microsoft employees were “satisfied” to be working at the firm, with a 3.5 out of five score.

So two things… first, even if the survey isn’t scientific, you shouldn’t dismiss it because it’s a small part of the company.  That’s part of what “survey” and “sample size” mean.  Maybe Microsoft had that attitude for years when surveys told them that their Operating System had major consumer problems, and that’s why it took them so long to get it as nice as it is today.

Second, and more important, the employees really like it there, and the CNN Money article says that the rating is much higher than many other tech companies.  So we can learn that first a leader does not necessarily make the company, and also that the opposite is true.  So I don’t think this should be read as a stinging indictment of Mr. Ballmer (he’ll get those elsewhere), but as a company that’s been great in the past, and now is looking at merely a bunch of good years.

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