In mid 2017 the combined market capitalization of the world’s five largest technology companies surpassed $3 trillion dollars for the first time. This level of success naturally attracts the interest of the business world and raises the question, what makes these companies and their leaders so effective?
In this in-depth report we are going to break down the leadership strategies adopted by some of the most well know and respected CEO’s in the world. In particular, we will look at the leadership strategies adopted by:
- Jeff Bezos – CEO of Amazon
- Sundar Pichai – CEO of Google
- Tim Cook – CEO of Apple
- Mark Zuckerberg – CEO of Facebook
- Satya Nadella – CEO of Microsoft
We will view all of this through the light of a recent report that shows that:
“Long term business performance comes from leadership culture and careful and continuous development of leadership at all levels.”
That is to say, that the best leaders realize that leadership isn’t just something that sits with the CEO, but must filter throughout an organization and become part of the companies culture. A way that they act, respond, and grow as an organization over time. This is in recognition that CEO’s come and go, but companies like the above aim to last!
A Primer on Leadership Strategy
The specific leadership strategy adopted by a CEO is often unique to that individual. While they may be influenced by, learned from or built upon successful leaders from the past each individual approaches business with a unique set of strengths, weaknesses and experiences.
While we can’t document each and every strategy to such a minute level there are five common leadership styles and strategies which most CEO’s can relate to:
Within the technology industry most leaders aim to be transformational. They want to transform a business, an industry or in some cases even the world.
A transformational leadership style requires you to lead through vision. You need to have your eye on the future and communicate and model your behavior to align with this vision.
Transformational leaders need to inspire their team. You will often find that “mission driven” employees are attracted to transformational leaders who have a goal that is much larger that simply building a new product or company. An example of a transformational leader would be Elon Musk of SpaceX and Tesla.
Achievement Orientated Leaders
If you like pushing your team to do better and reach higher targets, then you are likely an achievement oriented leader.
Achievement oriented leaders like to set goals and encourage continuous improvement within their team. They empower employees and give them autonomy, assuming they will do their personal for the team and the company.
One potential criticism of achievement orientated leaders is that they can be too focused on improving the here and now without taking an appropriate long term view to challenges that may appear in the future.
Some people would argue that Tim Cook of Apple is an achievement orientated leader given his focus on shareholder returns and generate business performance rather than the visionary nature adopted by Steve Jobs.
Participative leaders are those who work hard for buy-in by soliciting employee input. They encourage employee involvement in decision making and most importantly ensure that their views are considered.
This is a democratic form of leadership where the CEO of Team Leader seeks to elevate the status of employees. They want them to feel a sense of ownership in the outcome of the project or company.
Participative leaders need to balance this need for inclusion with making sure that decisions are still made in a timely manner and don’t get bogged down in round table meetings and employee updates.
Supportive leaders are empathetic and approachable. They show concern for their employees and treat them with respect and dignity. In turn, employees feel valued and cared for.
Recent turmoil at Uber has seen the Board remove CEO Travis Kalanick, and replace him with Dara Khosrowshahi, the former CEO of Expedia who original emigrated to the US as a child in 1978 following the Iranian Revolution.
Dara will look to adopt a more supportive leadership style as he attempts to turn around a tarnished corporate image and ongoing cultural issues that have plagued the company over recent months.
A recent Reuters article has Dara on record as saying “this company has to change”, “what got us here is not what’s going to get us to the next level”.
Directive leaders are very clear in establishing performance objectives for their team. They are adept at providing structure and skilled at clarifying employee’s perceptions of their role.
This leadership style avoids collaborating or empowering others. It is often associated with Managers overseeing employees who perform repetitive jobs that don’t require a lot of specialization.
It is said that great leaders are born and not made. However, good leaders are those who are aware of their personality and also their followers. They know which leadership strategy is ideal for a given situation.
With this primer on leadership styles complete we will now turn out attention to the leadership strategies of the top 5 Tech CEO’s.
Google & it’s CEO Sundar Pichai’s Leadership Strategies
Sundar Pichai became CEO of Google in October 2015, replacing Co-Founder Larry Page who went on to become the CEO of Alphabet Inc, a new holding company that “houses” Google and numerous other ventures launched or acquired by the company in the past.
Sundar’s rise to CEO was apparent from early on in his career with the company. He original joined Google in 2004 where he led product management for Google Chrome and Chrome OS. He also had a leading role in the development of Google Drive.
Following this he went on to oversee the development of a number of applications that are now core to Google’s business, including Gmail and Google Maps. Prior to being appointed CEO he also oversaw Android and held the role of Product Chief.
Taking the reins of any company, let alone one of the most recognizable in the world, could be considered a rather daunting prospect. Sundar has however shown his ability to successfully navigate this filed by adopting the following leadership strategies.
Focus More on Other’s Success than Your Own
Sundar Pichai practices what he preaches. One of his major leadership strategies is:
“To not only see your own success, but to focus on the success of others.”
Sundar explains that most of your work as a leader should be to make people successful. It is less about trying to be successful (yourself), but about helping others overcoming their barriers so that they can be successful too.
It is the job of a leader to build on and assist others in the best way possible to accomplish their goals. By setting up collaborative cultures Sundar has successfully incorporated this leadership strategy throughout Google.
Boringness is a Key Trait of Effective Leaders
Pichai is a kind of “boring is best for the company man”. Leaders who are perceived as reliable and predictable tend to be the most effective. “Boringness” is all about being emotionally mature. This includes being conscientious, agreeable and emotionally stable.
According to experts, the most effective leaders tend to be conscientious and extroverted, or hardworking and sociable. In addition, an analysis done by Google found that the best leaders are consistent and predictable.
Be Humble and Keep Learning
After graduating with an MBA from Wharton University, Sundar Pichai climbed the ladder of success and contributed to the development of many Google products.
Sundar is the one who convinced Sergey Brin and Larry Page to launch Google’s own browser.
He also played a crucial role in the launching of Google Chrome in 2008. Sundar kept rising up the ranks in Google and by 2012 he became the Senior Vice President of Google Chrome and Play Store.
He continued working hard until he was promoted to Product Chief. When Google formed a company Alphabet Inc, to serve as holding company in 2015, Sundar Pichai was appointed to be its new CEO.
In this role he has retained his humble approach and commitment to ongoing learning and development. To stay ahead of the curve, Sundar knows that Google can’t rely on what worked last year. They need to constantly improve and innovate.
Attract and Recruit Talents Personally
To maintain their status as a market leader Sundar knows that Google must continue to attract and retain the best creative talent and minds to the organisations.
This is so ingrained in Sundar’s leadership style that he continues to have an active involvement in key hires. He wants to ensure the people joining Google in these mission critical roles are the right fit for the company, and that Google is the right place for them to achieve their own life goes.
A key attraction of working at Google is the aspirational nature of the leadership team, as well as Sundar’s commitment to retaining the entrepreneurial nature of the business that rewards thinkers, and tinkerers who are open to challenging the status quo and looking for breakthrough insights.
Amazon & it’s CEO Jeff Bezos’s Leadership Strategies
Jeff Bezos is the CEO of Amazon, the online retail giant and the largest internet company in the world (based on revenue). The success of Amazon has also propelled Jeff Bezo to the top of global rich lists. In July 2017 he briefly overtook Bill Gates to be the wealthiest person on earth.
Jeff’s leadership style reflects the same growth of the company he runs. He has gone from a 22 year old running an online book store to one of the world’s most powerful business people. Amazon touches almost every corner of the earth. To achieve that success Jeff has adopted the following leadership strategies.
Jeff Bezos argues that there are two major types of decisions:
- Type 1 decisions and
- Type 2 decisions.
Type 1 decisions are irreversible turning points that top executives should be involved in. Type 2 decisions allow for reverse actions if a business gets it wrong.
According to Bezos, type 2 decisions should be made quickly by small groups or individuals. As a business grow, there seems to be tendency to use the heavy weight Type 1 decision making process on most, including for many Type 2 decisions. This results in risk aversion and stagnation.
Obsess Over Customers, Not Competitors
According to Jeff, focusing on customers makes a company more resilient. At Amazon, employees always begin with the customer and work backwards to upgrade their services.
By working backwards, you start with the customer and their needs and problems.
In addition to this Amazon are their own number one “customer”. A key example of this is their AWS business. After recognizing that the company had excess server capacity outside of peak retail periods (such as Christmas) they looked for opportunities to sell this capacity to other business.
Eventually this resulted in Amazon Web Services. So essentially Amazon, the e-commerce retailer, use the services of AWS every day. This shortens the feedback loop to the company and ensures they understand what works well and what needs improvement.
As Jeff indicated in his first letter to shareholders that Amazon cares about the long term. All decisions are made in that light. Jeff believes that it’s only through commitment that a business can become successful.
As a CEO, you should proactively delight customers to earn their trust. This in turn earns you more business from them, even in new business arenas. Take a long term view, and the interests of shareholders and customers should align.
Once you are on the top of the world, stay true to your principles and defy criticism. Always stick to your long-term vision even in the face of tribulations.
Keep Teams Small & Stop Talking so Much
Jeff Bezo has a “two pizza rule”. Essentially, no team should be larger than the number of people that can be fed with two pizzas.
What this really highlights in Jeff’s leadership strategy is his belief in teams that can move fast and avoid group-think. With a team of 5 to 7 Jeff believes companies can find the right balance between skills/experience and executing at a fast pace.
In addition to this Jeff holds that view that talking too much can be bad for progress. At a company retreat in the early 200’s he explained that cross-team communication limits team independence and leads to people agreeing to much.
This stands in opposition to the creative conflict that defines Amazon’s culture.
Apple & it’s CEO Tim Cook’s Leadership Strategies
Tim Cook took over the role of Apple’s CEO following the passing of Steve Jobs and there couldn’t be a more clear separation of leadership strategies between the two. There is no doubt about it, Steve Jobs was a product visionary. Even if it made the product cost more, design and the user experience was his number one focus.
Tim Cook on the other hand approaches Apple much more like its a business. Cash flow, profit margins and “corporate success” matter most. This has seen some people argue that under Tim Cook Apple has lost their mojo.
He is however the CEO of one of the greatest corporate comeback stories of our generation, so lets dive in and see what defines Tim’s leadership strategies.
Diversity is Essential
Apple is company in the forefront of innovation, and that needs different-minded and unique individuals to help create the future. Tim Cook knows that he requires thinkers who can provide a different insight.
He says that Apple needs diversity of thought, diversity of style and wants people to be themselves. Bringing the best out of people is a quality business leaders have and working to refine this skill gives people the confidence to follow your head.
Do Not Fix What Is Not Broken
If there is an organization that had every arrow pointed in the right direction, it was Apple when Tim was appointed its CEO. As a result he has largely focused on maximizing the profitability of the company and leveraging the strength of their existing product line, namely the iPhone.
While this has seen their cash reserves soar it has led to criticism that Apple can’t rely on the iPhone forever, and without a visionary leader the question is often asked…. What comes next?
Trust Others Around You
Tim Cook is known to trust the voices and opinions of the team he surrounds himself with. He works closely with many top executives that help him share the workload of the business. He loves working other successful individuals with great ideas.
Part of being a successful leader is understanding that you do not know everything. By allowing other people on your team to handle some of the workload goes a long way in helping become a successful leader.
Humility is a key trait of successful leaders. Take a step back and have some humility. An example of this is how Tim Cook always finds time to visit Apple Stores and engage face to face with his customers. It is easy to get swept away when you are CEO of the world’s largest company, and it is important to keep yourself grounded.
By speaking with staff and customers Tim Cook gains an appreciation for what is happening on the ground and presents as a CEO who cares about the opinion of others.
Facebook & it’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s Leadership Strategies
Mark Zuckerberg is the chairman, cofounder and CEO of Facebook, a social networking site he started in his college dormitory room at Harvard University.
Despite being a CEO from a young age (he was born in 1984) Zuckerberg has matured as a leader and made a number of successful acquisitions that have been key to the ongoing success on the company. Namely, the acquisition of Instagram for $1 billion back in 2012.
The leadership strategies and style that define how Mark leads include:
The Right Partnership of Imagination and Execution is Essential
Success is a team sport. No business can run a company all by themselves. Successful business leaders identify their own weaknesses as well as their strengths and then bring in the right people to form partnerships that drive success.Whether its management teams, investors, distributor, retail or supplier partnerships, partnering with the right people is important.
One of the most important decisions ever made by Mark was to appoint Sheryl Sandberg as the Chief Operating Officer of the company. While Mark had the vision for Facebook, Sheryl bought an air of professionalism to their operations and has successfully build a company that can execute on the ideas of Mark in an effective and timely manner.
Stick to Your Vision
Facebook is utterly committed to its product. Every innovation helps to further its goal of connecting people in the simplest way possible.
This leadership philosophy is evident in the approach Facebook has taken when battling competiton. They successfully acquired Whatsapp and Instagram before they became too big to acquire.
And they successfully spun out Messenger into a standalone app which now has 1 billion users.
When Facebook couldn’t get their hands on Snapchat, Mark still didn’t let that get in the way of his vision. Instead of acquiring the company, he just took their best features and incorporated them into his own product.
Do Not Accept Conventional Wisdom
Mark Zuckerberg is always good at listen to his staff, especially those who say something cannot be done. This has been very effective in reaching deeper truths that may lead to innovative business models and great product ideas.
Another example of Mark going against conventional wisdom is when he acquired Instagram without telling his Board of Directors. At the time paying $1 billion for a social app was unheard of. But Mark would ultimately be proven correct. If Instagram was a standalone app today it is estimated to be worth more than $40 billion.
Be Accountable for Actions and Results
Accountability eventually catches up to most leaders who underperform; however, the best leaders make clear what they have achieved and what they have not.
A few years ago, Facebook was slow to make mobile work. However, Zuckerberg accepted that mistake and spearheaded a major shift in how the company does business. This decision was not only right, but also allowed Zuckerberg to step up and cement himself as a formidable leader and CEO.
Microsoft & it’s CEO Satya Nadella Leadership Strategies
Since Satya Nadella was appointed Microsoft’s CEO in 2014, he has changed the direction of the company. He has established long term partnerships with Apple by releasing the Microsoft Office App for iPhone, bought Mojang (Developer of Minecraft), acquired Linkedin and also embraced the Linux operating system.
Nadella’s leadership styles have enabled Microsoft to re-emerge as an innovative and exciting tech company. Here are some of the Leadership Strategies used by Satya Nadella.
Know Your Competitors, but Focus on Your Strength
In his current job at Microsoft, Nadella focuses on improving both Office 365 and Windows Azure, but he also keeps a record of what Amazon and Google are doing with their system.
“If you look at Google or Amazon, we have a very unique way of telling customers that it is not just about developing an app in the Azure platform, but also having a way of taking it out or extending it,”
Therefore, as a leader, you should remain focused on your strengths, but do not ignore your competitions. Understand where and how you can compete against them.
Teamwork is Crucial for Success
Any big organization is just one bad leader away from becoming a stultifying bureaucracy. “Everyone needs to their best, lead and help drive cultural Change,” says Nadella.
Sometimes, leaders underestimate what they can do make things happen and overestimate what others can do to move the company forward. To become a successful leader, you need to change that.
Continuously Re-invent Yourself
When Satya Nadella joined Microsoft in 1992, no one had ever thought about cloud computing. Nadella says that the business was all about process automation and communication driving productivity in the previous generations.
The main trends emerging now are software defined application platforms, data centers, big data and storage. 15 years down the line, he envisions the most innovative work happening around the conversion of data into meaningful actions and insights.
Keep Learning and Improving
Nadella encourages his team to learn from their mistakes and keep improving. This empowers them to have confidence and take risks and accept failures as experiences and learning opportunities to move forward. According to Satya Nadella, there is no problem in claiming failure if the hypothesis does not work.
He stresses on the importance of positive reinforcement to the mindset of continual learning and testing hypothesis to drive innovation rather than instigating a culture of fear and failure within a company.
Nadella says that if employees do things out of fear, it impossible or hard for them to drive any innovation.
Have a Mission to Empower Every Person
In a recent interview, Nadella explained the importance of company having an enduring mission that everybody can follow and support. The core mission of Microsoft is to create technology so that others can create more technology to develop new ideas and achieve more potential.
By following a mission, employees will take responsibility of the company culture. Every person and team contributes to the mission and culture of the organization via their actions and communications with the company.
Thus, as a leader or CEO, you need to have a strong mindset that can be followed by the rest of the workers as part of the company’s mission and overall culture.
Also published on Medium.