Tag Archives: Steve Ballmer

Leadership in IT

In this brief article I will have a look at the types of leadership found in some major information technology companies and what impact it has had.

Transformational leadership and its impact on organisations has been studied in depth and has been found to be a key driver behind innovation with leaders of large IT companies such as Lou Gerstner of IBM cited as examples (Jung, Wu, & Chow, 2008, p. 582). The hands-on direct connection of leaders within IT companies, such as Bill Gates of Microsoft and Michael Dell of Dell Computers has resulted in employees in the 21st century wanting an immediate relationship with their leader before giving their full commitment to their work (George, 2004, p. 34). George has defined this as being an authentic leader, a leader who is able to build a trust-based relationship with people in their organisation. It’s suggested that this relationship with followers garners from them a “deeper commitment to their work and greater loyalty to the company” (George, 2004, p. 34). Hartley has described the leadership style of Microsoft’s incumbent CEO, Steve Ballmer, and Dell’s Michael Dell; which, as a result of their organisational strategies, fits in closely with the definition of transactional leaders (2006, p. 283). Michael Dell has further been described as one willing to “sacrifice his own interests for the good of the organisation” (Hartley, 2006, p.283) also puts him into the transformational category. These leaders have been described as able to separate their managerial ability from their technical knowledge so that they can allow their followers to effectively join in the leadership role as appropriate and participate. In doing this, these leaders have enabled their followers to take ownership of their roles and generate positive outcomes.

Photo by Greenbay
Photo by Greenbay

Utilising a completely different leadership style, Steven Jobs of Apple Computers prior to his removal and reinstatement at the company, has been described as a visionary and proselytizer (Westley & Mintzberg, 1989, p. 23) who pushed the design of computers to be light and trim so they would not scare the infant market. Steven Jobs is referred to as an evangelist for the future potential of his products with an uncompromising idea about what his company should be (p. 25). Westley & Mintzberg have shared the suggestion that this unwavering stance not only built the company but also led to his removal from it. This is a clear example of the organisational lifecycle that was described by Ogbonna and Harris (2000, p. 771) where the leadership style has influenced the organisational culture but when the lifecycle has reached the point where the culture has come back to influence the leadership style, it would not be redefined. This idealism and perfectionism contributed to the culture, but limited his leadership and caused low morale among employees (Westley & Mintzberg, 1989, p. 25). Ahmed suggests that the leadership failed prior to Steven Jobs removal from the company, as it was not focused on creating an environment that could innovate (1998, p. 42), in other words, it was not a transformational style of leadership. Rather it could be described as an outcome oriented directive leadership style that manifested negatively in this IT company.


Ahmed P. K. (1998). Culture and climate for innovation. European Journal of Innovation Management, 1(1), 30-43. doi: 10.1108/14601069810199131

George, B. (2004). The journey to authenticity. Leader to Leader, 2004(31), 29-35. Retrieved from http://www.leadertoleaderjournal.com/

Hartley N. T. (2006). Management history: An umbrella model. Journal of Management History 12(3), 278-292. doi: 10.1108/17511340610670188

Jung D., Wu A., & Chow C. W. (2008). Towards understanding the direct and indirect effects of CEOs’ transformational leadership on firm innovation. The Leadership Quarterly, 19(5), 582-594. Retrieved from http://www.journals.elsevier.com/the-leadership-quarterly/

Ogbonna, E., & Harris L. C. (2000). Leadership style, organizational culture and performance: empirical evidence from UK companies. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 11(4), 766-788. doi: 10.1080/09585190050075114

Westley F., & Mintzberg H. (1989). Visionary leadership and strategic management. Strategic Management Journal, 10(1), 17-32. Retrieved from http://smj.strategicmanagement.net/