Top Leadership Styles of Tech Giants (And Those That Embody Them The Best)
"Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things."
The leadership style at an organization of any size can be the ultimate deal breaker between success and failure. From the mailroom to the top corner office, everyone is touched by a company's leaders at some point, even if they don’t know it. Leadership serves as the GPS of the organization: driving the company forward by creating a clear direction (vision) and getting everyone else onboard (motivation). A happy marriage between vision and motivation creates a cohesive team and company. Cohesion leads to success. It’s not just a nice idea; it’s imperative.
Would you jump on a ship with a captain who didn’t know where to go or how to get there -- or anywhere?
Daniel Goleman, perhaps best known for popularizing the idea of emotional intelligence, co-wrote “Primal Leadership” to introduce the notion of using emotional intelligence in leadership. In his manifesto, he describes six different styles of leadership an effective leader can move between, adopting different styles to meet different momentary demands. Here are the six styles he expands upon:
- Visionary: mobilizes people toward a shared vision, encouraging them to struggle forward. Open with information; empowers others.
- Coaching: identifies strengths and weaknesses in order to focus on developing employees for the future. Good at delegating assignments and cultivating loyalty.
- Affiliative: collaborative style that focuses on emotional needs. Thrives on connecting people.
- Democratic: values input and commitment via participation. Listens to both the good and bad news.
- Pacesetting: builds challenges and sets motivating goals, expecting excellence and displaying it themselves. Not afraid to get their hands dirty to rescue the situation, if needed.
- Commanding: gives clear directions from a powerful stance, commanding and expecting full compliance. Soothes fears, yet can seem cold and distant.
The best way to understand them is to see them in action. Lucky for your startup, the leaders of some of the world's top tech giants have adopted a combination of these leadership styles in order to maintain steady growth and outperform both competitors and skeptics.
Some of these styles are a direct reflection of the leader himself, while others were learned to fit the needs of the company -- and one thing you’ll notice is that a blend of styles that fit the situation is often the path to success for these big names. In no particular order, here are some of the leadership styles of the world's largest technology companies. Grab your notebook and get ready to be inspired:
Commanding & Democratic: Marissa Mayer, CEO - Yahoo
A true forced to be reckoned with, Mayer established herself as one of the Valley’s golden girls before it was ever cool to be in technology. At such a young age, and being a woman, she had a lot of ground to break in order to establish herself as a leader within one of the fastest growing companies, Google. Her democratic ways allowed her subordinates the chance to make suggestions for the company during ‘office hours.’ Though she has received some slack about that, those office hours were parliament to building some of Google’s greatest products and features to date.
Fast forward to today with Mayer at the helm at Yahoo. It has become evident that Marissa actually had the guts to take action and reestablish Yahoo all while increasing growth and minimizing fierce competition -- thanks to her equally commanding nature.
Five things we’ve learned about Marissa Mayer's leadership style:
- She is commanding but respects democracy.
- She is a dedicated and hard worker.
- She is strategic and aggressive when it comes to acquisitions.
- She likes to move quickly.
- She is very open to change.
Democratic & Visionary: Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman - Google
Eric Schmidt certainly doesn’t look like a techie next to his counterparts Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Sporting a suit and tie, he resembles a man from corporate America - as he should. It’s his job as executive chairman of Google, err Alphabet Inc., to provide organizational and operational expertise as well as company leadership. He had been a successful CTO at Sun Microsystems in the past, but performed poorly as CEO at Novell. Under the scrutiny of many VC’s (and even Page and Brin themselves), Schmidt eventually turned around and became the democratic/visionary leader that Google needed to reach $1 Billion in revenue, boasting an increased employee retention rate alongside it. He is considered to have a patient, unobtrusive engineering management style: something we’d say has done both him and Google well.
Five things we’ve learned about Eric Schmidt’s leadership style:
- He gets to know his employees.
- He’s creative when it comes to rewarding high-performing employees.
- He gave his employees the autonomy to solve their own problems.
- He lets his team function outside the company hierarchy.
- He had someone who his employees respected for their objectivity and impartiality perform their performance reviews.
Visionary, Pacesetting, & Commanding: Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO - Amazon
Considered to be America’s number one CEO, this 51-year-old billionaire leader still grinds the 9-to-5. His heart is set on metrics and customers: anything that falls outside of those two things are rarely a concern to him. He measures performance against 500 metrics and always leaves an empty chair open in his meetings for the fictitious customer it represents. In his mind, his customers are a part of every decision made, at every level. So what does that mean for his leadership style? With a data-driven customer focus it lets him take risks with innovation to ensure that he and his team are doing the right thing. They don’t focus on the ‘optics’ of each quarter; rather they focus on what is best for their 164 million customers. This alone sets the culture for the company’s 56,000 employees. As a dreamer (he once wanted to be an astronaut, but instead ended up at Princeton studying physics and then computer science) he spent his summers tinkering with mechanics and learning to be self-reliant: all of which is reflected in the company's culture.
Five things we’ve learned about Jeff Bezo’s leadership style:
- He is frugal. He takes a small salary and provides the basic amenities for his employees.
- His company culture is friendly but intense.
- He puts his customers first by determining what they need and works backwards from there.
- He wants his team to be inventive, encouraging a willingness to fail.
- He is a task-oriented, transactional and transformational leader.
Democratic & Affiliative: Tim Cook, CEO - Apple
Known to be a more compassionate and empathetic leader than the late Steve Jobs, Tim Cook has certainly changed the overall image of Apple. Increasing attention around social awareness, he has worked to improve conditions in overseas factories, as well as reduce pollution caused by those factories and the devices themselves. He also encourages consensus building amongst his employees and is less hands on when it comes to product development, unlike the autocratic Jobs. He is by definition a democratic leader with an affiliative wing.
Five things we’ve learned about Tim Cook’s leadership style:
- He wants his team to take risks.
- He listens very well.
- He trusts those around him.
- Despite criticism to adapt to Steve Jobs’ management style, Tim stayed true to himself and believes others should do the same.
- He firmly believes in transparency.
Visionary & Coaching: Satya Nadella, CEO - Microsoft
Newly-appointed CEO Satya Nadella is on a mission to “change the world through technology“ by recognizing innovation and fostering Microsoft's growth by way of its more than 100,000 employees. He believes that a strong culture, not one fixated by an organizational chart but one that is dominated by an innovation agenda and “shared in terms of the implementation” can be the game changer Microsoft needs to take on such a lofty mission. He has a thoughtful demeanor and really tries to bring out the best in his employees. This is perhaps why he is adored and sets the stage for the visionary/coaching leadership style needed for Microsoft's next level of accomplishments.
Five things we’ve learned about Satya Nadella’s leadership style:
- Don’t compare yourself to others. Play the cards you’re dealt.
- Bolster the confidence of the people you’re leading.
- Never stop learning.
- Direct, don’t control.
- Make meaning a priority, especially around your employees’ impact on the organization.
Learn to lead
Being in a leadership role isn’t just about taking control. It’s about empowering, mobilizing, and guiding -- and depending on where your startup is at, it can take a blend of leadership styles to make it happen.
Be the leader who creates a happy marriage between vision and motivation and values the employees helping to make to happen -- and one day, we might very well be featuring you on this list.
Have a favorite tech leader who knocks it out of the park? Shout ‘em out in the comments below -- and let us know which leadership style(s) you feel they embody best.