Technology Leadership

What can we Learn from Tech Leadership? #21 #cong21


Studying legendary leaders from the Technology Sector, I have worked to derive a leadership style that tries to emulate the best traits while mitigating the worst.

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Key Takeaways:

  1. Great leaders don’t have to be perfect people, but they do have perfect focus.
  2. Charisma is a double-edged sword
  3. Trust is the most important currency for effective leaders.
  4. Communication is also very important, although is less critical than trust.

About Danese Cooper:

Ms. Danese Cooper is currently Chair of, and recently concluded her 30-month job at, an Irish software consulting firm tasked in 2020 with creating the Irish COVID Contact Tracing App. Previously, she served for 4.5 years as Head of Open Source Software at PayPal, Inc. during which time she was the first Chairperson of the Node.js Foundation as well as the Founder of Ms. Cooper has served as the CTO of Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., as the first Chief Open Source Evangelist for Sun (where she started the world’s first Open Source Program Office), and as Sr. Director of Open Source Strategies for Intel. She concentrates on creating healthy open source communities and has served on the Boards of the Drupal Association, the Open Source Initiative, the Open Hardware Association and has advised Mozilla, the Linux Foundation, and the Apache Software Foundation. She also runs DaneseWorks, Ltd. a successful InnerSource / Open Source consultancy which counts Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, SETI Foundation, Harris Corporation and Numenta as clients. She has been known to knit in meetings.

Contacting Danese Cooper:

You can reach Danese on Twitter connect with her on LinkedIn or see her Wikipedia page.

Technology Leadership

By Danese Cooper

After 30+ years in Silicon Valley, I’ve had occasion to witness some of the most famous leaders in a storied industry. I’ve been privileged to work with Steve Jobs of Apple, Bill Gates of Microsoft, and Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems; three legendary leaders with distinct strengths and weaknesses. In this essay I to discuss want can be learned from their different styles of leadership.

First, Mr. Jobs. Everything you’ve heard is true. He was clearly driven by circumstances of his birth and subsequent adoption to excel throughout his life. His original motivation for creating Apple was an idealistic mixture of personal validation and human empowerment, but his interpersonal skills and enthusiasms were erratic. He was incredibly charismatic. The famous “reality distortion field” that allowed him to influence and inspire a whole industry also allowed him to mistreat some of his most vulnerable acquaintances. His personal transformation in the years between his original ouster and subsequent return to Apple sharpened his business focus and ultimately enabled him to triumph.

I initially admired his youthful optimism, and later his insistence on elegant design and quality. In the end I admired his determination, working to complete the implementation of his vision despite the failure of his body. But I could never reconcile with his casual cruelty. Today I consider him to be the exception that proves the rule, build trust by treating others as you would be treated.Next on to Mr. Gates. He was born rich and educated for leadership.  He was himself a nerd’s nerd, noted for his lack of cool and not particularly well-kempt. His genius was for locking in his customers while expending the minimum effort to innovate and the maximum effort to wring profit from his product. Yet he also co-founded a humanitarian foundation that tackled some of the thorniest public health problems globally.

At one point Microsoft’s software held 98% of the installed base of personal computers worldwide. He (and Steve Ballmer) took this in stride as confirmation of superior intelligence, and proceeded to defend this position of dominance with a program of outrageous practices to discourage competition. By the mid 1990s this  arrogance had pervaded every level of his company, yet he was still personally reviewing the humble P&L statements of every business unit quarterly

Last a look at Scott McNealy. Who co-founded Sun just as the World Wide Web become the most important innovation of the 1990s; at one point most web packets worldwide flowed through Sun-manufactured SPARC stations. McNealy fostered a company culture that was famously empowering to individual engineers. He allowed the birth of the Java language (even though he never figured out how to monetise it). His public goading of competitors was seen as sophomoric by his critics, but for many of Sun’s active years his bad boy demeanour allowed him to execute sweeping disruptive moves in the Tech Industry, including releasing nearly all of Sun’s software under Open Source licenses. In the end, he fell from grace when he failed to see that the .com bubble would burst.

Here are my takeaways from studying these leaders:

-Great leaders don’t have to be perfect people, but they do have incredible focus.
-Charisma is a double-edged sword if you begin to believe your own press.
-Trust is the most important currency for effective leadership.
-Communication is key to maintaining trust.

Every leadership job I’ve held reflects what I learned from these giants, particularly when acting as a Change Agent. Decisiveness, charisma, and the ability to communicate and build trust can allow one to change the worldL

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