Opinion

Leadership lessons from tech luminaries

Leadership lessons from tech luminaries
  • The harder the problem, the more limited is the competition, and the greater the reward for whomever can solve it.
  • People are the centre of gravity of any organisation, and a critical bulwark against turbulences in business.

Silicon Valley tech tycoons, the brains behind tech giants such as Facebook, Microsoft, Gmail and Google, hold a big stake on how we run our online lives.

When they speak, the world pays attention. Their speeches rack up millions of views on YouTube and are regularly profiled by business websites.

But a study of the journeys that they have travelled reveals anything but a walk in the park. Many started their companies in humble garages or in dormitories at their universities.

Before rising to capstone of their career, they faced crippling challenges, some of which would have led many to give up and bow out.

Their experiences are well documented. They are loaded with legions of lessons that individuals, start-ups, small or struggling tech companies might find useful. Here are four lessons that stand out.

GOAL-SETTING

Focus. Apple CEO Tim Cook sums up the need for focused leadership: “Having clear and concrete goals keeps everyone in the company on the same page, working towards the same thing.”

Each of the tech giants are known for one big and bold idea. Setting too many goals blurs focus.

Andrew Carnegie, a renowned business mogul, is quoted advising entrepreneurs to be laser-focused.

He said, “put your eggs in one basket and watch that basket.” He extolled aspiring businesspeople to identify and concentrate on a single business-driving metric.

Challenge conventional wisdom. If you see a huge transformative opportunity, don’t worry that no one else is pursuing it.

You might be seeing something others don’t. In a 2005 commencement speech, Google’s Larry Page said: “When no one else is crazy enough to do something that you believe should be done and you do it, you’ll have little competition.”

Larry has an unhealthy contempt for conforming to conventional wisdom. The harder the problem, the more limited is the competition, and the greater the reward for whomever can solve it.

PEOPLE-CENTRED

People first, tech second. In his biography of Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson wrote that Jobs believed in people first.

“Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have faith in people,” Jobs often said.

Building a successful tech venture is more than just investing in the right technology. People are the centre of gravity of any organisation, and a critical bulwark against turbulences in business.

Mind the mentors. Biography of each of these towering tech leaders reveal that they all have mentors.

No one should wallow alone in the headache of getting a company off the ground. Embrace their wisdom. Call people you admire and ask for advice.

You may end up learning something new or form a connection you can leverage for the rest of your life.

Many great tech ideas are neutered in their infancy. Whereas the memoirs, experiences and speeches of the tech genius are not a panacea for all ills, they provide critical case studies.

Mr Wambugu is an informatician. Email: @samwambugu2