Leading Tech

You can lead a company to market, but you can’t always make it think.

Founder and CEO leadership are hot topics this month as we see Steve Jobs stepping down as Apple’s CEO and HP appointing their CEO of the week. It is arguable that Jobs resurrected Apple from failed leadership and that HP lost its Way due to the same disease. Leadership — be it the valiant general in combat or a CEO on the battle field of the technology markets — is a very real substance and one unevenly distributed.

All organizations are groups of people who either run in random directions and thus impede progress, or who head in one direction and cause change to occur. Leadership is pointing everybody in the same direction. However, the degree of leadership required and the goals set by CEOs varies wildly from industry to industry. The CEO of an iron ore mining company sets very different corporate goals and provides vastly different leadership than the top dog at Intel.

High tech is one of the most dangerous leadership silos around. High tech invents things that have never existed to solve problems that were previously pervasive. To mold an organization to change the world through applied science requires articulating abstract visions, or establishing viable guidelines so others can be visionaries.

hp-aapl-stock-350wHP and Apple show two variations of tech industry leadership and lack thereof. Both companies once thrived and then faltered, with Apple regaining its vibe through leadership and HP not. HP had original mojo through a decentralized organization and the HP Way, a short and simple set of rules for guiding all employees and thus achieving Bill and Dave’s vision.  Apple is a more centralized operation, and one that receives hands-on visionary guidance from the top. Both systems work until the prime source of guidance disappears and is not replaced with leadership of equal or greater value.

The HP Way is now standard fodder for management school freshmen. The rules once told all HP employees how they would conduct themselves, addressing topics like trust, respect, integrity, achievement, teamwork, flexibility and innovation. The HP Way otherwise left employees alone to invent. This simple set of rules led to complex and intelligent thinking throughout HP, causing them to invent or refine products ranging from mini-mainframes to hospital heart monitors — complex rules would have killed such a diverse and decentralized company. More to the point, it provided universal leadership to employees in each department, across all product groups and in every country. The HP Way allowed people to invent technology toward common goals.

Until Bill and Dave were replaced by a string of interloper CEOs who used the HP Way for personal hygiene.

When Jobs left Apple, it fell on hard times. A Silicon Valley darling for a variety of reasons, Apple floundered like a prototypical headless chicken, for it was operating without one. Jobs is uniquely visionary, and often too ahead of the market as evidenced by NeXT. Yet when filled with his vision, Apple employees execute with astounding enthusiasm and fidelity. One reason Apple Stores are so popular is because the vision of providing competent help to customers has great appeal to anyone who survived a tech support call to India.

The point is that high tech innovations occur from individuals, be they founders of start-ups or cogs in corporate behemoths. Creating the right product in the right way thus requires either individual discipline or guidance through leadership. If you are managing more than ten people from the top, then you are in a leadership position. You have studied programming, electrical engineering, Chasm theory and maybe even Zen Buddhism. Now study leadership and how communicating your vision helps every employee reach your goals.


Speak up! What are your thoughts?

Your email address will not be published.