Bill Gates is a technologist, business leader, and philanthropist most famous for founding Microsoft and from 1995 to 2017 he was the world richest man for all but 4 of those years. He grew up in Seattle, Washington, and had a family who encouraged his interest in computers at an early age. It is well documented that he dropped out of Harvard after 2 years to start Microsoft with his childhood friend Paul Allen. Today, Bill and his wife Melinda Gates co-chair the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and are working together to give their wealth back to society. He is without a doubt one of the most iconic business leaders in the world. So, what can we learn from Bill Gates’s leadership?
He reads a lot
Most people assume that for someone to get to the level of success Bill Gates has achieved you have to be a super genius who just naturally knows how to do things that others do not know how to do. But a key element of Bill Gates success is put down to the fact he reads a lot. In fact, if you Google “Bill Gates Reading” you get nearly 80 million search results for articles, posts, and quotes about how important he considers reading to be. As he told Time in 2017:
“You don’t really start getting old until you stop learning…Every book teaches me something new or helps me see things differently. I was lucky to have parents who encouraged me to read. Reading fuels a sense of curiosity about the world, which I think helped drive me forward in my career and in the work that I do now with my foundation.”
Even today, despite his incredible level of success, he still reads a book every week. He even shares what books he reads on his own blog and makes his reading lists publicly available. Given the rapid rate of change within the technology industry, this approach to continuous learning has been key to ensuring his business has been a global leader for 40 years.
Do not let success cloud your judgement
Another key element of Bill Gates leadership has been his humility to accept he is not infallible. When you have build a business that has had a profound impact on the world and left you with a reputation as being the richest man on the planet for a couple of decades, it would be easy to fall in to the trap of thinking your instincts are better than other peoples. But as Bill Gates has said:
“Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose”
This means that, despite all of his previous success, he still makes sure to do his due diligence and follow. If you see any interview with Bill, it is hard to accuse the man of having let his success go to his head. He is not overconfident or arrogant and understands that there is still much he does not know.
Time is more important than money
In order to achieve the level of success Bill Gates has achieved, you cannot waste time. You do not become worth circa $100bn by wasting time. This is something that is critical when you consider the sheer amount of meeting requests he gets. It allows him to prioritise his day. If he were to be bogged down in micromanagement and needing to be informed of everything, he would not have been able to scale his organisation to 1% of its current size, there simply would not be enough time in the day. He speaks about this often when he shares his early struggles when starting to manage and lead people. He had to learn to delegate and only attend meetings when it is 100% important that he attends. One of his most famous quotes is:
“no matter how much money you have, you can’t buy more time”
This also shows that not only has prioritising his time allowed him to build an incredible business, but it also allows him to prioritise what is important in life in general. If money were still his key focus, he would still be acting as CEO of Microsoft. Instead it has provided him with perspective that time is finite and he is a position of privilege, which allows him to focus on having a bigger impact by giving back via his philanthropy.