Don't Run Your Predecessor's Shop
Ballmer figured this out in the end, albeit too late. Up until the final Microsoft reorganization, he basically ran Bill Gates' company but lacked Gates' unique skill set. On the other hand, Jobs transformed Apple into something he could run. (Successor Tim Cook is making Apple his own company, too.)
You have two choices as a new executive: Change your skills to match the organization's needs or change the organization to match yours. Ballmer isn't a software expert and it's actually pretty amazing that he did as well as he did, given that he ran a company designed around a software expert. Ballmer could never match Gates, but he eventually made changes to Microsoft that better reflected his unique strengths. Ballmer successor Satya Nadella has been asserting himself from the beginning. This bodes well for his term in the CEO office.
The last time I ever saw Ballmer really smile was during a meeting I had with him shortly after the announcement that he would take the job. He grinned as he waved goodbye from his limo window and passed me out of the complex.
This brings me to my final lesson: Have fun. If you don't enjoying a job -- any job -- find a way out. As Ballmer finally steps away from Microsoft and toward something that looks far more fun, I hope many of us can find a way to put the smiles back on our own faces. A job can be an amazing, fun experience -- or it can be a prison.
My final lesson from Steve Ballmer: Escape the prison and find a way back to that smile that those around you likely remember so fondly.
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