The technology industry is known for bold personalities who believe in revolutionary change and progress long before the general public is on board. To an extent, overconfidence and headline-making antics are to be expected among those leading tech companies.
Perhaps that’s why when Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and chairman of the multi-billion dollar Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, shared his biggest weakness, many were caught off guard. This moment of honesty, however, offers a great learning opportunity for CTOs and tech teams.
Bill Gates’ Biggest Weakness
In February 2018, Bill and Melinda Gates were interviewed by Lin-Manuel Miranda at CUNY’s Hunter College in Manhattan. The conversation covered many topics including the state of the world, education, philanthropy, current events, and global health. During the question and answer portion, a student bravely asked Gates that commonly dreaded interview question, “What is your biggest weakness?”
Gates had a surprising answer. With unexpected candor and humility, he answered, “Dealing with the hiring issues and the management issues...how we were going to build up the team.”
Lessons from Gates’ Confession
As a CTO or member of a tech team, you may be shocked to learn that the man who helped Microsoft grow into a global technology powerhouse has difficulty with hiring and managing employees. Viewed another way, this confession is also advice on how to build a successful tech company. Here are three high-level lessons to take back to your team.
You Don’t Have to be the Expert at Everything
Even if you are in a position of leadership, you don’t need to be the expert at everything. In fact, teams can benefit from empowering all workers to question existing practices, contribute ideas and voice their opinions. Yes, employees are hired to perform a specific set of tasks, but when it comes to strategy and problem solving, high-performing teams will be well-served by opening up to the creativity and diversity of everyone working on the project.
Recognizing that you don’t need to be the expert at everything could even free up your time and perhaps reduce stress levels. Leveraging the expertise of others helps to share the challenges across the company and possibly come up with better solutions than you could deliver on your own.
It’s Okay to Admit Your Weaknesses
Admitting a weakness does not mean you are weak. In contrast, this level of self-awareness and humility is a way of acting in the best interest of your company. When you recognize your weaknesses, you’ll be able to identify what resources you and your team need in order to accomplish critical business goals and projects. It also helps you build trust among your coworkers and employees.
During the Q&A, Gates also stated, “If it's not exciting to you, you're not going to be [all that] good at it.” Admitting weakness can be a catalyst for learning new skills or hiring new talent. As a tech-minded individual, you may not have a passion for budgeting or marketing, but these functions are important for overall company success. Your responsibility is to develop a strategy for how you will cover these functions and address your weaknesses.
You Need the Right Team if You Want to be Successful
The biggest lesson from Gates’ answer is possibly the reminder that a team’s success depends on having the right people. There are many management theories around what constitutes the “right people.” Whether you hire for culture fit, shared values, technical expertise or a combination of all of these characteristics, the right person will help you execute your vision and achieve your business goals.
If you, like Gates, aren’t good at hiring and managing talent, it’s imperative that you seek help in this area. Some solutions to this problem include:
- Hiring a Chief of Staff to help with hiring and employee interaction
- Bringing in a management level employee to motivate and encourage the team
- Using an outside firm to assist with hiring
- Promoting someone from your tech team who has good people skills to oversee the team
- Transferring a manager from another part of the business who also understands the tech side
Invest in Your Team
How do you incorporate these lessons into your day-to-day, especially if you’re already entrenched in a busy tech company? Consider it an investment, an investment of time and of money.
You may need to take time to identify your weaknesses and where you need to bring in outside expertise. It may take time to change the culture if the firm is not used to managers asking for help and if employees aren’t used to being empowered to explore, disagree and collaborate.
You may need to invest money in bringing in additional resources, including software that helps leadership understand their engineering team, hiring new talent or retaining top talent. These investments of time and money are worth it as it can propel you to a new level of growth and success.
Bear in mind investments in improving your ability to staff your team is one which is guaranteed to pay out - and better to do sooner, rather than later.