One of the arts of great leadership is knowing how to learn from other leaders. The great and the unknown. The ideal and the flawed. In your field and not. Those like you and those far removed. Those living and dead.
I am devoted to this art of leadership and it is what led me to watch a three-episode documentary on Netflix entitled Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates.
Now, I know little about where Mr. Gates, the founder of Microsoft, might be spiritually or morally. And he and I are far different personalities. Still, I learned or had reinforced some important lessons of leadership as I watched this documentary. I want to reflect some of these here by way of encouraging you to master the art of learning from other leaders.
One powerful lesson I gained from the life of Mr. Gates was that of forgiveness and reconciliation. He and his mother had a very tempestuous relationship in the early years. It nearly ruined the entire family. In time, with the help of counselors, the two found peace, then partnership, and ultimately tenderness.
This is more than a sweet story. Bill’s mother became a tremendous asset to his professional life. She was a socialite who knew everyone in the family’s community. She helped her shy, geeky son network and broaden. It led to much of his success. All this reminds me of something one of my business mentors has said: Never close the door on a relationship. Keep possibilities open with everyone.
Another lesson from Mr. Gates’ life was that he was willing to be weird to pursue his vision. Work all night? No problem. Eschew a social life for seasons. Certainly. Allow himself to be thought odd as he chased brilliance. No problem. So while I don’t strive to be weird, the price of achievement is often paid in separation from the norm. I came back to that a bit through the story of Bill Gates.
Also, though I don’t need much encouragement to read fiercely, Mr. Gates takes it to a whole other level. He carries a canvas book bag. His assistant both washes it and fills it with books every time her boss is in the office. Gates takes reading vacations, maintains a reading cabin, and is known to make himself a leading expert in new fields entirely by reading everything in print on the subject. We all know the principle: You have to read to lead, but Mr. Gates lit my jets anew.
It helped me to know that Gates fought back when he thought his cause was just. He once faced a billion-dollar antitrust suit. He lost the first round. Stayed in the fight and won the second round. Like you, I don’t want a fight, but I’m not going to run from it when it comes. And if I’m right, I’ll stay in the fight until victory. This comes in part from the example of Bill Gates.
Finally, there is his penchant for teaming. Mr. Gates is one of the wealthiest and best-educated men in the world. Yet when he seeks to wipe out a disease or build new types of toilets or water purifiers or reinvent nuclear power, he ingeniously builds teams and coaches them to success. He doesn’t think he has all he needs in himself. He knows that history is made by genius clusters. He builds those clusters.
The ultimate point here is make sure you are perfecting the art of learning from other leaders. And watch that Gates doc. It will inspire and instruct you.