Bill Gates Lessons About Leadership

By : Prof. Eric Soriano

IT’S GOOD to have goals and there is nothing more important than getting success lessons from the guy who has been there… in fact way up there as one of the world’s richest individual! Gates has been hailed the wealthiest entrepreneur in the world by Forbes for several consecutive years.

While Bill Gates may not be as mythologized in popular culture as Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg, there is no denying his impact on the tech world and beyond.  And so, it’s noteworthy to study his leadership lessons wonderfully highlighted by Entrepreneur Asia Pacific writer Nina Zipkin.

Lesson No. 1:  Find the Right Deals

When Microsoft was only six years old, the company made a move that would not only change its future, but the future of personal computing. Microsoft bought an operating system for $75,000 dollars from Seattle Computer Products that would become MS-DOS (Microsoft Disk Operating System). Microsoft developed the operating system for IBM to install in its first PC, which would go on to dominate the market after it was introduced to the public in 1981.

The Microsoft and IBM teams worked very closely and communicated via an “electronic mail linkup” and what he predicted would come next thanks to the IBM deal. “We’ll be able to put on somebody’s desk, for an incredibly low cost, a processor with far more capability than you could ever take advantage of… You’ll be able to sit at your desk and do whatever it is you want to do with information or presenting data or interchanging data incredibly effectively. In other words, we will have changed the way people work.”


Lesson No. 2: Use your position to give back.

Strong leaders understand the importance of taking their success and using it to call attention to those who need it most, setting an example for others in their position. With the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the couple dedicated their time to bringing aid around the world, and are especially passionate about sustainability, bolstering education, public health and providing access to affordable technology.


Lesson No. 3: Read widely.

A successful leader understands the importance of taking into account all manner of perspectives and knows that inspiration can come from anywhere. Gates has an in-depth section of his blog dedicated to what he is reading and has taken to reviewing and recommending books for summer reading and year-end lists. His lists highlight a range from cartoonists and humorists like Allie Brosh of Hyperbole and a Half and Randall Munroe of XKCD to policy analysts like Vaclav Smil, and historians like Doris Kearns Goodwin.


Lesson No. 4:  Don’t forget to have some fun.

Gates isn’t always reading or helping to solve the world’s problems. Sometimes he does chores around the house or plays bridge. And he’s also been known to incorporate some whimsy into his holiday season by participating in Reddit’s Secret Santa program. (Gates has made an annual tradition of participating in Reddit’s global Secret Santa program.)  NayaTheNinja, an avid hiker and camper who is also a “swim coach from the Northwest,” definitely received some great gifts — camping gear, a map of Mount Rainier and a travel journal, but it was one part of the gift that was particularly meaningful to her:

“Last year I had the opportunity to visit a friend finishing up her Peace Corps service in Zambia. I spent a few days in her rural village with her and then we traveled around for a few weeks. Because I prefer to talk to locals rather than spend all my time traveling with other tourists, we did a lot of chatting with people. A topic that came up more frequently than one might like if they were looking to keep the conversation light and cheerful is the prevalence of malaria…

“I bring all this up because my Santa gave me the amazing gift of a donation in my name to an organization called Malaria No More which is dedicated to wiping out malaria. They provide prevention, treatment, and research towards more permanent solutions (namely vaccines). It is very cool, helping create a lasting effect on people other than myself.”

NayaTheNinja didn’t reveal who her Secret Santa was in her blog post, but if you scroll through the photos attached, you’ll see Gates’ picture which was sent with the package.  In his note, he wrote: “You and I have something in common. We both hate mosquitoes! One of my Secret Santa presents to you is a donation in your name to Malaria No More,” he continued, “because no child should ever die from a mosquito bite.”

Redditors’ comments were beyond positive, including this one from Bossman1086: “It amazes me that not only does Bill Gates do this every year, but he takes the time to really learn about the person he’s gifting to. It’s always great to see what he does for his giftee.”

More than 120,000 people from over 150 countries participated in the Reddit’s global Secret Santa program. program, but Gates might be the best Secret Santa of them all.

Lesson No. 5:  Be passionate and collaborative in pursuit of your vision.

In a wide-ranging joint interview Gates gave with Steve Jobs in 2007 at the D5 Conference, the pair talked about their company’s pasts and futures. Gates reflected on how he worked to achieve his and Paul Allen’s goal of putting “a computer on every desk and in every home.” In the end, Gates said that it was assembling the right team that was often the biggest and most rewarding test. “I made more of my mistakes in that area maybe than anywhere, but, you know, eventually getting some of those teams to work very well together…I think it’s a lot about the people and the passion.”


Lesson No. 6: Never stop asking yourself what you can do better.

In his commencement speech at Harvard in 2007, Gates spoke of the importance of turning caring into action to solve problems around the world. “Determine a goal, find the highest-leverage approach, discover the ideal technology for that approach, and in the meantime, make the smartest application of the technology that you already have…The crucial thing is to never stop thinking and working…The final step – after seeing the problem and finding an approach – is to measure the impact of your work and share your successes and failures so that others learn from your efforts.”




Prof Enrique Soriano is a World Bank/IFC Governance Consultant, Senior Advisor of Post and Powell Singapore and the Executive Director of Wong + Bernstein, a research and consulting firm in Asia that serves family businesses and family foundations. He was formerly Chair of the Marketing Cluster at the ATENEO Graduate School of Business in Manila, and is currently a visiting Senior Fellow of the IPMI International School in Jakarta.

He is an associate member of the Singapore Institute of Directors (SID) and an advisor to business families worldwide, a sought after governance speaker, book author and have written more than 200 articles and publications, including two best-selling Family Business books (Ensuring Your Family Business Legacy 2013 and 2015). You can read Prof Soriano’s business articles for free at