I was recently asked if I would share my insights on some of today’s high-profile CEOs. I assume that the thought underpinning the inquiry was that since the majority of my working life is spent coaching and mentoring CEOs, or evaluating and assessing CEO performance for boards of directors and investors, that I might be able to provide some insights on their performance. I thought this might be an interesting exercise, so today’s post will be the inaugural piece in a new category entitled CEO Profiles. I’m going to attempt to provide a balanced scorecard approach in reviewing the performance of the lucky CEOs profiled so that there will be actionable takeaways from each assessment. You are invited to send me the names of CEOs that you’d like to see profiled, and if they’re not a current or past client I’ll add them to the queue.  Today’s Profile…Steve Ballmer, CEO Microsoft.

When it comes to CEOs, Steve Ballmer may be one of the more controversial chief executives of the last several years. There isn’t a lot of middle ground with Steve…you are either a big fan or not. On the plus side, Steve has been running things at Microsoft during a time period when technology has been changing and evolving faster than ever before, and the company has continued to operate profitably under his leadership. On the negative side, Steve’s tenure has run conterminously with Google’s unprecedented rise, the failed Yahoo acquisition (and many other missed M&A opportunities), a plodding mobile effort, and many other sub-par initiatives. So, this begs the question, is Steve a winner because of Microsoft, or is Microsoft a winner because of Steve?

Steve Ballmer is a living dichotomy, which perplexes many people smarter than me. As perhaps is the case with most people, Steve’s most admirable qualities (his passion and company loyalty) may be the root cause of some of his greatest failings as a chief executive. His passion and loyalty while sometimes inspiring and motivating, have also at times led to blatant acts of arrogance and impulsivity resulting in PR disasters.

Following is my scorecard evaluation of Steve Ballmer rating him on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 representing the highest mark:

  1. Talent Management- 7.5: Steve is well known for his nose for talent. He is a prolific recruiter, and has been involved in almost all of the key hires Microsoft has made. He is a motivator and a believer in developing a positive culture. My only knock on Steve in this area is that he doesn’t always seem to recognize where Microsoft’s considerable talent should be deployed to generate the best return.
  2. Brand Champion – 5:  This is a tough one for Steve…If I were solely grading his ability to evangelize the corporate brand to Wall Street I would score him much higher. However, his constant PR gaffs, his abrasiveness, and his impulsivity don’t make him the ideal corporate spokesperson.
  3. Innovation – 3: Unlike another Steve (Jobs), Ballmer is a lagger and not a leader when it comes to innovation. Worse than his own lack of innovative vision, is the fact that the company as a whole has embraced a “big is better” mentality, such that they’re sold on the concept that their size and history will always insulate them from changing market dynamics…
  4. Leadership/Decisioning – 5: Steve has leadership skills and ability, but they are often misdirected in their application. History is full of examples of inspirational leaders who were ineffective. Getting someone to follow you is just a small part of the battle; knowing where to lead them is more important.
  5. Intelligence – 8: Is Steve a bright guy? Sure he is…Is he the smartest CEO around? Far from it…You don’t accomplish what Steve has accomplished by not being intelligent. That being said, raw intelligence and savvy business acumen are not always one in the same. The raw tools are there, but the refinement, discipline, and polish are clearly missing.
  6. Strategic Vision – 5: I give Steve credit for recognizing he has some huge problems facing him, but I don’t give him much credit for how he is addressing them. Microsoft’s vision is being constantly eroded by other companies that embrace social relevance, innovation, and velocity as key business drivers. Microsoft’s strategy and tactics are outdated and misdirected. The fact is that you cannot play an effective offense or defense with a poor game plan.

I don’t believe Steve Ballmer will remain CEO of Microsoft for much longer…The company needs a fresh perspective, and a new focus, which Steve cannot offer.

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