Ballmer’s departure is a leadership failure

Steve Ballmer

Steve Ballmer / Getty

Late last week, it was revealed that after more than a decade as the head of Microsoft, Steve Ballmer would be stepping down within the next year. Over at Three Star Leadership, Wally Block has put together a few comments from other sources regarding Ballmer’s departure, and I wanted to add mine to the mix.

Ballmer’s resignation at this point in time is a failure of leadership. Barring extenuating circumstances, or a private matter, Ballmer did a disservice to the company he gave his life to and the employees he led. Here’s why:

Steve Ballmer put the company and its employees in a state of limbo.

Had Ballmer wanted to retire or resign, he should have done it before he stood in front of the media and announced Microsoft’s reorganization plan. Or, he should have waited out the transition, hoping it would work. At least give it another year.

By announcing that he was resigning/retiring when he did, he effectively killed the reorganization plan he just announced. There is no successor-in-waiting, so the person leading Microsoft next would not have been part of the reorganization process. It’s a hunt they don’t have a dog in.

As a leader, trying to implement another leader’s strategy is not something I would want to do, regardless of the company. And I wouldn’t do it. I would either develop my own strategy or just not take the position. My leadership style is not like Steve Ballmer’s. In fact, no one’s style or strategy is like Ballmer’s. It can’t be implemented like he would do. They don’t understand the strategy as he did.

Any leader worth his or her salt will implement his or her own strategy. The next CEO should not have to adopt and adapt to a plan developed in the midst of a dysfunctional organizational culture. Someone with fresh eyes and ideas are needed, and an outside leader coming in doesn’t adopt something already developed within the culture that needs changing.

In putting the company in limbo, the employees are placed in limbo. Why go along with changes that may or not be in effect in 18 months? It’s likely many will leave. It often happens during periods of transition. That can create a serious brain drain on the company. New employees will have to come on board and get caught up on the products, the methodology, and the culture. That takes time. It could continue to put Microsoft behind the curve.

Maybe Ballmer was forced out. Maybe he just decided it was time to go. Regardless, now is not the time to announce it. He should have done it before the reorganization announcement or wait it out another year. In reality, I believe it just hurts the company and its employees.