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What is Leadership?

Sunday, August 13, 2000 by Dave Winer.

Likes and dislikes Permalink to Likes and dislikes

Over the years I've probably had 200 meetings with Microsoft people. There are a lot of things I like about the Microsoft culture, on a person-to-person basis. I like that they accept a challenge, you can say something direct like "That's totally brain-dead" and they don't get up from the table, in fact it seems to draw them in.

But I've learned, sometimes the hard way, not to take that approach with people at other technology firms. Perhaps this is the biggest difference between Microsoft and the rest of the industry. The Microsoft culture seeks out adversaries, where others recoil in response to a challenge, but they're no less aggressive, the response is just postponed. Eventually it comes. The rest of the industry is not unagressive, it's just more impersonal, less immediate.

I'm a legal alien Permalink to I'm a legal alien

Music always plays a big role in my writing, sometimes invisibly, and frequently, quite visibly. In this piece you'll hear the music of Sting, singing "Englishman in New York". It's my new theme song.


I'm an alien, I'm a legal alien, I'm an Englishman in New York.

La lalaa lala lalaall la lalala la. Be yourself no matter what they say.

What is leadership? Permalink to What is leadership?

I may be flirting with the music industry but I'm still firmly rooted in the technology industry. The convergence so many predicted is happening. Media merge. We're all Englishmen in New York. I don't take coffee, I drink tea, my dear. (In other words we think differently.)

I wish my industry had done more to prepare for this convergence, then perhaps we would be able to help get the users what they want in music more quickly and with less confusion. Our unfinished business is defining leadership, and then finding some leaders who are worth following.

I had this discussion with two Microsoft people on Friday, Linda Stone and David Stutz. It's their job to visit with people in Silicon Valley and elsewhere to find out how Microsoft is perceived. As Linda says "My job is to be ears." That's a good job to have.

Everything I talked about with Linda and David revolved around a single concept, leadership. So it made sense to try to say what leadership is. And from that maybe we can actually have some.

Think of a jungle Permalink to Think of a jungle

Think of an industry as a jungle with villages. Our species is great at evolution (relative to other species) so our villages compete. We compare ourselves to other villages. Perhaps we even hate the other villages, and we try to burn them down. That would be a human thing to do, for sure.

But while we're busy attacking and rebuilding after attacks, one village grows so large that it dominates the other villages. That village has some serious thinking to do about where it wants to go. Because if it looks at where its ideas come from, where its motivation comes from, it's often not coming from inside, it's coming from the competition with other villages, no matter how much they despise them. Without competition, our species just doesn't invent much, doesn't evolve.

This could be about Microsoft, or I could be talking about the United States (when viewed from other countries) or it could be the global economy. Something interesting happened just before any of us were born. The human species acquired the power to destroy the whole jungle. We haven't done it yet, but we're workin on it. Somehow, even though we have terribly flawed political processes in the east and the west, we haven't yet had a leader that wanted to cash in all the chips for the whole species. This is good!

But Microsoft, that's another story. On Friday I swapped in my Microsoft stories in preparation for the meeting with Linda and David. I would never let Bill Gates have his finger on the button. There's no price too high for the rest of us to pay for his victory. He'd make a bad leader.

The President of the United States sometimes has to do something that's not great for the US to keep the whole world going. It might feel good for a moment to let some small country have it, and wipe them off the face of the earth, but the aftermath would be so unpleasant, our presidents don't even try anymore. Perhaps before nuclear weapons, the US could have a president, who like Gates wanted victory in every battle no matter what the cost. But it's not that way anymore for our presidents. The stakes eventually get too high, too unthinkable.

This is what Microsoft hasn't understood yet, even though it's been said so many ways by so many people. They have filters at Microsoft that keep this idea from penetrating. It's really simple. A boy always fights when provoked. A man can choose not to. A leader must choose not to.

"It takes more than combat gear to make a man, takes more than license for a gun. Confront your enemies, avoid them when you can, a gentleman will walk but never run."

It's simple Permalink to It's simple

Leadership is very simple if you look at it this way.

The jungle comes first, then the village.

As we get more powerful, do more things to enhance the jungle.

A new village lead by a young blustery chief is not a threat. We understand history, and know that big powerful villages take a long time to disappear, contrary to what Gates says.

If the leader of the most powerful village aligns his interests with those of the jungle, the village will probably continue, and so will the jungle. Hey Rome and Athens went down pretty hard, but they're still there. So are IBM and Apple.

This is a lesson not just for Gates, and the next US president, but also for the leaders of any would-be dominant village. Start from day one with respect for the jungle. Don't pave it over. Keep it wild and interesting. Judge other people's ideas based on this practice and we'll all go somewhere.

For Gates, the issue was Netscape, a tiny village camped out in tents painted to look like a fortress in a gorgeous grove in the middle of the jungle. In comes Gates with flamethrowers and tanks. Air cover and spies. After the battle the grove is no longer gorgeous. It's useful, but not so inspiring.

The Bees in Y2K Permalink to The Bees in Y2K

It's mid-August so the first scouts in the annual Bee Invasion are looking for food for the troops. I started talking about them on Scripting News yesterday, an annual ritual, and John Callender asked why I can't peacefully coexist with the bees (which are really yellowjackets) since they never sting. Since I really like writing about the Bees, I wanted to run my answer through the mail list.

"I'm a pretty lazy guy when it comes to killing other animals, so peaceful coexistence was my first approach. I don't know why it didn't work, but I have a theory. I'm a product of genetic evolution. For whatever reason my internal programming is constantly generating alerts when yellowjackets are buzzing around various parts of my body. There must be a huge body chemistry reaction of fear in my blood and nervous system. Fight or flight is triggered. "This is not a safe place" all my senses say. So while at a conscious level, like you, I know that they can't do me any harm, my body says something totally opposite."

Bandwidth and Seybold Permalink to Bandwidth and Seybold

In the next two weeks I'm hosting two Music-on-the Internet discussions in San Francisco.

At the Bandwidth conference, next Saturday I'm leading a star-studded panel of industry execs discussing fans of the future.

And on August 29, at Seybold, I'm leading a lunch discussion among the attendees, talking about Napster, and asking the publishers to speak their minds. The Seybold crowd is known to be conservative in areas of intellectual property, quite well-informed and outspoken. It should be a lot of fun!

Dave Winer

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