Who Made a Better Strategic Leader? Bill Gates or Steve Jobs?

Who Made a Better Strategic Leader? Bill Gates or Steve Jobs? | Leadership | Emeritus

It is the kind of question that sends their respective superfans into attack mode. Who’s the better strategic leader? Gates or Jobs? Who’s a bigger innovator and visionary? Who’s changed the world irrevocably? This rivalry spun out in pop culture, too, when the two titans of technology inspired an episode of the YouTube series “Epic Rap Battles of History”. Clearly, technophiles around the world have their favorites. And as strategic leaders of the Information Age go, is there anyone else who could beat out either of the two? So, who is the better leader? That is an involved question, and the first step to an answer is to understand the umbrella term that is strategic leadership.

strip banner

ALSO READ: Top Leadership Styles and Skills You Need to Become a Future-Proof Leader

The Lowdown on Strategic Leadership Styles

Create a culture of innovation, raise efficiency, inspire the workforce, and conceive and implement a concrete vision for the future. This, in a nutshell, is what strategic leaders do. There is no one-size-fits-all style but more of a mindset, as Margaret Andrews puts it. She would know, being an instructor of the Strategic Leadership program at Harvard’s Continuing Education Division. More importantly, this leadership “mindset” is also about driving your people to do their very best. Given its broad scope, this kind of leadership doesn’t have a singular bible that leaders hold as gospel. Neither the Steve Jobs leadership style nor Bill Gates’, for instance, could ever be mistaken for following the same leadership techniques to achieve success. Where they did find common ground is in being masterful at strategic planning, albeit in extremely different ways. Strategic leadership, therefore, manifests in different forms: 

Types of Strategic Leadership  

Leadership Training Program

1. Authoritarian Leadership

It might be hard to believe that any kind of autocratic style could fall into this category. This top-down approach, however, where the leader implements a Simon Says sort of strategy, could be applicable in certain situations that call for a strong captain to steer the ship. Jobs, in fact, has often been called an autocratic leader.  

2. Participative Leadership

At the other end of the spectrum of types of leadership is the participative kind. Here, the leader encourages the active participation of team members in the decision-making process.

3. Delegative Leadership

Closely connected with that is this style where leaders delegate tasks and responsibilities to team members, trusting them to do the needful. While he was initially uncomfortable with the idea, Gates eventually started delegating because of the workload.  

4. Transactional Leadership

In this case, every stakeholder within the company understands what is expected of them. They are either rewarded for getting the job done or “penalized” or “punished” if they don’t. This can be a tricky approach to balance, as punishment—reduced pay, demotions, etc—might disincentivize people.

5. Transformational Leadership 

This is all about inspiring and motivating team members. Leaders employ strategic thinking to help their employees change for the better, encourage them to utilize the full extent of their potential, and think out of the box. While it transforms employees, it also benefits the company over the long term. 

6. Servant Leadership

Here, the leader prioritizes their employees’ well-being and productivity. It is a strategy that is meant to enhance confidence among the workforce. It also creates stronger relationships. 

7. Charismatic Leadership

Jobs had it in spades and that, along with his general genius, was a potent combination. Such leaders have tremendous drive, which is matched only by their passion. It is often enough to inspire their teams to strive and maximize their potential. 

This explains how the Bill Gates leadership style or the one adopted by Steve Jobs leadership, as distinct as they were, falls within an all-encompassing strategic approach. Which aspects of this type of leadership did each embody? Let’s look at a few characteristics that represent this approach:

ALSO READ: What are the Top 10 Leadership Strengths? How to Develop Them?

The Gates Way of Strategic Leadership  


Back when Gates founded Microsoft in 1975 with Paul Allen, computers were big, but not that big. No one imagined that it would become an inevitability and a well-used household device. Gates and Allen did. He and his partner were the first ones to develop software for personal computers because they “believed that computers would be a valuable tool in every office and home”.  

Employee Growth 

This is a hallmark of a strategic leader—to correlate employee well-being and growth with overall organizational success. Gates, as the CEO of Microsoft, left no stone unturned to ensure that his employees’ interests were as important as his company’s. At one point, the company had introduced stock options for employees as well, inextricably tying their interests with those of the company. He also encouraged continuous training to ensure Microsoft staffers stayed up-to-date with the latest in tech, which was another initiative toward employee growth.


The Bill Gates leadership style guide also included the ability to read into trends and extrapolate the possibilities for the future, which is quite well-known in tech circles. Apart from his vision for personal computers—that realized itself exceedingly swiftly—it is also believed that he saw the explosive growth potential of the Internet right from its infancy to the extent that he introduced Internet software for Microsoft machines. 


Gates got around to the concept and benefits of delegating. It wasn’t easy to do for a person who started by writing his own code and checking and rechecking others as well. However, over time, he learned to let go and trust others to know what they’re doing. Now, one of the key pieces of advice he has is “If you want to have impact, usually, delegation is important.”  

ALSO READ: The Top 15 Leadership Communication Skills to Build Strong Teams

The Steve Jobs Leadership Style


One can argue and debate about his other characteristics as a leader, but everyone will agree that there was no one quite like him when it came to creativity. Just a look at the blockbusters rolled out by Apple are testament: iMac, iPod, iTunes, App Store, and the multiple-generation iPhone models that heralded the era of the smartphone. Innovation in Jobs’ universe was front and center, and Apple has continued to follow the same path.  

Visionary Thinking 

There can be no doubt about Jobs’ ability to do future-gazing. Right from the time he set up Apple in 1976 out of his garage, he anticipated the potential ubiquity of the computer down the line. Even when he returned to the fold in 1997, after a 12-year gap, he helped streamline what had become a brand churning out different Macintosh versions and peripherals. He sharpened the focus to just four products to provide a much-needed goal-oriented vision. As he told his biographer, Walter Isaacson, “Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what not to do.” 


There is no risk without reward, and Jobs was fearless when it came to innovation and product development. The other side of innovation is, after all, assessing and calculating risk. None of Apple’s products would have been a possibility if Jobs and his team were risk-averse. The technology was unprecedented, so the chances of failure were high as was the criticism from naysayers. Consider this: the Macintosh was the first commercially successful computer to use a mouse and graphical interface. He made the floppy drive obsolete by not giving one to the iMAC; detractors believed the iPad and the iPod were risky ventures. All of the above were acknowledged as invaluable tech achievements in the long run.    

He may have been acerbic and a task-master, but talented employees stayed on. Jobs had an uncanny ability to command a room and inspire people to strive for perfection and achieve their full potential. His innate passion for technology, his unusual ability to innovate constantly, and his skill to communicate his vision precisely are all factors that made people want to listen and emulate. 

ALSO READ: The Human Aspects of Leadership That 90% of HR Leaders Agree on: A Comprehensive Guide

The Leaders Who Changed the World 

The Jobs versus Gates debate has no end. Beyond who did it best and their distinct leadership approaches, both technocrats transformed the 21st century completely. There is no disputing that technology is where it is today because of their vision for a tech-forward future. Not just that, but they both found ways to make their innovations executable realities. In the process, the pair has ignited sparks of innovation, entrepreneurship, and fearless vision among many others who hope to follow in their footsteps. If that is not enough, then the two companies they established are megaliths of technological innovation today. Both continue to operate like well-oiled machines intent on tech breakthroughs. It can be argued that their biggest contribution is creating a legacy for others to build on. As strategic leadership goes, nothing could exemplify strategic vision more than that. 

For anyone interested in building on exploring their potential as leaders, Emeritus’ leadership courses are worth looking into. Check out the options available and dive into an exploratory journey to tap into your inner Jobs or Gates. That, along with watching the “Epic Rap Battle,” may help you find your leadership mojo.

Write to us at content@emeritus.org


About the Author

Senior Content Writer, Emeritus Blog
Gauri has found that the upside of being a writer and a scissor-happy copy editor is a rather constant, even paranoid, eye on her own work—and a healthy aversion to complacency. As a professional content creator for over a decade, she has spent time writing (and editing) design, architecture, and lifestyle stories, as well as corporate content, brochures, ads, and websites, among other genres. Her stint with Emeritus has opened an exciting and challenging avenue of education to explore and proves what she already knows—you’re really never done learning.
Read More About the Author

Courses on Leadership Category

US +1-606-268-4575
US +1-606-268-4575