So I'm sitting here at SXSWedu, waiting to hear Bill Gates deliver the closing keynote and pondering a question my wife asked me this morning: Are you going to talk to him afterward?
My first instinct was to say no. I know he'll be barraged with fans after his talk, if he even chooses to stick around at all. That line doesn't sound too appealing. More importantly, I don't have anything important to say to him. At least, nothing that makes the mob scene seem worthwhile.
That was my answer when she asked. But now, I'm thinking a little differently. In fact, I've come up with something that I would very much like to say to him: "Thank you."
This didn't occur to me last night because, to be honest, it's not that obvious. I don't know Mr. Gates, I'm not making a living selling PCs, and I never worked at Microsoft or with his foundation.
But, upon further reflection, I missed something important. I'm sitting here in the early part of being middle aged, I have my own business consulting with companies of all sizes to increase output and reduce stress, and I'm well on my way to becoming one of the world's foremost experts on teaching groups of people how to interact with each other most optimally. I'm already doing things in that arena that only a handful of others in the world know how to do. From my point of view, I have a pretty sweet job.
And, in a very specific way, I have Bill Gates to thank for that.
I began my career at Intel, where the seeds of what I now know were first planted. I started as an entry level engineer, straight out of school, and over the course of about 10 years, I moved upwards and into management and leadership roles, always with increasing complexity.
My upward and lateral career mobility provided the foundation upon which I now rely to run my business and support my clients. That movement was made possible by the tremendous growth in the semiconductor industry in which I worked. And that growth stemmed from the initial insight and hard work of a very small number of people, among the most important of whom was Bill Gates.
Let's face it, not many people run worldwide, cross-industry, future generation technical development programs at age 25. I did. I was given the opportunity party because I was capable of doing it, and partly because the job needed doing. Bill Gates was instrumental in creating the world which gave me the opportunities which I continue to benefit from today.
He, of course, has no idea of my existence, much less of my gratitude. This morning, sitting here, it occurs to me that he should.
Maybe he doesn't care. It's easy to imagine that he has more important things to hear about than me. But having worked with a large number of leaders, I happen to know that the good ones rarely perceive even a small fraction of the good they do, or the positive ripple effects they create. That's the reason behind my newfound desire to talk with Mr. Gates, and it's also the concept underlying the two main points I felt were worth the pain of pecking out this post on my iPhone.
First, if you're a leader or manager, don't forget that your behavior has ripple effects into the lives and futures of others, and in ways you probably can't imagine. A father makes or misses his young child's theater or sports event because of how you manage. A teen decides to follow in mother's footsteps, or not, based upon how well mom seems to be treated at work. Economies and opportunities emerge next year based upon how well you run your business this year.
Second, don't neglect the other half of the equation. Your life was almost certainly made better by a supervisor, manager, or leader along the way -- probably by many more than one. If you get the opportunity, say thanks. It's a great way to encourage more of what we really need: good leadership and management at all levels.
Post script: As it turned out, Mr. Gates had to depart immediately following his remarks, so I didn't get a chance to speak with him. But, who knows, maybe he'll read this post. I hope so.