Luck is a crucial key to success, according to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. But you also have to put yourself in a position to become lucky.
In an interview for Business Insider’s podcast, “Success! How I Did It,” Ballmer said he advises younger people who are just starting their careers to find something they are really passionate about. Once they have a passion, they can build a career by working hard, being thoughtful, and getting a little lucky.
“There are people who are willing to work a little harder, willing to be a little smarter, and still don’t have success,” Ballmer said. “And some people do and there’s a luck element that distinguishes those.”
The three most important things any ambitious future leader needs, he says, are:
- Hard work
- Good ideas
“There are two kinds of people,” Ballmer explained. “My son will tell me this, ‘Dad, there are people who live to work and there are people who work to live,’ and I respect both of those things. But if you’re trying to have a career, you’re going to have a little bit more live-to-work in you than work-to-live.”
Once a solid career has been developed, Ballmer has additional advice for how to be a successful leader.
He told his successor at Microsoft, Satya Nadella: “You’ve got to be bold, but you’ve got to be right.”
A leader has to point employees in the right direction. “If you should be zagging left and you send people down the right, that’s the biggest failure a leader can make,” Ballmer told Business Insider.
Below, check out the episode with Ballmer explaining how he helped build Microsoft, or keep scrolling for a transcript detailing his advice to the next generation of leaders.
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Here’s the part of the interview where Ballmer shares his career advice:
Shontell: What advice did you give Satya Nadella as he was going to be coming in as CEO of Microsoft?
Ballmer: He quotes this and I’m sure he’s right: I said, “You’ve got to be bold, but you’ve got to be right.” It turn out that being bold and being wrong may be the worst place to be. The most important thing in leadership is actually pointing people the right direction. If you should be zagging left and you send people down the right, that’s the biggest failure a leader can make.
Shontell: Final question: You’ve had a long, impressive, awesome career that I think anybody would feel so lucky to have. Looking back on it, if you’re giving advice to someone who’s just starting theirs out, what’s the best advice you can give if someone wants to follow in your footsteps?
Ballmer: A few things. No. 1, find something to do that you’re passionate about. If you’re not passionate, I can’t imagine how anybody can get there. There are two kinds of people. My son will tell me this, “Dad, there are people who live to work and there are people who work to live,” and I respect both of those things. But if you’re trying to have a career, you’re going to have a little bit more live-to-work in you than work-to-live. So passion.
No. 2, evidence that in hard work, evidence that in good thought and good thinking — but be lucky. I know Microsoft’s a talented company, we have very talented people. I certainly felt like I worked hard and had some good ideas as did Bill Gates and Paul Allen. But if anybody says there’s no luck involved, I don’t believe that. There is some luck. There’s no, what was it, George Bernard Shaw? “Man and Superman.”
No, there are people who are willing to work a little harder, willing to be a little smarter, and still don’t have success. And some people do and there’s a luck element that distinguishes those. I’d probably highlight those things: hard work, good ideas, and put yourself in a position to get luck, if you will. I think that that’s very important.
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