Ask More of Business

Asking More Commentary: Perspectives from Mendoza College of Business

Commentary Post - Ed Conlon

Even senior leaders need to mind their people skills

November 16, 2012

Steven Sinofsky’s resignation as the president of Microsoft’s Windows and Windows Live operations may have several causes, including concerns over the launch of Windows 8. But some accounts say his personality was at least partly to blame.

This raises the question: Should having an abrasive personality be reason enough to topple a corporate leader?

Yes.

Senior managers have a general responsibility to the overall enterprise. They are expected to work with other senior managers, as a team, to set overall strategy and direction, and to participate in decisions that influence the overall enterprise.

If they lack interpersonal skills for that role, they cannot function well in top management teams and may not be viewed as a value-adding asset outside of their own division.  Unless they prove to be indispensable drivers of profit for their divisions, they are subject to replacement.   I suspect that the combination of disappointment over Windows 8 and the difficulties others were having with him at the senior level led to his departure.

We know from decades of management research that senior executives, universally, perform certain roles, all requiring communication and interpersonal skills and all requiring interaction with people.  A manager who lacks the ability to listen well, speak and write clearly, interpret situations with respect to the measure of empathy or assertiveness required and act with both confidence and humility will not be as able to perform the wide range of leadership roles as well as one who does. 

By all accounts, Sinofsky had some deficits.