Successful leadership according to Silicon Valley

Successful leadership according to Silicon Valley

Leadership Business Consulting has analysed the culture of leaders and leadership practices of Silicon Valley-based companies, in the US, and identified three elements that are key to the success of a business leader in the global economy of the 20th century.

Carlos Oliveira

What is the relevance of Silicon Valley?
Silicon Valley leads in generating and growing start-ups and is the birthplace and headquarter of the largest companies in the world. In addition, Silicon Valley is focused on innovation and technological development in order to create new business models and new solutions directed to the global marketplace. Technology will transform the economy and our lives more than we can now anticipate.

Why do business leaders in Silicon Valley succeed?
There are many business success factors that are related with Silicon Valley itself and not with each leader and leadership practice. However, part of the success of Silicon Valley-based companies is related with a certain culture and leadership practice, whose most distinctive elements can and should be known, adapted, and applied by leaders of private and even public organizations, with the necessary contextualization.

Leadership Business Consulting isolated the three elements or leadership principles most prominent in the culture and leadership practice present in Silicon Valley:

1. Adopt a different perspective;
2. Change the world;
3. Be the change.

These three principles set the way how these leaders are prepared to take risks and manage failure. The higher the risk, the greater the gain. Failure is not treated as an end of the line, a shame, but rather as a learning process and knowledge to be recycled and tapped to leverage the next risky bet. 

Principle 1. Adopt a different perspective
One of the hallmarks of successful leaders in Silicon Valley is the ongoing challenge to the status quo, unceasing pursuit of innovation, especially breakthrough innovation. Winning within the established model brings benefits. But as soon as new ways of doing things, producing and consuming are discovered, the competitive advantages become enormous.

In this sense, business leaders in Silicon Valley imagine the world in a different perspective, they approach challenges with an open-minded, create a culture and assume behaviours that stimulate creativity in their teams, promote the constant search for innovation, allow attempt and error, do not ridicule different ideas, study the anthropology of consumer behaviour, promote the pollination among different knowledge and sciences, support radical collaboration.

Design thinking is an exponent of this way of thinking. Management optimizes, engineering resolves, design creates – searches a different look for difficult problems that management and engineering do not solve.

As Marcel Proust said, “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new sights, but in looking with new eyes”. How many people go to the same place, but do not see the same things? Some look and discover, others do not. 

Principle 2. Changing the world
Another one of the hallmarks of successful Silicon Valley leaders is the high ambition of their bets.

Most venture capital investments in Silicon Valley focus on ideas that address core needs and a potential market above $1 billion or 1 billion people. In some cases, investors are looking for ideas that are “crazy ideas”, but if these ideas take off, they will change a business or industry’s business model, thus creating a massive competitive advantage.

In this sense, business leaders in Silicon Valley create a culture and assume behaviours that promote passion, ambition, risk. They define an ambitious vision and a plan of achievement. They promote the transformations/innovations necessary for success and place “attitude” before “experience”.

As Steve Jobs said, “people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are the ones who do”.

Principle 3. Be the change
Another one of the hallmarks of successful leaders in Silicon Valley is leading by example and collaboration, focusing on the operational, on the practice of performing.

In this sense, business leaders in Silicon Valley create a culture and engage in behaviours that promote interaction and experimentation to discover the way – rather than theorizing. They seek agile methods to be focused on results and on the customer, they apply lean concepts to be able to do and execute with few resources. They influence the team to interact with all stakeholders in order to achieve the desired results. They plan, empower, monitor, hold accountable, celebrate to obtain concrete results.

As Mahatma Ghandi said, “if you want to change the world, be the change”. 

The experience of a remarkable program
Leadership Business Consulting is present in San Francisco since 2008 and has taken to Silicon Valley, in immersion programmes, more than 300 executives from Europe, Africa and South America (Brazil).

Remember and practice: 1. Adopt a different perspective, 2. Change the world, 3. Be the change.


CMO-PLCarlos Miguel Valleré Oliveira is the CEO of Leadership Business Consulting, an international management consulting firm, focused on digital transformation, operating in eight countries, in Europe (Portugal and Spain), in Southern Africa (Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde and also South Africa) and the Americas (Brazil and USA – California).