The Changing Face Of Contemporary Business Environments Business Essay

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The contemporary business environment everyone facing is constantly changing, but leadership skill is invariable. The success of developing brilliant leaders is of great importance for every company and consequently impacting on a company's future.

This paper is explicating what is modern leadership, bringing out the key attributes and components of leadership from IT genius - Bill Gates and media titan- Oprah Winfrey, two different persons but reining top leaders in their beloved businesses separately.

The author is exemplifying leadership style in Chapter 3 & 4, following a comparison of each leadership similarity and difference to further explore the two great business gurus.

Based on extensive work with research and case studies on the leadership style done by the author, reader would get to know more about Bill Gates & Oprah Winfrey in different angles of view, along with some interesting findings and anecdotes of Bill Gates & Oprah Winfrey's business world.



Bill Gates is one of the most successful and richest businessman in the world, he has been ranked top number one among the billionaires for many years which posted on Forbes magazine.

Bill Gates was born in an ordinary American family in Seattle, although his life was fairly comfortable as his parents are well-educated with steady work to bring him up well.

Little Gates in his childhood was intelligent and ambitious, he is good at mathematics so his father decided to transfer him to private school for better education. When he was teenager, he already has a great notion which is computer would impact to everyone's daily life in near future, computer would come to every home and office desk upon revolution, while he never know the navigator of such revolutionizing computer era is not others but himself. With this in mind, although he studied at Harvard University in 1973, he determinedly dropped out from Harvard University, subsequently he conceptualized and set up the Microsoft Corporation with his partner Paul Allen in 1975. The name of Micro-soft, is an abbreviation for microcomputer software.

His great commercial success started from the MS-DOS (computer operating system) and sold to IBM as licensee product, it's an icon for the developed software protection from piracy, which served a strong foundation of dominating the markets whenever they go to and now 90% computer Microsoft software entering into each family and office.

When the office was moving to Seattle, there were only about sixteen people worked for him, but with rapidly sales growth, larger product range and strong customer service support, their customer base now is around globe, until 2009 Microsoft employed 93,000 in over 100 countries. (Microsoft 2010)


Oprah Gail Winfrey, was born illegitimate on January 29, 1954 in Mississippi, USA. Oprah had risen from humble origins to amass immense wealth, she influences and mentors millions of people worldwide from her shows and books, became the first black African American wealthy woman and most successful leader in Journalism and Media kingdom.

Oprah was staying with her grandmother in a very poor condition till six years old as her parents separated, most of time she spent was in the farm but every Sundays she would go church with her grandmother, her first public talk was in this church for Easter time recital, from there she was often invited to recite poems and verses at church and became famous in speaking in the town she lived. People were curious and asked this little girl what she wanted to be when grew up? She answered without thinking: "I want to be paid to talk". After returning father's home at age of fourteen, her father's strict and high standard has a great impact on her, he taught her to reject fear of failure, compelled her disciplined, reading and memory, he couldn't accept anything if she never try her best. Although she was consequently rebellious and wild behavior but these strictly rules made her aiming high and achieving goals as much as she can. "Use what you have to run toward your best - that's how I now live my life. (Oprah Winfrey, O Magazine, August 2003). Eventually she overcome all obstacles and life puzzles and received scholarship from University. Winfrey graduated from Tennessee State University majoring in Speech and Performing Arts.

Oprah found herself strength and interests in field of communications and media, thereafter started first job as news reader for a television station in Nashville, where she was the first black African woman working as news anchor and reporter for this station. After continuously hard working, she moved up quickly and realized her dream by different successful roles - talk show host, producer, actress, magazine and media founder as well as sympathetic philanthropist.


3.1 What is Leadership?

Leadership is an influence relationship among leaders and followers who intend real changes and outcomes that reflect their shared purposes. (Daft 2008, p.4)

To further deepening of leadership cognition, the leadership projects a vision to believe and influences people to achieve results, inspires and energizes people to improve and work productively, creates opportunities to make things happen thereupon significant changes for the organization, empowers people to take initiatives, builds trust and cohesion among followers.

3.2 Theory History

Theories on Leadership has been studied since nineteenth century, below chart listed most of key theories in which evolving process is seen from old paradigm to new paradigm:


Leadership Theory

Up to mid-1900s





1967- Present Day

1970s-Present Day

1970s-Present Day

1970s-Present Day

1978-Present Day

1982-Present Day

Great Man Theory

Traits Theory

Lewin's research into autocratic, democratic &laissez-faire styles

Behavioural Theory (especially Ohio, Michigan, Texas)

Situational Theory

Contingency Theory

Charismatic Leadership

Team Leadership

Servant Leadership

Transformational Leadership

In search of Excellence &thousands of management books on leadership

Table 4.1 Source: Time-line figure from The Leadership Styles by Tony Kippenberger (2002)

3.3. Great Man Approach

Great Man approach is the earliest theory which believe that good leaders are inherited not made and those are often from nobility, leaders ought to be possessed distinguished traits that come from natural, the majority of successful leaders are male. But apparently this approach is untenable.

3.4 Trait Approach

Leadership trait approach was generated from "Great Man theory". It is associated with certain character traits or qualities which could be identified from the leaders. Followers are attracted by leader's personal characteristics, but the personality traits are inborn and cannot be changed are inaccurate concept about leadership. It can only be part of benchmark of leadership to apply because all of the leaders were neither born with the traits nor the traits belong to them.

Below chart is the main leadership traits and skills identified by Stogdill in 1974.



Adaptable to situations

Alert to social environment

Ambitious and achievement-oriented









Tolerant of stress

Willing to assume responsibility

Clever (intelligent)

Conceptually skilled


Diplomatic and tactful

Fluent in speaking

Knowledgeable about group task



Socially skilled

3.5 Behavioural Theory

In 1964, Robert Blake and Jane Mouton (1985) both analyzed employees and production the two areas for managerial behaviors, it is also known as Leadership Grid.

The grid interpreted leadership in two dimensions and drawn into two axes, score ranging from 0- 9. The vertical axis concerns of people, horizontal axis concerns of task and results.

Authoritarian - Task-orientation, low relationship

Country Club - People-orientation, low task

Impoverished - Low task & relationship

Team Leader - High task & relationship

Above four types of leadership come out from the index, it is felt that most people stay in Middle of the Road but ultimately goal is to shift up to Team Leader ideally.

3.5 Lewin's Leadership Theory

Kurt Lewin, a researcher from University of Lowa, identified three types of leadership as below:

a) Autocratic (Authoritarian Leadership): Autocratic leaders provide clearly instructions on who, when, what and how to be done with work. Decision maker is the leader itself. Researchers found that it's much harder to change autocratic type to democratic zone than vice versa. Overused this style could become bossy and controlling person.

b) Democratic (Participative Leadership): Democratic leaders encourage subordinates to participate the discussion, subordinates consequently are creative and motivated by engaging in the process. job satisfactory

c) Laissez-Faire (Delegative): Hands-off management. Leaders rarely provide instructions or guidance to team members, empower people to make decision. This applies most to the team member who has expertise in certain area driving the effectiveness of leadership.

3.6 Situational Theory

3.6.1 Fiedler's Contingency Model

This theory was proposed by an Austrian psychologist Fred

Edward Fiedler. His model emphasize to "predict leader effectiveness and to assign leaders to specific task situations" (Miller 362). He concluded that leaders' characteristics and situation are related to effective leadership. The situation consists of three elements: leader-member relations, task structure and position power. The quality of the three attributes is directing leader to favorable or unfavorable situations.

3.6.2 Hersey and Blanchard's Situational Theory (Daft 2008)

Hersey and Blanchard viewed the followers vary in readiness level in terms of task and relationship behavior. They characterized leadership styles into four styles which are Telling, Selling, Participating, Delegating. Leader can adopt one of ways to the person being led after diagnosing the readiness level of follower, such as education level, skills, confidence, maturity and experience.

3.6.3 The Path-Goal Theory (Daft 2008)

The main responsibility of leader in this theory is to increase staff motivation (payoff) to achieve organizational goals and make clear on payoff paths and travel fast. It described four styles of leadership: Supportive, Directive, Participative, Achievement-oriented leadership. Leader should change behaviors to appropriate methods to match the situation.

3.6.4 Charismatic Leadership

Leaders who have the ability to inspire and motivate people to do more than they would normally do, despite obstacles and personal sacrifice (Daft 2008). Another interpreter put as "A fire that ignites followers' energy and commitment, producing results above and beyond the call of duty." (Klein and House, 1995, p.183-198)

3.6.5 Transactional and Transformational Leadership

Transactional leaders focused on a system of rewards and punishment where staff are clear on what rewards (such as pay increases and bonuses) they will get for following orders. This only covers the lower order needs of the subordinates.

Transformational leadership is based on the ability to bring about significant change in both followers and the organization (Cited by Daft, 2008). According to Bass (1985), transformational leaders inspire and motivate followers to strive beyond required expectations by raising followers' level of consciousness about the importance and values of goals, getting followers to transcend their own self-interest for the good of the organization and elevating from lower-level physical needs to higher-level psychological needs (such as self-esteem).

Stephen Covey (1992) offers contrast between transactional and transformational leadership as below:

Transactional Leadership

Transformational Leadership

Builds on man's need to get a job done and make a living

Is preoccupied with power and position, politics and perks

Is mired in daily affairs

Is short-term and hard data oriented

Focuses on tactical issues

Relies on human relations to lubricate human interactions

Follows and fulfils role expectations by striving to work effectively within current systems

Supports structures and systems that reinforce the bottom line, maximize efficiency, and guarantee short-term profits

Builds on a man's need for meaning

Is preoccupied with purposes and values, morals and ethics

Transcends daily affairs

Is oriented towards long-term goals without compromising human values and principles

Focuses on missions and strategies

Releases human potential - identifying and developing new talent

Designs and redesigns jobs to make them meaningful and challenging

Aligns internal structures and systems to reinforce overarching values and goals

Comparison of Transactional and Transformational Leadership (Covey, 1992)


4.1. Bill Gates Leadership Qualities

From schooldays, Bill Gates has already shown his intelligence and thirsty for knowledge, these qualities helped him later to steer Microsoft as one of Fortune 500 companies. Little Gates absorbed new things when he was bored with school projects. He scored 1590 out of 1600 on the college SAT test (A&E TV network, 2009), faring very well in all his subjects, especially Maths and Science, learnt fast and performed an excellent job in Microsoft as CEO and Chief Software Architect.

Bill Gates' passion and energy seems endless, people always saw him at computer lab working on programming projects day and night with only very short breaks for food or naps. His persistence and hardworking also emerged in Microsoft, one day Gates' assistant found someone sleeping under the table in the early morning, she almost called police until discovered it was Bill Gates. (A&E TV network, 2009)

Bill Gates' ambitious, dominant and competitive traits secured Microsoft as IT leader in the world. He made aggressive business strategies in the interest of dominating every marketplace, tactics for acquisition exercising its monopoly.

Gates is apparently a risk taker, from Harvard dropout to set up own company. "Bill Gates is the quintessential risk taker," says Joshua Schuler, Executive Director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lemelson-M.I.T. Program, "He understands that innovation is all about taking risks and being okay with the prospect of failure." (Scientific American, 2010) The game of monopoly is a good example, his strong determination and risk taking spirits open up the door of wealth.

Assertiveness and self-confidence are visible from how Bill Gates had done with job during hardship. In the early stage, he won many contracts from others competitors when Microsoft was just an unknown company, his confidence and assertiveness about closing the deal played a vital part in business development and negotiation with people.

The vision of computers everywhere is proof of Bill Gates' farsightedness. Gates is visionary leader who is confidence in his ideas and vision. For instance, Gates does not mind to wait for a long time for Windows market demand picking up, Windows was gradually accepted by customers and getting very popular. His accurate prediction kept Microsoft competitive and profitable with its cutting-edge technology.

4.2. Oprah Winfrey Leadership Qualities

A good public speaking skills and Passion - At the age of four, Oprah was clever in reciting and performing others' sermons in local churches, even she was a little girl, but her public speaking has drawn a great attention and love in her town. Oprah Winfrey realized that she has fairly good public speaking skills, that's why she pursues her career started with news reader. Her passion drives her to do what she loves and she wants to be the best in her most capable arena.

Influence - Oprah relocated to Chicago to host AM Chicago in 1984. Within just one month, it had surpassed Donahue as the No.1 local talk show, and within a year it was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show. A year later, it entered national syndication and became the highest-rated talk show in TV history. It has remained No.1 talk show for 18 seasons, has won dozens of Emmys, and is seen by an estimated 30 million viewers a week in the United States and is broadcast internationally in 111 countries. (Allen 2010) From her track records, it is revealed how astounding of influence and outstanding communication skills she has.

Hardworking - Oprah spent long hours to prepare thoroughly before going on any camera. Her hard work paid off, she move up swiftly to news reader and reporter in Baltimore and was offered her own talk show in 1977. She felt that luck is nothing to do with her success. "I don't believe in luck" she said, "I think luck is preparation meeting opportunity." (O'Neil 2004, p.13)

Perseverance - "There is no such thing as failure in my life, I just don't believe in it." (O'Neil 2004, p.13) That's what she absorbed attitude from her father.


5.1. Comparison of leadership qualities

Below table is a comparison between Gates and Oprah leadership:

Leadership Qualities

Bill Gates

Oprah Winfrey










Result- orientation

People- orientation





Daring (Risk-taking)

Appreciation of paradox



5.2 Traits Approach

There are many similarities for the both successful leaders which were analyzed in the previous chapter. The Traits Approach identified and measured their individual personality characteristics as per specified above table.

Gates is result-oriented leader. In Microsoft, "The culture is very casual and relaxed and it does not matter what you wear or how many hours you work as long as you deliver on your commitments and contribute to the success of your team. - Addy, Finance Rotation Analyst"(

Oprah, confident and personable, is considered a sister of many of her key employees. (Working Woman, p.52) This explained well that Oprah is good at building relationship and a people-oriented leader.

According to Daft (2008, p.98), Bill Gates is an introvert who does not like social encounters. Being a host, Oprah has a great sense of fun, outgoing and outspoken. Tinton Falls, NJ said on her way out of the theater. "She's very outgoing, extremely personable, she's fabulous." (Daily News, 2007)

Gates is competitive and risk taking as previously described, whereas Oprah is cooperative and appreciation of paradox. Oprah has been working with many authors to promote their books through her highly influential television book club, even she does not profit from the sales of the books she chooses. (The New York Times, 2005) She never made dubious investments that put a strain on her core business (The New York Times, 2009).

Gates is focus on software development whereas Oprah plays diverse roles as host, actress, movie producer, founder of O Magazine and Book Club, Angel Network.

5.3 Transformational leadership - Bill Gates

The vision of "a computer on every desk at work and in every home" (Academy of Achievement, 2010) was articulated across all Microsoft employees.

Intellectual capital is top agenda of Microsoft as Gates always believe in engaging talented people into his organization. "I'd have to say my best business decisions have to do with picking people," Gates once said, "Deciding to go into business with Paul Allen is probably at the top of the list, and subsequently hiring a friend - Steve Ballmer, who has been my primary business partner ever since." (Kurtzman 2004, p.236). Bill Gates knows how to reward in different ways for employees. Now Steve Ballmer has been developed and promoted as CEO of Microsoft. Because his employees are talented software developers, they share the same vision and are easily inspired and motivated by Gates. Motivated employees can make all difference in company's competitiveness to not just survive but succeed.

Gates indeed brought significant change in followers and Microsoft by having a powerful vision, developing followers into leaders, elevating the concerns of followers from lower-level physical needs to higher-level psychological needs and generating a motivating corporate spirit that kept the best people coming into Microsoft and doing more than originally expected.

By Gates' powerful transformational leadership, Microsoft has been transformed and become what it is today.

5.4 Charismatic Leadership - Oprah Winfrey

Oprah has an inspirational vision: "Originally our goal was to uplift, enlighten, encourage, and entertain through the medium of television," Winfrey explained, "Now our mission…is to use television to transform people's lives, to make viewers see themselves differently, and to bring happiness and a sense of fulfillment into every home." (Fitch, J.M. 2000) Oprah is strong visionary woman, she will always convey this vision to others ensuring her receivers hold the same abiding faith. "I will continue to use my voice and my life as a catalyst for change, inspiring and encouraging people to help make a difference in the lives of others." (Bloomberg Business Week, 2004) The fact is that she really did it.

Oprah is 100 Most Influential People in the World (TIME Magazine 2010). She has great powerful aura of attracting and energizing audience around her. Such quality is known as charisma. is created by her engines targeting women's lifestyle and providing related information about her show, it is also a home of her book club. There are about 3 million users per month generating 45 million page Click-through rate and with more than half a million members of Oprah's Book Club. (Allen 2010) These data showed that Oprah processes fabulous charisma, consequently generates unbelievable revenues consecutively.

Oprah follows charismatic leader style, she is the fire igniting followers' energy and commitment, empower and delegate them to perform more and beyond.

"Well, I'll just say it - without Oprah Winfrey, there would be no Barack Obama. Not because she endorsed him, but with her message of bootstrap accountability, she not only empowered black people, but empowered white people. (The New York Times, 2009). It is believed that Oprah always transmitted energy to followers, enhancing their confidence in achieving the goals by her personal charisma.



The gender's (or rather masculine versus feminine) difference seems to play an important part in the contrasting leadership style of Gates (Aggressive, Competitive) and Oprah (Relationship, Intuitive). Interestingly, Microsoft employs 76% (Microsoft 2010) male employees worldwide whereas Oprah's organization is believed to have more female than male employees. This may mainly be due to the industry they are in since most men tend to engage in technology development whereas most women prefer collaborative and relationship building working environment. However, one should learn from each other by improving one's weaknesses and adapt a style that does not distort too much from their personality. There must be a genuine concern on both task and people.

If Oprah and Gates were to switch with each other the industry they were in, it is felt that they will have difficulty to fit or adapt to the environment. Not only because both may lack the passion and enthusiasm but also their strengths and knowledge of the business are not in the newly switched industry. Furthermore, their followers may not be convinced as they are smart to observe if their leaders lack passion or strengths in the area they lead.

Transformational and charismatic leadership are all applicable for current business world. Transformational leader should also need charisma to appeal mass. As such, charismatic leader should be more task focus but all still depend on what situation the leader walk into.

An ideal leader with great affinity understand how to identify varies circumstances and deploy people to accomplish the tasks. May next theory comes out from another great leader like Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey.


Today's leader has to possess the passion, honesty and integrity, aware of own strengths and weaknesses, understand the characteristics of tasks, followers, organizations, and cultural differences, the need for empowerment, collaboration and diversity and to respond to the reality of change and crisis. It is definitely not easy but challenging.

Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey both possess key indispensable qualities of leadership, these qualities foster and attain trust, support and unexpected performance from followers. Thereafter, the revenue and profit generated soar.

Bill Gates is innovating and transformational leader who seeks opportunity, meet and exceed the pace of change both in the internal and external environment.

Oprah Winfrey uses her powerful and honest voice to make the change in others' lives and the rest of world. Although her charismatic leadership style is the other way around derived from relationship, but both leaders realized ultimately goals and make a great change for employees and organizations.

As contemporary leader, should be transformational and charismatic master, to magnate employees and organization together embracing the huge challenges and contingency. The game is there, be winner or loser, it's all the leader's call!