This week's news that Ray Ozzie is leaving his role as Chief Software Architect at Microsoft is being interpreted as a personal failure either for Ozzie himself or for the Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Some commentators are saying that Ozzie had not been a satisfactory replacement for Bill Gates (for example suggesting that he couldn't match Gates' ability to bridge business and technology), while others are suggesting that Ballmer is using Ozzie as scapegoat for his own mistakes.
From a systems perspective, we might ask whether any two men or women, however brilliant, could have satisfactorily performed this divided leadership for an extended period. We might recall that Bill Gates performed both roles himself until 2000, so Ballmer and Ozzie were each being asked to replace one half of Gates. (Stepping into Bill's shoes, getting one shoe each.) We might also note that the Microsoft's share price has been relatively flat since 2000, although it would be wrong to draw simplistic conclusions from this. (For what it's worth, Microsoft's share price fell after the announcement of Ozzie's departure.)
Where there are two strong figures at the top of an organization, this can produce certain psychodynamic patterns, both functional and dysfunctional. That doesn't mean that shared leadership can never work, but that it doesn't work in quite the same way that sole leadership works.
In November 2012, the focus shifted to Steve Sinofsky.
My earlier note cited Joe Wilcox's piece, but failed to explore his theme of hawks and doves. Although Wilcox did not name Steve Sinofsy, it now makes sense to classify Sinofsky as one of the Windows hawks Wilcox is talking about. It appears that Sinofsky had successfully battled with Ray Ozzie for control of Windows Live Mesh, and Ray Ozzie left Microsoft immediately after Ballmer folded Windows Live Mesh into Sinofsky's organization.
See my post on Functional Organization at Microsoft (Nov 2012), describing Sinofsky's departure from Microsoft and its implications.
So we get one story if we look at Ballmer versus Ozzie, and a different story if we look at Sinofsky versus Ozzie.
Steve Ballmer, E-mail to Employees on Ray Ozzie Transition (Microsoft Oct 2010)
Nick Eaton, Ray Ozzie leaving post as Microsoft’s chief software architect (SeattlePi Oct 2010)
Joe Wilcox, It's a shame about Ray Ozzie (Oct 2010)
Roger Strukhoff, Ray Ozzie, Steve Ballmer, Steve Jobs and The Cloud (Oct 2010)
Eric McNulty, Sinofsky Led at Microsoft, but That Doesn't Make Him a Leader (HBR Nov 2012)
Ashlee Vance and Dina Bass, Why Steven Sinofsky Really Left Microsoft (Bloomberg Nov 2012)
updated 17 November 2012