In case you missed it, Bill Gates has a little *cough* money--with a net worth of around $91.1 billion, he's currently ranked as the second richest person in the world after Amazon's Jeff Bezos. But surely, oh, surely, that wouldn't stop him from really understanding the average Joe or Jane, right?
Naturally, talk show host Ellen DeGeneres thought it would be funny to find out. DeGeneres invited Gates to appear on a segment for The Ellen Show that was posted to Youtube on Wednesday. In the roughly four-minute bit reminiscent of The Price Is Right, Gates had to try to guess how much everyday items like dental floss and Rice-a-Roni cost. His results were, well, let's just say DeGeneres got her laughs, along with some audience sighs and gasps. (Sorry, Bill, good luck getting an average container of laundry detergent for $4.)
But despite Gates' ignorance, he's not as out of touch as he superficially might seem. Here are four ways the segment surprisingly showed great leadership.
1. He admitted his reality.
When Degeneres asked Gates how long it'd been since he'd been in a supermarket, Gates readily admitted that he hadn't shopped in a long time. That honesty helped him connect more than if he'd tried to paint himself as being just like everybody else (which no one would have believed, anyway).
2. He listened to feedback.
When the audience responded negatively to Gates's guess at the price of Rice-a-Roni ($5), the tech guru immediately noted, "The audience didn't like that." And when he made the comment, he wasn't looking at DeGeneres. He looked at the audience, albeit briefly, as if to say, "Yep, I'm with you, I heard you." He continued to listen, using their responses to adjust his guesses, and during the last presentation, he even spoke directly to the guests as he weighed his knowledge of branded pricing against their real world experience and asked, "You think less than $10?"
3. Humor crept its way in.
When the opportunity presented itself, Gates joked around, such as saying he'd take five of the Rice-a-Roni packages when he learned that each cost a dollar, not the $5 that he had guessed. Experts assert that humor is disarming, noting that it can release dopamine in the brain. His lighthearted approach helped ease some of the awkwardness that could have been present from his status and celebrity.
4. He took a chance on how others would see him.
Gates probably knows that, to some degree, people already have labeled him as being in a whole different world than most everyone else. In doing the segment, he took a bit of a risk that he'd only solidify that perception. In fact, the segment worked and was funny because there was legitimate disconnect. But doing the show also gave him the opportunity to reveal other sides of himself, like his humor and ability to clue in to others. He likely trusted that those traits would be seen, too, and that they'd offer some balance.
While Gates clearly needs to brush up on typical costs, at the end of the day, he still won DeGeneres's game, correctly guessing three out of the five items within a dollar of their actual costs. He won because he stayed relaxed and flexible, using those around him for answers he couldn't know. And that's what fabulous leaders do every day. They can't know or do everything themselves. They stay authentic in their interactions, take risks and seriously consider the input they get from others. From that standpoint, Gates just schooled us all.