Can Geeks And Nerds Really Lead?

Sep 13, 2017 1 Min Read

“Be nice to nerds. Chances are you′ll end up working for one.”

This particular quote, often attributed to Bill Gates, is usually discussed in schools to encourage students to avoid bullying or speak up if they are the victims of this cowardly act.

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While it′s certainly a feel-good statement, people often question its accuracy. Is it really the destiny of every nerd to take on a leadership position, or is the quote a way of asking people to play nice?


A look at successful nerds

Certainly, there is an abundance of successful nerds who can be looked upon for inspiration. Under 30 CEO provides a list of 10 successful nerds who have managed to accumulate a large fortune in a short space of times.

The list includes Gates (Microsoft), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Jack Dorsey (Twitter), and Jeff Bezos (Amazon). Certainly, not all of them earned Latin honours – Gates and Zuckerberg are college dropouts – but they still qualify given their proficiency in the field of technology.

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Part of the success of nerds can be attributed to a paradigm shift in the development of technology. The Independent suggests that the rise of the Silicon Valley, as well as the emergence of the dotcom industries, saw computer science graduates emerge from their shells. From being the unpopular, often-bullied kids in school, many have become financial powerhouses – thanks to their innovative ideas and coding skills. Given that the digital industry seems to be showing no signs of slowing down, it is likely that more nerds will provide more success stories.

Furthermore, nerds tend to work hard. Their work ethic helps drive them towards success, especially because they don′t usually let challenges stop them from finding solutions to defeat any roadblocks that stand in their way.


Does financial success equate to good leadership?

At the other end of the scale is the argument that the abovementioned cases are more the exception than the rule, even if their numbers have been increasing over the years. While there are nerds who have made it big in their respective niches, there are also those who remain ‘cogs’ in their organisations.

Additionally, there are also those who put nerds in the same stereotypical box, arguing that nerds are socially awkward, and therefore will not be able to cope when they are placed in a leadership position, as they won’t be able to inspire and deliver strategies the same way an extrovert leader can.

Socially awkward geeks

That perspective is even supported by a study undertaken by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The Atlantic reported that the study discovered that popular students ended up earning 2% more after school than nerds, proving that “Revenge of the Nerds” may not have any substance, while proving truth to the statement, “It′s not what you know, but who you know that matters.”


Can nerds make good leaders?

With all that being said, can nerds be good leaders? There is no hard and fast rule with regards to what make a good leader, because it really depends on the individual.

Certainly, there are nerds who struggle to handle themselves in social situations, while there are those who thrive in such circumstances. This doesn′t have to be in the context of a formal leadership position. In fact, interactions with other members of the team are also important factors to determine how good a leader can be, particularly in terms of their contributions.

Something nerds tend to have in their favour is their ability to learn quickly. Gene Marks wrote in a The Forbes article that business itself is not that difficult to learn, which means that understanding its ins and outs will not be as challenging for professionals who have the capability to absorb substantial amounts of information.

Furthermore, Marks argued that nerds running a company are likely to be respected and helped by other nerds within the industry, because they essentially have the same language, experienced the same kind of challenges, and also have similar interests. He added that they can always hire other experts to help them out, including salesmen with the gift of gab who can compensate for their limited social skills.

In fact, shying away from the social interactions can also be remedied. A good example is Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo! Fast Company spoke about her Vogue interview, where she revealed she forces herself to attend parties and other social events so that she has to function outside of her comfort zone. This in turn means she is always learning new skills and how to adapt to various situations.


Food for thought

The bottom line is, being a nerd does not automatically make someone a good leader. However, the traits nerds nurture can help them to perform well in leadership roles.

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What the team has to say

There was a time where the nerds were known to work behind the scenes to make IT (information technology) work in an organisation. They were the cog in the wheel; often the ‘unseen’ faces of a business, except maybe for technology veterans such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, and the likes.

Read also: 6 Key Leadership Lessons From Steve Jobs

Then came the social media age and disruptive technology where data security, cloud technology, financial technology and digitalisation became more prominent and too hard to ignore.

The world we know today has changed rapidly since. Businesses that are not catching up with technology are putting themselves in a position of dire irrelevance. Many existing businesses are still playing the catch-up game with the ever-advancing pace of technology. Love it or loathe it, with Industry 4.0, the internet of things (IoT), machine learning, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) are ‘invading’ our lives, homes and workplaces.


“Welcome to our world!”

The rise of the geeks behind technology giants such as Facebook, Amazon, Google, Twitter, Uber, Tesla and Alibaba has made the leaders behind these big names greatly admired that many are looking up to them as ‘heroes’ for our future (except maybe for slightly controversial leaders like Travis Kalanick who led Uber previously).

People are looking up to these game-changing leaders for solutions to our everyday problems; from the way we consume information to our mode of transportation (of course, they have their haters too because of their disruptive ideas and ventures into the unknown).

Not to mention, their net worth because of the nature of their businesses and innovations. According to the Daily Mail UK and ENews, the geeks are also winning the hearts of many beauties, including Emma Watson (with tech geek William Knight), Miranda Kerr (with Evan Spiegel, Snapchat CEO) and previously Amber Heard (with Tesla boss Elon Musk).

Read also: The Leadership Qualities of Elon Musk

Is the geek getting chic? And have you noticed how many young professionals are donning thick-rimmed spectacles to look like a nerd? Could this be the revenge of the geeks as they begin to take on the world, and shape our future? We let you be the judge.


Jenni is a tech enthusiast armed with her strong passion for consumer gadgets, wearable tech, and mobile innovations. Want to know the difference between geek, nerd and dork? Check out this self-explanatory just-for-laugh Venn Diagram. Want to share your thoughts on this topic? Write to us at

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This article is published by the editors of with the consent of the guest author. 

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