5 Lessons In Leadership From Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO

The Editorial Team
  • Plans and strategies are important but not the essential part of a company’s growth story. You need someone at the top who has a vision, a leader who decides what the future of the company should be.
5 Lessons In Leadership From Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO
Reading Time: 4 minutes

“A leader must see the external opportunities and the internal capability and culture, and all of the connections among them and respond to them before they become obvious parts of the conventional wisdom.” Satya Nadella

When Satya Nadella took over as CEO of Microsoft, the company was in the news for all the wrong reasons. He had to act quickly and change the company’s strategy from its failing cell phone division to other areas of the business like cloud computing. The efforts have yielded results and Microsoft is once again on a growth track with innovation and value to customers at the core of its strategy. 

Plans and strategies are important but not the essential part of a company’s growth story. You need someone at the top who has a vision, a leader who decides what the future of the company should be. 

Microsoft has thrived under the leadership of Satya, and he has not been shy about sharing what he has learnt from his leadership role and experience. 

Lesson #1: Rely on Data to Make Decisions 

How do you make a decision? Do you just go with your gut or do you have a methodic approach that is based on data? Both of these approaches are on the opposite ends of a spectrum and they each come with their own benefits and risks. 

A leader who makes decisions based on gut instincts will be able to make her moves quickly. The risk is that the leader will be unsure of herself with the shadow of doubt constantly haunting her. Besides, an inexperienced leader who hasn’t trained her mind enough to see ahead of the curve has a higher chances of failure. 

A data driven decision maker may be too slow to react to rapidly changing market conditions. Besides, it takes an experienced leader to spot problems with the data and stop decisions that can be catastrophic. Sometimes the data is good, but the inference may be wrong. Again, it depends on the experience of the leader to be able to spot the problem. 

As far as Satya is concerned, he feels that every business leader ultimately relies on his/her gut. However, at Microsoft they collect vast amounts of data that will help the CEO make a more informed decision. Data can be a tool that can confirm a theory or make the CEO make unexpected connections to create new solutions. 

Lesson #2: Building a Company Means Strengthening Collaboration 

Satya is recognized as a great leader, but even he knows that one person can’t get great things done. It takes teams of people and collaboration to achieve something. This is what the CEO of Microsoft has been spending a lot of his time on in his company. 

Microsoft is a huge company that has offices across the globe. Satya and his team have to work hard to ensure that despite the huge diversity, they all come together as one company. 

One way to get everyone on the same page is to get employees to think about the needs of the customers. The purpose of Microsoft that Satya and his team have to emphasize everyday is to empower every individual and organization on the planet. The company does this by developing technologies that enables others to build more technologies. 

Lesson #3: Learn to Hit Refresh and Reinvent Yourself 

The only way a company will stand the test of time and endure for a long time is by constantly reinventing itself. No organization should fall in love with its products too much. The needs of people evolve over time and technological changes demand new kinds of products.  

Satya noticed that when a company goes from being a startup to a big company, the culture is built around that success. Every time such companies have to come up with a new concept or a new product that is different from what helped them succeed initially, there is a struggle. This is a time when culture matters the most. 

A leader’s job is to help the company and the senior leadership to “hit refresh” many times over the course of the company’s life. For Satya this is a natural process because even individuals tend to reinvent themselves at different stages of their lives. 

Lesson #4: Create Clarity During Confusing Times 

See Also
3 Leadership Lessons We Can Learn from Elon Musk

It is easy to show leadership when you have all the information, when the systems work in harmony, and the plan for the future is laid out for you. The reality is that small business owners and CEOs often have to deal with situations where they have to take decisions with incomplete information and work with disconnected processes.  

According to Satya, a key attribute of a leader is to step into a situation where the future is uncertain and create clarity for the business and the people. If you can turn a situation where everyone is panicking and create clarity; and if you can chalk out the next few steps- you show yourself as a leader. 

Lesson #5: Leadership Without Empathy is Useless 

When Satya first applied for a job at Microsoft back in 1992, he was thrown off-guard with the final question in his interview. The question was what he would do when he sees a baby fall from across the road. After giving it some thought, he said he would call 911 from the nearest phone booth (there were no cell phones back then). 

Satya almost didn’t get a job because of that answer. Why? Because the interviewer told him that the first thing you do when you see crying children is pick them up and hug them. Satya didn’t have empathy, or at least that’s what he was told. He did get that job, but the incident stuck with him. 

A leader needs to have empathy. You need empathy to understand customers’ challenges and you need empathy to empower your employees. In many ways, this is the most important trait of a leader. 

Be Humble 

Reaching a leadership position takes a lot of hard work and sacrifice. But, once a person reaches that position it is tempting to believe that he/she is knows everything. This overconfidence can be your downfall. 

Satya believes that leaders should avoid hubris and stay humble. The world we live in, according to the Microsoft CEO, is “over-constrained.” Technology is evolving so fast that no one can keep up with everything that is going on in the market place. If you act like a know-it-all, you stand you lose. Instead, you should have an open mind to learn as much as you can. 

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