Satya Nadella — Leadership & Life Lessons
Leadership has the power to change the world, and a leader that has always caught my attention is Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella. Today I’m willing to talk about this great leader and his leadership and life lessons.
When Satya Nadella joined Microsoft in 1992 at the age of 25, the future CEO, an engineer by training, did not yet hold a business degree.
This is a factHaving spent over two decades at Microsoft, which led to him heading up the software giant in 2014, Satya Nadella has had a lot of time to discover what it means to be a good leader.
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 Nadella, and he has not been shy about sharing what he has learnt from his leadership role and experience.
Leadership is critical for a successful business operation because of its direct impact on organizational health, employee performance, and shareholder value.
Abundant literature exists with stories of leaders who succeeded or failed to achieve intended objectives because of a particular leadership style. This article is an attempt to identify the approach that best describes the leadership style practiced by Satya Nadella.
Satya Nadella implemented changes and transformed the company starting immediately after taking the helm of the enterprise.
This is a factHe created a new mission, defined a new strategy, and shifted the company’s primary focus towards building a cloud platform. He also demonstrates a drive to transform Microsoft through clarity of purpose, alignment of resources, innovation, and appropriate intervention to build confidence and to improve capabilities.
Here are some inspiring leadership lessons from Satya Nadella that keep pushing us to do better every day!
On Satya Nadella’s 53rd birthday, let’s look at seven of his success mantras and leadership lessons that could be of invaluable help to anyone who aspires to lead a life as inspiring and interesting as his. As it happens, much of his guidance serves as decent life advice, too.
People Eat First
By focusing on your team members more than yourself, it helps create unity and connection that can turn into greatness. Each team member has something valuable to add, and your job is to inspire that person to understand their value, using it to bring their best to their work.
To be a leader, it is not about putting yourself and your needs first.
This is a factYour primary role is to bolster the confidence in the people you are leading and working together as one. By being able to understand and share the feelings of other individuals, it can help create a greater perspective on life with the idea that we are all working towards something.
Authentic and transformational leaders practice a behavioral style and relationship oriented leadership approach. Satya Nadella embodies both these styles.
Authentic leaders are transparent, morally grounded, and responsive to followers needs. Transformational leaders are change agents, are in-tune with the needs and motives of followers, and inspire and empowers followers to achieve higher goals.
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Satya Nadella believes that leaders should avoid hubris and stay humble. The world we live in is over-constrained.
This is a factTechnology 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.
Any big organization is just one bad leader away from becoming a disaster. Satya came down firmly in favor of a culture driven by individual initiative.
According to him, every one of us needs to do our best work, lead and help drive cultural change. We sometimes underestimate what we each can do to make things happen and overestimate what others need to do to move us forward.
For Satya Nadella, the team always comes first.
Even when he was working as just an employee, he would work in tandem with the rest of his team. According to him, this is the best way to make sure you are respected as a leader.
📚 Additional reading
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.
Clear The Path
As the CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella is very clear about what he wants for this company. He does not intend to be relevant in every part of the technology industry, but instead, take on opportunities that fit Microsoft’s philosophy and have the potential to take the company closer to their mission.
Arguably, under Steve Balmer’s tenure, Microsoft lost its way as a visionary company.
This is a factAfter becoming CEO, Satya Nadella revised Microsoft’s mission statement. He set about achieving his vision by drawing on his experiences as executive VP of the cloud-technology and enterprise GroupAI divisions within the company.
According to Satya Nadella, 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.
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 CEOs often have to deal with situations where they have to take decisions with incomplete information and work with disconnected processes.
In times of crisis or chaos, the people who are often looked up to, are those who are able to offer clarity and help ease a difficult situation.
This is a factYou can’t call yourself a leader by coming into a situation that is by nature uncertain, ambiguous — and create confusion. To be a leader, you have to create clarity, where none exists.
Satya Nadella believes one of his main responsibilities is to create a clear, tangible, and inspiring message to move employees forward.
He regularly communicates with all of Microsoft’s 150,000+ employees around the world to share his transparent plans for the company’s future and invites their feedback. It’s not unusual for him to send a company-wide email with real ideas for the future, not just corporate fluff.
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!
📚 Additional reading
The people who are capable of getting into a situation where there is in some sense panic, and who can bring first clarity on what to do next—that is invaluable.
Compete With Passion
Tough challenges are inevitable as a leader, and it is essential to be a person that your team can look up to in those moments. It is in those moments that you have to empower your team through the passion that unites and connects everyone by remembering your team’s why and using it as a catalyst to overcome these challenges.
Whatever happens, you will want to be grounded during challenges.
Satya Nadella is well aware that life (and business) is not always plain sailing. In a competitive business environment, it is tempting to hide away failures and show off achievements but it is important to reflect upon and learn from these challenges. If nothing ever goes wrong, there is no path for improvement.
We spend far too much time at work for it not to have a deeper meaning. You need to rethink why you are doing what you are doing.
This is a factSatya realized that finding his individual purpose is the only way to know the purpose of the organization at large. This reflective exercise helped him define the mission of Microsoft, that is to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more.
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Change is inevitable, but successful leaders make sense of the context within which they must operate.
This is a factIn 2014 Microsoft had many critics who accused it of over-relying on legacy products and risking irrelevancy. Satya Nadella traveled around the company talking to employees, customers and partners to reignite passion.
Passion is your drive, ambition and the love of what you do and who you serve. It provides you with a very special view of the world that others often don’t see.
Stop and ask yourself: What is your true passion? What makes you excited about what you are doing? The difference between those who push through difficult times and those who do not is passion.
📚 Additional reading
Satya Nadella strongly believes that the only way to enjoy your life is to be absolutely in love with what you do. If you’re passionate about your work, you will not dread Mondays, but in fact, look forward to them. And when this happens naturally, the rest becomes easy.
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.
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 Nadella this is a natural process because even individuals tend to reinvent themselves at different stages of their lives. While Microsoft’s game console X-Box was a big thing before he came onboard, he made sure that it continues to rival Nintendo and Sony PlayStation and remained a competitor rather than bowing down to those giants in the business.
He also speaks of the importance of planning ahead in order to remain successful and competitive.
This is a factIn order to remain successful, individuals must be able to effectively plan ahead and create order that can be followed not just by them but by other members of their organization. In doing so, they can advance in their careers and grow their companies.
Satya Nadella gradually remodeled structures and processes in Microsoft so it could create products and services customers want.
This is a factHe also changed the culture at Microsoft so that colleagues became more interested in collaborating than competing. Today, the company’s culture statement leads with, “We work as one.”
Those who don’t accept that failure will be part of the process will never be able to reach their full potential.
It’s a quality that he believes must be present in every worker if they really wish to be successful. In his personal life, Satya Nadella notes that when he encountered failure, he learned his lessons and reinvented himself so that he could be better situated for obstacles in the future.
📚 Additional reading
Satya Nadella says that all great achievements, personal or professional, stem from self-belief and confidence. Only when you believe in yourself will others believe in you.
Build a Growth-oriented Culture
When talking about what makes a company successful, Satya Nadella said that it is the underpinning culture of a company that decides its pursuit towards excellence. A company may be doing great work, but to actually gauge how sustainable their efforts are, you need to delve deeper into the core values, attitudes and intentions of the people.
At Microsoft, the employees are encouraged to have a growth mindset, such that learning seamlessly integrates into living.
This is a factIn his book, Hit Refresh, Satya Nadella has dedicated a complete chapter about the culture he inherited from Mr. Steve Ballmer, the person he replaced in February 2014 and mold it according to his preferences. He changed the rigid culture to a growth mindset in three distinct ways.
He made sure there is a curiosity factor among all the employees to meet customer’s demands.
Secondly, Satya Nadella infused a culture of seeking diversity and inclusion so that employees continue to improve and become open to learning about own biases and changing their behaviors.
Everyone has a story to tell, and by listening to as many people as possible, it creates inspiration towards how we might overcome our challenges while doing the same for them.
This active search for diversity and inclusion can help us be less ignorant of the world, deeply unite with one another, and spark more creativity. We are all trying to live meaningful lives, and by being truly connected, it allows everyone to appreciate changes more openly.
He 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 a factMicrosoft is a huge company that has offices across the globe. The purpose of Microsoft that Satya Nadella has 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.
📚 Additional reading
When mistakes happen, Satya Nadella uses a gentle, empathetic approach to encourage employees to re-work their designs and try again. He’s been known to take the fall for employees’ mistakes to give them a chance to learn, grow, and re-tool their ideas.
It takes guts to handle all the curveballs thrown at you day in and day out, to keep your company afloat. Satya Nadella says that you have to be slightly delusional to be an entrepreneur, as it requires endless energy to be able to carry out the tasks of ideating, planning and executing with a come-what-may attitude.
You have to be ever so ready to face those challenges head-on.
This is a factYou can’t have a bad day when you’re leading a team, as your frame of mind will rub off on all those who are working for you. Satya Nadella thinks that being physically and mentally charged is of utmost importance in becoming a successful entrepreneur.
Satya Nadella begins his weekly senior leadership team meetings with a segment he calls “Researcher of the Amazing” that showcases employee success from around the world.
On many occasions, employee teams join the meeting via video to demonstrate their developments and inspire the leadership team. Instead of putting himself first, Satya Nadella steps aside to share his employees’ successes as a way to inspire the rest of the company before they jump into hard numbers.
To be a leader, you’ve got to be at your evangelical best. You have got to have followership all around you.
This is a factIt’s insufficient to focus exclusively on your own unit. Leaders need to inspire optimism, creativity, shared commitment and growth through times good and bad.
Effective leaders generate buy-in and fuel their teams with high-octane.
As a leader you’ve got to be able to explain to people how their collaboration is essential in making a project work, treating them like partners, not dependencies; and tell that compelling story about their work to multiple audiences.
📚 Additional reading
Effective leaders create an environment where everyone can do his or her best work. And they build organizations and teams that are stronger tomorrow than today.
Dare To Care
When Satya Nadella took leadership of Microsoft’s first cloud business, then-CEO Steve Ballmer reportedly warned there was “no parachute” if Satya Nadella failed. Though he performed well across high-profile roles, Satya Nadella didn’t envision becoming CEO.
His approach was unexpectedly gentle.
This is a factHe believes human beings are wired to have empathy, and that’s essential not only for creating harmony at work but also for making products that will resonate.
Building trust is so crucial in creating a culture where growth can be embraced.
Psychological safety cannot occur when there is mistrust, reducing the willingness to embrace growth. It is important to practice being respectful, understanding, and transparent in our interactions so that trust develops.
You’re leading for a purpose or a challenge, or to solve a problem, not for your own egotistical needs.
There are leaders who lead by doing what they say they’re going to do, by building these trusting relationships, by showing leadership with purpose. It’s part of how trust gets built between leaders and those who work with leaders.
The code for changing the culture of a 150,000+-person company is all about achieving integrity at scale.
This is a factIntegrity is one of the trickiest traits of trustworthiness. At its heart, it comes down to alignment — whether or not the intentions of a company align with the best interests of the people it serves. Great leaders, even during periods of rapid growth or change, are consistent in the alignment of a company’s motives and intentions with the people they serve. Great leaders are consistent in the alignment of their words and actions.
📚 Additional reading
Leaders who enroll in supporting individuals through ups and downs inspire their people to higher performance, selflessness, and loyalty. These are the foundations of communities where people thrive and consistently outperform other teams.
Satya Nadella, 3rd and current CEO of Microsoft, now heads the famed tech giant. It’s a position he earned through his crafty entrepreneurship and business skills.
Under Satya Nadella’s effective leadership, Microsoft’s future is looking really bright.
This is a factIn his 3 years at Microsoft, Satya Nadella has transformed an ailing company into world’s 3rd most valuable brand. And while there can be many justifications to its current position in the market, no one can doubt the contribution of Satya Nadella in this regard.
Nevertheless, it’s impossible for a leader, even one as successful as Satya Nadella, to excel in every area.
Instead, they recognize their weaknesses and hire others who can compensate with strengths. Build a team where you have multiple skills represented. Diversity is one of the key to succeed as an effective leader.
No matter the field you may be working in, these leadership lessons apply to anyone that is looking to lead people in creating change — whether big or small.
Work hard enough, dream long enough and create all the time. These are things that Satya Nadella has always believed in and if we do the same, we could also aspire to be where he is at today!
We as human beings are on a leadership journey to find ourselves, and that road is never easy. However, it’s a road we all can and should embrace.
I hope Satya Nadella’s lessons on leadership and change has inspired you to take that journey and inspire others to take that journey with you. Let’s share your thoughts in the comments section below!
Digital Dandy. Hacker From Heart. Workaholic. Coding Artist. Self-made.