From the Ed­i­tor

Fast Company - - Con­tents -

My first boss was a bully. Just be­fore I started work­ing for him, a ru­mor cir­cu­lated that he’d once thrown a desk out the win­dow. Maybe the story was apoc­ryphal, but it didn’t feel that way to those of us un­der his thumb. He would yell and curse. We were all afraid of him. As un­pleas­ant as it was, though, I have to ad­mit that the fear was a pow­er­ful mo­ti­va­tor.

But there are other, bet­ter ways to get a team to per­form. In to­day’s busi­ness world, bul­ly­ing tac­tics are in­creas­ingly back­fir­ing (case in point: Travis Kalan­ick at Uber). Mean­while, a new breed of CEOS is ris­ing, de­fined less by “com­mand and con­trol” and more by “in­spire and em­power.”

No leader bet­ter epit­o­mizes this ap­proach, and its po­ten­tial for out­size suc­cess, than Mi­crosoft CEO Satya Nadella. Fol­low­ing the no­to­ri­ously com­bat­ive Steve Ballmer, Nadella has dra­mat­i­cally re­vived Mi­crosoft’s rep­u­ta­tion and its rel­e­vance by em­pha­siz­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion and what he calls a “learn-it-all” cul­ture ver­sus the com­pany’s historical know-it-all one. As se­nior ed­i­tor Harry Mc­cracken ex­plains in “Mi­crosoft Rewrites the Code” (page 50), the re­sults have been eye-pop­ping: more than $250 bil­lion in mar­ket value gains in less than four years—a feat that, quan­ti­ta­tively, puts Nadella in the pan­theon of Be­zos–cook–page–zucker­berg.

Em­pa­thy and soft skills have of­ten been de­rided in the cut­throat bu­reau­cra­cies of cor­po­rate Amer­ica. “Suck it up” has been the edict to as­pir­ing masters of the uni­verse; gen­eros­ity of spirit and open­ness have of­ten taken a back­seat to ag­gres­sive­ness and sub­terfuge. Which is what makes Nadella’s as­cen­sion so re­fresh­ing. His play­book in­cludes these five lessons:

1 Show­ing weak­ness is a strength.

Rather than walk­ing tall and car­ry­ing a big stick, Nadella has demon­strated con­fi­dence and au­thor­ity through his will­ing­ness to ad­mit fault. A few months into his ten­ure, he made a ma­jor faux pas at a con­fer­ence for women en­gi­neers that spawned a wave of crit­i­cism. He owned the mis­take and ad­mit­ted to bi­ases that he hadn’t re­al­ized. The episode ended up build­ing his cred­i­bil­ity in the long run.

2 Lis­ten and learn.

Nadella de­scribes work­ing for Bill Gates in un­com­pro­mis­ing terms: “Bill’s not the kind of guy who walks into your of­fice and says, ‘Hey, great job.’ It’s like, ‘Let me start by telling you the 20 things that are wrong with you to­day.’ ” Nadella’s style is to em­pha­size what’s been done right. He starts each se­nior lead­er­ship meet­ing with a seg­ment called “Re­searcher of the Amaz­ing,” show­cas­ing some­thing in­spir­ing at the com­pany.

3 Pa­tience and ur­gency can co­ex­ist.

Nadella says Mi­crosoft’s cul­tural evo­lu­tion is an on­go­ing process. But that hasn’t pre­vented him from act­ing boldly—whether shut­ting down the mo­bile phone busi­ness and elim­i­nat­ing 20,000 jobs or buy­ing Linkedin.

4 Peo­ple can grow.

Nadella re­cruited new tal­ent into the com­pany, and he has em­pha­sized the im­por­tance of an out­sider’s per­spec­tive. But he has put even more fo­cus on un­leash­ing po­ten­tial within the ranks. He’s re­lied on in­still­ing a “growth mind­set,” a con­cept bor­rowed from Stan­ford pro­fes­sor Carol Dweck. He sees re­sis­tance to change as a be­hav­ior rather than a fixed per­son­al­ity trait.

5 Em­pa­thy is a tool.

Some may look at Nadella’s ef­forts and say, “All he needed to suc­ceed was to not be a jerk.” That un­der­es­ti­mates the nu­ance of what ef­fec­tive em­pa­thy re­quires. Putting your­self in some­one else’s place is a pow­er­ful way to al­ter be­hav­ior and out­comes. (Our In­no­va­tion by De­sign Awards hon­orees, high­lighted be­gin­ning on page 60, demon­strate this abil­ity.) Ad­mi­ra­tion and en­cour­age­ment, high ex­pec­ta­tions and un­com­pro­mis­ing stan­dards: A skill­ful man­ager uses all of these to get the best out of us. I have learned that from all my bosses, and from Nadella, too. As lead­ers, col­leagues, em­ploy­ees, and con­sumers, we are senders and re­cip­i­ents of myr­iad mes­sages, spo­ken and un­spo­ken, ac­knowl­edged and sub­con­scious. In the best case, we take time pe­ri­od­i­cally to step back and as­sess our ac­tions—and those of oth­ers—to ap­pre­ci­ate the long-term im­pli­ca­tions. Only then can we ex­pe­ri­ence the life, the ca­reer, and the im­pact that we want most.

Nadella, flanked by for­mer Mi­crosoft CEOS Gates, left, and Ballmer, greets his col­leagues as their leader for the first time, in Fe­bru­ary 2014.

Robert Safian ed­i­tor@fast­com­pany.com

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