/Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella: Saying ‘my team is great and everyone else sucks’ is not leadership

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella: Saying ‘my team is great and everyone else sucks’ is not leadership

Satya Nadella, chief executive officer of Microsoft Corp., speaks during a Bloomberg event on the opening day of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020.
Simon Dawson | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is not the type of executive to boast and put down rivals. He’s been more measured since taking over from the more outspoken Steve Ballmer seven years ago, forming alliances with challengers such as Red Hat and Salesforce and even making it possible for people to use Amazon’s Alexa assistant into the Windows operating systems.

On Thursday he put his more peaceful approach into words when former Microsoft executive Jeff Raikes asked him what leadership advice he gives inside the company.

“Just saying, ‘Well, my team is great and everybody else sucks,’ that’s not leadership,” Nadella said during an appearance at the Economic Summit organized by Stanford University’s Institute for Economic Policy Research. “In a multi-stakeholder, multi-constituent world, you’ve got to bring people across your enterprise and outside together.”

Besides standing out from Ballmer, who leveled critiques at efforts from rivals like Apple and Google, Nadella also differs from his peers at other large technology companies, including Oracle’s Larry Ellison and Salesforce’s Marc Benioff.

Nadella joined Microsoft in 1992 while co-founder Bill Gates was still in charge. But Nadella is different from Gates, too. In a 2013 ask-me-anything session on Reddit he wrote that “seriously Bing is the better product at this point,” despite that Google had controlling market share in internet search.

In contrast, Nadella’s Microsoft has become more tolerant of other forces in business. While open-source software was seen as competition in the past, Microsoft bought open-source code storage service GitHub for $ 7.5 billion in 2018, and the company incorporated the Linux open-source operating system into Windows.

When Nadella does draw distinctions from rivals, he’s less pronounced about it. He said at a Microsoft’s Ignite conference on Tuesday, for example, that “no customer wants to be dependent on a provider that sells them technology on one end and competes with them on the other” — likely a reference to Amazon, which has competed with some of its cloud customers.

Here are some of the other points on leadership that Nadella mentioned at the virtual event:

  • “Leaders have this innate capability to go into situations that are uncertain, ambiguous and bring clarity…leaders are not people who go into a confusing situation and create more confusion. They actually create clarity, and that’s sort of one thing that leaders absolutely have to hold themselves to as accountable.”
  • “Leaders create energy. You know when you’ve met someone who’s a leader because you walk out saying, ‘Wow, I want to join the parade. I want to be part of that team.'”
  • “Leaders don’t say, ‘Give me the perfect pitch in order to perform.’ I can’t say, ‘Let me wait for the pandemic to be done to show my leadership skills.’ You have to take an over-constrained problem in many cases and un-constrain yourself, and un-constrain more particularly the team that you are leading, so that they can go on to achieve things.”

Nadella said that no one will be perfect. But he does ask himself if he’s better than he was yesterday.

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