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Satya Nadella on AI, Sexual Harassment, and Microsoft’s Soul

Source | : By Megan Murphy

Megan Murphy: You follow Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer as the third chief executive officer of Microsoft Corp. How do you put your own personal stamp on it? What do you want your living legacy to be as a leader at a company that has had just two, but both of whom were larger than life?

Satya Nadella: The best advice I got from both Steve and Bill was to not try and somehow get into this mold of trying to fill their shoes. It’s impossible. I’d grown up in the company they built admiring what they’d done, but at the same time they gave me enough confidence, quite frankly, to be my own person. I look at what is it that I want to achieve. I’ve been blessed to have this platform at Microsoft. But frankly, the first job I had at Microsoft I felt was the best job. The second job I had at Microsoft was the best job.

There was this one gentleman, who happens to be the governor of North Dakota now, who, when I worked for him at Microsoft, said, “You know, we all spend far too much time at work for it not to have deeper meaning.” I was probably in my early 30s when he said it, and I probably didn’t understand it. But over time I got it more. That’s what I want my legacy to be, that anyone who joins our company is able to connect their personal passion and use Microsoft as a platform to realize it.

 I’d like to say, “Don’t think of working for Microsoft, but think of Microsoft working for you.” I get that it’s not going to be true every day. But even if it’s going to be partially possible for you to make that connection, then the way you think about your work, the way you derive your own meaning out of your work, is going to change.

The message of your book, Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone, is connecting empathy with technology, empathy in the workplace, empathy in society. What does it mean when you say, “I’m an empathetic leader.” How is that at the core of what you want Microsoft to be?

Empathy is what it’s all about, super-important for us in our core business. The intuition is pretty straightforward: What does Microsoft have to do to stay relevant? We have to meet the unmet, unarticulated needs of the customers. That’s the source of innovation. So if there’s anything that we’ve got to make sure each day, each week, each year that we do is to be in touch. The challenge is you can’t just say, “Let me listen to customers.” You’ve got to be much more of an active listener. You can’t switch on this button called the empathy button and say, “Well, now I am going to listen to customers.”

So if the source of innovation is empathy, how does one lead with empathy? I think it comes from your life lessons. That’s where this notion—where I compartmentalize my life and my work—doesn’t work. In some sense you are who you are because of what you learn, because of what happens to you throughout your life. That’s at least what I’ve come around to realize. It’s not like I was born with some innate capability for empathy. It’s just what life’s lessons have taught me, and that’s what I believe has made me a better leader.

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