Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is, generally, known as a level-headed guy. It seems to take a lot to get a rise out of him, though it does happen, from time to time.
In his new book, “Hit Refresh,” the chief executive offers his account of what it’s been like to try to reform Microsoft’s culture after years of in-fighting and stagnation. That’s no easy feat, and Nadella recounts how he was occasionally forced to get tough in order to get the message across.
A particularly enlightening anecdote relates to a pillar of Nadella’s cultural reform: the “growth mindset.” This is the notion that you should take nothing for granted and always be willing to check your assumptions as new data comes in. It’s been a hallmark of Nadella’s leadership style since he took the top job in January 2014.
Not everybody fully understood what he was getting at, though. In his book, Nadella writes of a Microsoft executive who came to him, boasting of how much he loved the “growth mindset” idea — and started complaining about other executives, by name, who weren’t getting with the program.
“This guy was just using growth mindset to find a new way to complain about others,” writes Nadella. “This is not what we had in mind.”
Rose petals in the manure
So Nadella gathered 150 of his top executives and gave them an ultimatum: “I told these high-potential leaders that once you become a vice president, a partner in this endeavour, the whining is over. You can’t say the coffee around here is bad, or there aren’t enough good people, or I didn’t get the bonus.”
“To be a leader in this company, your job is to find the rose petals in a pile of shit,'” Nadella says he told these executives. He admits it was “perhaps not my best line of poetry.”
The idea, Nadella writes, was to remind his team that the job of a leader isn’t to dwell on constraints, because there are always constraints. Instead, leaders are the “champions of overcoming constraints,” keeping the team’s eyes on the prize.
This actually seems like this is kind of a sore spot for Nadella: Elsewhere in the book, he writes about the importance of individual empowerment, encouraging people to take responsibility for the contributions they can make.
Nadella writes about a time he got “irritated” when a Microsoft employee used a Q&A session to ask him directly why he couldn’t use a printer with a certain app. “‘Make it happen. You have full authority,'” Nadella says he told the employee “politely.”
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