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There's Hope for Microsoft, and His Name Is Satya Nadella

How the new CEO's first communication with Microsoft employees points the way to greater innovation, collaboration, and strategic prioritization for a behemoth that needs all three.

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Within hours of accepting his new post as CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella revealed his leadership style in a note to employees that grabbed my attention not for its promise to "change the world through technology" but rather for its resolve to do so through teamwork.

I have never been a big fan of Microsoft products, but I do believe that smart entrepreneurs learn everything they can from the behemoths towering over them. And I think Nadella has a few tricks up his sleeve worth noting.

1. Humility and openness.
He opens his employee email by calling his new appointment "humbling," but more important, he demonstrates that he's a grounded, approachable leader by mentioning personal interests and giving employees a way to connect with him. ("I am 46. I've been married for 22 years and we have 3 kids.") In just a few keystrokes, he drew connections between himself and a huge swath of his work force. And that's exactly what you want to do as a leader.

2. Inspiration.
Nadella states outright that he believes Microsoft has "unparalleled capability to make an impact." That's why he joined the firm. And he believes that this feeling of greater purpose is a requirement for great work. This reminds me of Patrick Lencioni's employee engagement work, which found that feeling irrelevant is a common sentiment among people stuck in miserable jobs. Nadella clearly feels this need for meaning himself, and he believes Microsoft meets that need.

3. Fun.
Did Nadella really mention fun in his first employee email? Yes, he did. And I couldn't be more impressed. Fun is so undervalued, and he is incredibly smart to mention it: "This doesn't mean that we need to do more things, but that the work we do empowers the world to do more of what they care about--get stuff done, have fun, communicate and accomplish great things."

4. Clarity.
Even in this first communication, he's clear about what matters and where his priorities lie. He says innovation eats tradition for lunch in the tech industry, and follows that up by saying, "This starts with clarity of purpose and sense of mission that will lead us to imagine the impossible and deliver it. We need to prioritize innovation." This clarity of vision is a gift for employees.

5. People.
He knows the success of the company hinges on its people. He wants to drive cultural change, and he's asking everyone to get on board with him. He's also no stranger to accountability. "We sometimes underestimate what we each can do to make things happen and overestimate what others need to do to move us forward. We must change this."

Surely, Nadella faces many challenges in leading such a monolithic company. Fostering a culture of innovation at a business that size is no small trick, but his message is inspirational. And that's quite a trick in itself.

IMAGE: Heisenberg Media/Flickr
Last updated: Feb 5, 2014

KRISTINE KERN is a principal consultant with the Table Group, a firm founded by Patrick Lencioni. She works with executive teams to help them achieve organizational health and increase productivity. kristine.kern@tablegroupconsulting.com
@kristinekern




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