Just under a year ago, Microsoft launched a Twitter bot by the name of Tay (officially, Tay.ai), in an attempt to advance how artificial intelligence communicates with humans in real time. Things took a vicious turn, though, when hackers and others caused Tay to begin spewing racist and profane comments.
The result? Tay was shut down just 16 hours later, followed by an official apology from Microsoft.
If you worked on the team responsible for Tay, your instinct might have been to try and forget what had happened, as soon as possible.
And that's what makes the follow-up email from Satya Nadella, Microsoft's CEO, so remarkable.
In a profile piece recently published by USA Today, Nadella shared part of the email he sent the Microsoft A.I. team after the Tay debacle. It included the following:
"Keep pushing, and know that I am with you ... (The) key is to keep learning and improving."
Nadella says he also urged staffers to take the criticism in the right spirit while exercising "deep empathy for anyone hurt by Tay."
There are some powerful lessons here for leaders.
1. People need to know you've got their back.
We all make mistakes. The question is, how can you help your people recover from those failures?
In the interview, Nadella went on to explain the reasoning behind his encouraging tone:
"It's so critical for leaders not to freak people out, but to give them air cover to solve the real problem. If people are doing things out of fear, it's hard or impossible to actually drive any innovation."
When you encourage and build others up, rather than dishearten and tear down, they'll be motivated to continue giving you their best.
2. Criticism is a gift.
When asked for the number one thing she looks for in employees, Sheryl Sandberg replied:
"Someone who takes feedback well. Because people who can take feedback well are people who can learn and grow quickly."
Criticism helps us discover blind spots and find areas for improvement. And even in those cases where negative feedback is completely unfounded, it can still give you a chance to see things from another perspective--which can lead to invaluable insight.
3. Empathy is a practical skill that can make your work better.
In our everyday work, it's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and neglect to see how our work affects others. But whether you're developing products, marketing or selling, or managing others, the purpose of work is to provide value.
And that's what we call effective leadership.