When Satya Nadella stepped in to replace Steve Ballmer as Microsoft's CEO, he had a huge undertaking in front of him.
Nadella had to take an aging, stagnant behemoth of an organization, notorious for its infighting among senior leadership, and transform it into a respected and innovative technology and business brand.
That's the Microsoft we know today. The market leader Microsoft. The award-winning Microsoft. The everyone-wants-to-work-for-Microsoft Microsoft. Today, laudatory praise seems to follow the organization everywhere it goes: Gartner leader in analytics and business intelligence (ABI), cloud computing winner for Azure, and Comparably's top choice in 2021 for diversity and women in leadership, to name just a few of Microsoft's accolades.
But it wasn't always so. Less than a decade ago, there was growing and serious concern that the tech giant was suffering a slow death, ailed by stifling bureaucracy and bad leadership at the top. A year before Nadella was to step in as CEO, a Guardian piece produced the searing headline: "Microsoft Once Ruled the World. So What Went Wrong?"
Fortunately, Nadella's entrance was to change the course of success for the organization.
A Single Book Can Change the World
One of the first things he did was give all senior executives a book. A "required reading" for leadership, Nadella's gesture was the first sign of a monumental transformation for Microsoft's brand and company culture.
That book, called Nonviolent Communication by psychologist Marshall B. Rosenberg, is a book about one thing above all else: empathy EQ.
The pre-Nadella era of Microsoft is a perfect example of how a few bad, ego-hungry leaders at the top can taint the experience and performance of an entire organization. Leaders, as research has shown, are the ones to set the example and expectations for how decisions are made and how individuals and teams function on a daily basis. Simply put, bad leaders means bad business.
Nadella recognized this and knew that a change was needed and fast. Hence the required reading. At its core, the basic idea is represented in the bestseller's caption etched on the front cover: "Words matter. Find common ground with anyone, anywhere, at any time, both personally and professionally."
Longstanding research done by Harvard's Daniel Goleman has shown there are four pillars of emotional intelligence:
Rosenberg's work, which Nadella found inspiration in, goes after points 3 and 4 in the emotional intelligence equation. And to Nadella, it was this lack of empathy and other-awareness that needed fixing in order to change the fate of a failing Microsoft. It's what he's known for in the organization, a "humble, down-to-earth guy who is good at building relationships." He's the nice guy who finishes first.
But let's be serious. It's not just about the niceties. Underneath the "good guy" surface of emotional intelligence is a savviness in business, a sophisticated psychological recipe for the collective human ingenuity required to innovate, invent, and inspire.
Nadella knows that individuals and teams are at their best when they can effectively communicate and have a shared reality and a common purpose to work toward.
The emotional intelligence mic-drop of the still-reigning Microsoft CEO heavyweight was the moment he inspired others to be more emotionally intelligent themselves.