What I am reading: Hit Refresh by Satya Nadella

Why I read (listened to) it

Microsoft’s stock price just keeps going up and everyone should be interested in how Satya Nadella, the current CEO, keeps it going. I write a lot of code in Visual Studio, I work on a PC, I’ve used SQL Server and I’ve investigated Azure and other cloud services. I remember minesweeper on Windows 3.1 and know where I was when I opened my first 486 in my parents living room on Christmas morning. Microsoft is a big part of my life. Sure, he wrote the book a couple years ago, mostly for Microsoft employees, but given his success…

Microsoft stock price courtesy of google finance.

..what does it mean to “Hit Refresh” at a company that already has a practical stranglehold on its customers? That is what I was hoping to learn from Satya Nadella.

What I learned from it

There is always room for change

Satya Nadella did not come into a fine-tuned machine when he was named CEO in February of 2014. At the time, Microsoft was struggling to find an identity in the smart phone and cloud world. The customer reliance on Microsoft’s sticky infrastructure reinforced a brand and employee culture of the status quo. Nadella talks about how he pushes to overcome the static technology of Microsoft through cloud projects like Azure. Pushing strategic projects at the expense of established products can be a hard sell, but sets the company up for the future.

See the rose petals through the shit

Large companies can accrue a lot of technology, process and knowledge debt. Folks can become jaded and consciously or subconsciously use it as an excuse to not move forward because they are hard. Nadella reminds leaders to “see the rose petals through the shit.” And acknowledge that “Constraints are real and will always be with us, but leaders are the champions of overcoming constraints.”

Go from know-it-all to learn-it-all

Microsoft was a product leader in the industry. Many folks at the company felt that they knew what made them successful. However, Nadella pushed leadership to learn. Learn about customers so that you understand what they need; not what they want. To understand your customer, you need to have a workforce that represents the diverse population of your customer base. Nadella describes a leadership offsite where he invited lower-level leaders from acquired companies to the senior executive retreat. While some folks were displeased, everyone learned something in a setting that was engaging and raw.

Final Thoughts

Nadella’s story is personal and his thoughts on Microsoft are as open and honest as an acting CEO can be. He was quite frank about his opposition to some of the prior decisions made by the company, like the Nokia acquisition, and I found that…uh…refreshing? Early critiques of this book talked about it possibly being too soon, being written only a few years after he became CEO. Now, a couple years later, I think he has made the case that his decisions have put Microsoft in the position to succeed.

Most importantly, I found the book a great example on how to lead through listening, learning, compassion and empathy. A leadership style I greatly respect.


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