The best career advice from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella offers some simple yet effective career advice on how you can get ahead.
I know what you’re thinking: here comes some smug corporate dude handing out some unsolicited life advice. Awesome. No doubt this champ wakes up at four in the morning, downs his first cup of Quinoa by five and has found life on Mars and a solution for global warming and Donald Trump by six. He’s an unstoppable force, albeit one you want to punch straight in the face.
Fear not though, cynical Sylo reader (or maybe it's just me?), for the below career advice is not from a friendly “Influencer”, but rather a genuine tech rock star in the form of Satya Nadella, CEO at Microsoft. Let us explore...
Who is Satya Nadella?
Nadella was speaking at an event late last year at the Lord’s cricket ground in London, where he was promoting his new book ‘Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft's Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone’.
But first, some of you may be asking why you should care about Nadella, so let me put it in some context. The Microsoft CEO is, after all, not your ordinary Silicon Valley frat boy.
Nadella became the third-ever CEO at Microsoft back in 2014 and it’s fair to say he has taken the company on a successful journey ever since.
He turned revenues around, changed business models, and reinvented Microsoft from a legacy software player to a cloud pioneer, keeping the Redmond tech giant on pace with the likes of Amazon and Google. It was recently revealed that the firm's stock price has tripled since he took over some four years ago.
Nadella’s own journey has been similarly fascinating.
Born and raised in Hyderabad, India, he migrated to the US to study for a computer science degree at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, before joining Sun Microsystems and later, Microsoft.
At the latter, he quickly rose through the ranks, from engineering VP and head of search and advertising to head up the increasingly important cloud and enterprise division. And in February 2014, he was named CEO, replacing the energetic Steve Ballmer.
Professional story aside, Nadella has three children, two which are believed to have disabilities (his son Zain, 21, has cerebral palsy; details on the other child are scarce), as well as a passion for poetry and cricket.
This background clearly plays a fundamental role in his leadership, with Nadella previously saying that parenting made him a more empathic and understanding business leader.
"I should be doing everything to put myself in [Zain's] shoes, given the privilege I have to be able to help him … empathy is a massive part of who I am today ... I distinctly remember who I was as a person before and after," he said once in an interview with Fast Company.
Let's move onto his sage career advice, and how you embrace change to fulfil your true potential.
Nadella's career advice? Open your mind to change
Part of the success of Nadella - and with that, Microsoft - can be attributed to Nadella's quest to overhaul the company's corporate culture.
Under Nadella, Microsoft changed its mission statement from "a computer on every desk and in every home" to "empower every person and organisation on the planet to achieve more", and his key goal was to transform Microsoft’s corporate culture into one that valued continual learning and growth. In short, Nadella believed that changing individual mindsets could result in a more positive, collaborative working culture, empowered workers, and a better performing business.
To start this transformation, the Microsoft CEO turned to Carol Dweck's acclaimed book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, which focuses on embracing a "growth mindset".
The growth mindset is the principal idea that intelligence can be developed over time. So, if we believe our performance at school, work, or in life generally can be changed by our attitude, and how we adapt to setbacks, we would appear to have this “growth mindset”.
“My wife introduced me to Carol Dweck’s book ‘Mindset’ and I picked up this one simple concept," he told author Matthew Syed at the Lord's event.
"[The concept] was this; Look, you can’t be a ‘know it all’, so you should be a ‘learn it all’ if you want continuous improvement."
Furthermore, the Microsoft CEO has long since believed that those with this growth mindset will always outperform those with a fixed mindset, even if they possess less talent or ability.
Speaking to Bloomberg on the issue back in 2016, he said: "...If you take two people, one of them is a learn-it-all and the other one is a know-it-all, the learn-it-all will always trump the know-it-all in the long run, even if they start with less innate capability."
Indeed, in Dweck’s book, she explains how approaching problems with this growth mindset, instead of a fixed mindset, can pay dividends, improving both motivation and achievement.
Yet Nadella admits that this vision, as promoted extensively in his new book, “could be seen the new dogma”, as corporate spin passing itself off as favourable PR. As such, he admits that changing culture and mindsets from the top has not been easy, especially in such a large organisation.
He cites one such example in his book. A senior Microsoft exec came to him, boasting of how much he loved the "growth mindset" idea — and started complaining about other executives who weren't getting with the programme.
"This guy was just using growth mindset to find a new way to complain about others," writes Nadella in the book. "This is not what we had in mind."
But for the Microsoft CEO, he says that this mindset shift can only lead to cultural change if he is driving it top-down within the organisation.
How to say goodbye to your fixed mindset
This self-learning mindset can apply to all, from individuals to Fortune 500 companies, but Nadella admits it has been difficult to take from theory into practice. Human nature, after all, is perhaps to safeguard ourselves against criticism and setbacks, and thus keep us in our warm, cosy bubble.
“The challenge is for me to confront my fixed mindset every day," he said at the Lords event. "That vulnerability is what makes you better individually, and if you do that then the company will be fine."
Each day, he says, he reflects on this behaviour. He refers to this as 'model behaviour'.
“The biggest, most important thing I can do as CEO is not talk the talk but live it, and I must say it is not easy.
"As humans, we’d rather have others change, not us, it’s just how we’re wired.”
Nadella is on a mission and while the corporate trappings of a multi-billion company may seem far away from you and I, his message on self-learning and growth can surely make a difference to anyone and everyone willing to listen, adapt and improve in their personal or professional lives.