What Important Factor Led To Microsoft’s Success?

Empathy Satya Nadella Microsoft

Rita McGrath introduced me to Satya Nadella's book Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft's Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone. In my previous post, I mentioned that Nadella had been widely praised for transforming Microsoft and making it relevant again in the world of the cloud and AI. While I enjoyed McGrath's illustrations of what makes Nadella a great leader or, as I prefer to call it, a "human" leader, I wanted to go deeper and understand how Nadella developed his leadership style. Thankfully, Nadella did not hold anything back in his book.

The first lesson that we can learn from Nadella right from the start is that he makes the most of the opportunities presented to him. In his situation, most of the opportunities were created by technology. He was able to spot them because he is optimistic about the future, even if it is expected to be a challenging one. He thinks the world is getting better, and he was driven to work for a company that employed other people who thought similarly to him and who wanted to change the world.

When Nadella became the CEO of Microsoft, his first objective was to renew the company's culture and remind the employees about why all of them joined Microsoft in the first place. Nadella told the employees, "we spend far too much time at work for it not to have deep meaning."


Empathy is a big part of who Nadella is. While ideas excite him, empathy grounds and centers him. He believes that we develop empathy through our own life's ups and downs. His goal is to place empathy at the center of everything he does. That implies to Microsoft as well. He wants empathy at the center of the products Microsoft launches, the new markets the company enters, the employees they hire, and customers and partners with whom Microsoft works.

Nadella and, because of him, Microsoft, are driven by a sense of empathy and a mission to empower others. Empathy is unique to humans, and as technology disrupts an ever-increasing amount of our daily lives, empathy will become even more valuable. This has led Nadella to focus on building deeper empathy for Microsoft's customers and their unmet, often unarticulated needs.


As Nadella began to think about his new role as a CEO, he asked himself two questions:

  • Why does Microsoft exist?
  • Why do I exist in this new role?

Those are important questions to ask, and every person and organization should ask themselves a version of those questions. As we go through our lives, we often forget how and why we got on our current path. Nadella says that we need to hit refresh occasionally. We need to renew, reenergize, and rethink our purpose. When people, organizations, and societies refresh, they can experience a renaissance.


As I mentioned in the previous post, Nadella checks off all the boxes of a "human" leader. One of his essential beliefs is that leadership is about bringing out the best in every person. Leaders should inspire the confidence of every person they are leading. Instead of employing a command-and-control approach, Nadella seeks to understand people's ideas, thoughts, and feelings. Being an empathic person makes him a better leader.

Nadella's approach is to lead with a sense of purpose. He wants everyone at Microsoft to be proud of what they do. To Nadella, "Leadership means making choices and then rallying the team around those choices." He outlined the responsibilities of a new CEO in the following five steps:

  • Communicate the company's mission, worldview, and business and innovations goals clearly and regularly.
  • Lead cultural change from top to bottom.
  • Build new partnerships where everyone shares in the growth.
  • Prepare to take advantage of new innovation and platform shifts.
  • Abide by timeless values.

Ultimately, a company needs a shared understanding of where it is going and what it is trying to achieve. Leaders should inspire, drive change and personal growth, and challenge conventional thinking. A company grows if employees grow individually in their roles and in their lives.

In one of his first speeches as a CEO, Nadella expressed his thoughts about culture. Culture needs to be "about realizing our personal passions and using Microsoft as a platform to pursue that passion." He asked all employees to identify their personal passions and connect them in some way to Microsoft's mission and culture. That is how a company transforms, and Nadella has proven it with a transformation that has happened at Microsoft since he became its CEO.

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