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Thursday, February 6, 2014

What the Rise of Satya Nadella Tells India and Indians!

As the cheering of the nation in hoarse at the elevation of India-born Satya Nadella as CEO of the fourth largest company in the world by market capitalization is tapering off, it is time to look at this humble individual and see if there is anything to be learnt from his phenomenal rise.

First thing first: a dispassionate look at the first letter that he wrote to Microsoft employees as their CEO compels one to read it with all sincerity, for in it he poses himself a battery of questions and answers them too, that too, pretty interestingly. They are so interesting that the aspiring youth must read them and imbibe the spirit behind the answers, for they ooze with educative value. 

Questioning himself: “Who am I?” he said: “And like anyone else, a lot of what I do and how I think has been shaped by my family and my overall life experiences.... Many who know me say I am also defined by my curiosity and thirst for learning. I buy more books than I can finish. I sign up for more online courses than I can complete. I fundamentally believe that if you are not learning new things, you stop doing great and useful things. So family, curiosity and hunger for knowledge all define me.”

He goes on to question himself: “Why am I here?” And this question too, he answers pretty interestingly: “I am here for the same reason I think most people join Microsoft—to change the world through technology that empowers people to do amazing things. I know it can sound hyperbolic—and yet it’s true...”

He concludes his communication with another interesting poser, “What do we do next?” and an apt answer: “…I truly believe that each of us must find meaning in our work. The best work happens when you know that it’s not just work, but something that will improve other people’s lives...”

A careful reading of these questions—questions that we often find quite inconvenient to put to ourselves—and the thought-provoking and potentially life-changing answers that Mr. Satya offered makes a reader wonder: What a profound clarity Satya has!

His answers tell us: he knows what he is made up of; why he is where he is for all these 22 long years and what he wants to do from where he is. And importantly, he also knows why he is doing what he is doing: “Improve other people’s lives.” Obviously, it is this ‘clarity’ that enabled him to pocket the outstanding success: moving to the corner cabin of the company called Microsoft. 

Now the important question is: What does all this mean to you and me? It means a fat lot, for it tells us: true clarity of thought enables one to think like a winner; leads to better decisions; makes innovative thinking feasible; one can pursue priorities with focused attention, and all this cumulatively enables one to realize better performance. And the proof is: Satya Nadella becoming CEO of Microsoft—“the most impactful software company” of the world. 

So, let us learn to subject ourselves to some such fundamental questions—however inconvenient they might be—and importantly search for their honest answers. Incidentally, amongst all these ‘self-knowledge’ is very important for, it enables one to accept one’s limitations, which in turn makes one more comfortable with whatever one does. One simply never tries to be someone he/she is not. Behavior generated by this philosophy is sure to generate trust in the people led by him/her. For a self-knowing leader, his/her beliefs, principles and values become explicit. This affords authenticity to whatever he/she speaks to his/her team mates for they strongly believe that what he/she says is what he/she does. This authenticity and its congruity with what he/she does inspire others to work for similar links. Then the whole organization becomes one: they only do what they speak. So, all this demands that we should first de-clutter our minds and build clarity to stay focused on pursuing whatever goals we set to ourselves. It however doesn’t mean that all will become Satyas, but cultivation of these traits is sure to enable one to actualize fully. Simply put, life becomes meaningful.

There is yet another important statement that Mr. Satya made at the very beginning of  his email that equally merits youngster’s attention.    It reads: “… It reminds me of my very first day at Microsoft, 22 years ago. Like you, I had a choice about where to come to work. I came here because I believed Microsoft was the best company in the world... I knew there was no better company to join if I wanted to make a difference…”  Now, does this fact of Satya, having found Microsoft as the best place to work and staying with it for 22 long years tell us anything worth taking home?  Perhaps, “Yes”. It indeed has something to say and say it authentically: harping from one job to the other frequently, that too, without realizing what after all one wants to have from the job/life, doesn’t pay. 

The third most important thing that emanates from his letter that aspiring leaders must take note of is: “I am 46. I’ve been married for 22 years and we have three kids.” I wonder if he had made this statement with any intent, but it did drive my mind to recall what the doyen of leadership thought, Warren Bennis, once said: “One of the most intriguing discoveries I [Bennis] made in the original interviews for Leaders was that almost all of the CEOs were still married to their first spouse. I think the reason may be that the spousefor both men and womenis the one person they can totally trust. The back talk from the spousethe trusted personis reflective because it allows the leader to learn, to find out more about himself.” Pundits say that happy families essentially train people to develop ‘integrated-personality’ and that trait enables one to identify with other’s pleasures and pains freely, and weave “beautiful dreams.” And don’t you think, be it for the family or the organizations, that is what is needed if goals are to be pursued with unison.

Lastly, at the national level too we have something important to learn from the elevation of Mr. Satya as CEO.  Remember, Mr. Satya,  India-born American, could become the CEO of one of the most reputed technology companies  of the globe, only because America is known to practice what is known as meritocracy. And this is unfortunately an alien idea for us in India. Indeed it is so painful that we have given it a comfortable go-by long, long ago.  Now the question is:  Can India and Indians ever raise a demand for its practice?

Whether or not this happens, for the being let us wish Mr. Satya Nadella all the success in his new role!


Acknowledgement: Thanks to Sri Sankara Narayana Sathiraju, for allowing me to use the portrait of Mr. Satya drawn by him.


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