What Excites Me Most about Satya? He Reads.
With today’s announcements from Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, the three major things I adovcated for in my blog and as part of this PSBJ article over a year ago have come to pass: Ballmer’s retirement, a radical redesign of the review model (jury is still out on the “new” model), and a significant workforce reduction. Though, I still believe that offering a voluntary severance program would be an effective way to reduce some of the bloat.
I am more excited about Microsoft’s future than I have been in a long time. If I could split myself in two, it would be an exciting time to go back and be part of the transformation (I have the great good fortune of an amazing role with PATH that you’d have to bodily drag me away from). But, the thing that excites me the most about Microsoft today is not any of those things.
I’m excited because Satya reads. You can tell from his internal communications (the ones publicly posted), you can tell from the initial interviews that were released when his selection was announced. He is an avid reader, which means his mind is open. He is constantly receiving, sorting, parsing, comparing, drawing analogies- in short learning. He is learning as he goes. And he draws from all types of material- non-fiction, fiction, poetry, old texts, new best-sellers. It’s another great attribute that he is an engineer, so he’s methodical and thoughtful but also “gets it” when he talks to his leaders and product teams. It’s a wonderful combination in the leader of a technology company.
Pondering today’s news, I was thinking about how I would sum up my impression of him. (Sadly, we have never met, nor did I ever hear him speak whilst I was at Microsoft.) My impression is of a pragmatist, but one who is also compassionate. He is not overly focused on an artificial goal, which I think also has a lot to do with his practice of reading. As a reader and lifelong learner, one has to constantly update and revise your view of things- whether strategy, the market, the economy, your own life choices. And I don’t think this makes a leader waver and wander- just the opposite. Having a huge store of material to draw upon is like a boat having a deep keel, it makes you steady and thoughtful as you correct course.
I think we have seen this great quality of being a reader in many other leaders. I am an avid follower (and reader) of Bill Gate’s book list. (Which he just published a new post- so check it out!). Steve Jobs was also a voracious consumer of the written word.
I’ll confess, if a leader is not a reader, if they are not curious about the world and constantly striving to learn and expand their views, it worries me. It makes me wonder about how flexible and thoughtful their judgement and decision making is. Reading keeps your mind flexible and keeps you open to new ideas. It’s yoga for your brain.
So, as difficult as today’s news may be for some individuals and families, and I’d argue that you could interview all of them in a year and find that the vast majority will be positive about the experiences and possibilities that this change opened up for them, it’s an exciting and necessary step for the company. Remember the people getting laid-off today are no slouches- they are getting laid off from Microsoft. Practically by definition, 99 for every 100 of them are wicked smart, have worked for one of the best companies in the world, and are getting the support from the company to transition to new roles. Change is hard but without it, there is no opportunity.
I am excited for the future of Microsoft and look forward to watching what Satya reveals about his plans and thought processes vis a vis his reading list. Maybe like Oprah, he should start a “book club” to excite and expand the thinking of his employees!