Satya Nadella: A Servant Leader?

Ever since I read Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, I have had a curiosity about the leadership of Microsoft. Bill Gates was seemingly an intellectual leader. Steve Balmer seemed like an autocratic leader. And, then came along Satya Nadella.

As an Indian American with parents from South Africa and Fiji, seeing Nadella as the leader of Microsoft is inspiring. From the little I have seen of him, he seems to be a different type of leader.

So when I read the article from The Economist, “What Satya Nadella did at Microsoft” I was very curious.

Note: All quotes in the article are from

Enter Satya Nadella:

Create the Conditions to be Agile: Embracing Obstacles vs. Trying to Kill Them

Since as far as I can remember, Microsoft has revolved around its crown jewel: Microsoft Windows. Under Nadella that has clearly shifted to an ecosystem-agnostic approach, whereby users are encouraged on any platform.

Technologies come and go, he says, so “we need a culture that allows you to constantly renew yourself”.

Given that Balmer used to call Linux a cancer, I can only imagine the depth of change this was at Microsoft to hear from its leader.

Leading through Power vs. Leading through Hearts & Minds

Gate’s used to often say, “That’s the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever heard.”
Balmer used to run across the stage yelling “I love this company.”

With Gates or Balmer, by using language to create strong dichotomies or generalities, a couple things can occur within the culture:

  1. Employees may be afraid of being wrong or say something in contract to the leader
  2. Managers may treat subordinates accordingly
  3. A culture of rightness and wrongness emerges which stifles innovation.
On the other hand with Nadella, he can often be seen sitting in the audience, listening.

In many ways this style of leadership seems to revolve around something deeper — a slow and steady wins the race approach.

Mr Nadella doesn’t seem to be worried by such unknowns, which are to be expected in a fast-changing industry.
Instead, he frets about too much success. “When you have a core that’s growing at more than 20%, that is when the rot really sets in,” he says.

A statement such as this is so counter culture— it seems filled with a sense of stoicism — a dispassionate and unattached objectivity to the realities of rapidly changing times.

The leadership will require a steady hand that is focused on the long game. I am curious to see how Nadella will steer this ship.