Secret sauce: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella asked employees not for profits, but for individual growth

An excerpt from the India-born Nadella’s book about his leadership, ‘Hit Refresh’.

Earlier in the year, Anu had handed me a copy of Dr Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dr Dweck’s research is about overcoming failures by believing you can. “The view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life.” She divides the world between learners and non-learners, demonstrating that a fixed mindset will limit you and a growth mindset can move you forward. The hand you are dealt is just the starting point. Passion, toil, and training can help you to soar. (She even writes persuasively about what she calls the “CEO disease,” an affliction of business leaders who fail to have a growth mindset.)

My wife wasn’t thinking of my success when she gave me Dr Dweck’s book. She was thinking of the success of one of our daughters who has learning differences. Her diagnosis took us on a journey of discovery to help her. First was the internal journey, concern for her but also the need to educate ourselves. Next came action. We found a school in Vancouver, Canada, that specialises in learning differences like hers. We spent five years of our lives splitting time and family between Vancouver and Seattle in order to augment her regular schooling while keeping Zain’s care consistent in Seattle.

All of this meant separation at many levels: husband and wife; father and daughters; mother and son.

We were maintaining two lives in two countries. Anu drove thousands of miles between Seattle and Vancouver in rain, snow, and darkness, and so did I on alternate weekends for five years. It was a trying time, but Anu and the girls made some exceptional friends in Canada. As a family, we learned together that these predicaments were universal. Families from California, Australia, Palestine, and New Zealand converged on the Vancouver school with issues and challenges. I discovered that recognition of these universal predicaments leads to universal empathy – empathy for and among children, adults, parents, and teachers. Empathy, we learned, was indivisible and was a universal value. And we learned that empathy is essential to deal with problems everywhere, whether at Microsoft or at home; here in the United States or globally. at is also a mindset, a culture.

As I continued my speech at the global sales conference, the empathy I felt for my kids and the empathy I felt for the people listening in that audience were on my mind and in my emotions. “We can have all the bold ambitions. We can have all the bold goals. We can aspire to our new mission. But it’s only going to happen if we live our culture, if we teach our culture. And to me that model of culture is not a static thing. It is about a dynamic learning culture. In fact, the phrase we use to describe our emerging culture is ‘growth mindset,’ because it’s about every individual, every one of us having that attitude – that mindset – of being able to overcome any constraint, stand up to any challenge, making it possible for us to grow and, thereby, for the company to grow.”

I told my colleagues that I was not talking bottomline growth.

I was talking about our individual growth. We will grow as a company if everyone, individually, grows in their roles and in their lives. My wife, Anu, and I had been blessed with wonderful children, and we’ve had to learn their special needs. at has changed everything for us. “It’s taken me on this journey of developing more empathy for others. And what gives me deep meaning is that ability to take new ideas and empathy for people; to connect the two and have great impact. at’s what gives me the greatest satisfaction. It’s why I work for Microsoft. And that’s what I aspire for each one of you to do as you work here.”

Our culture needed to be about realising our personal passions and using Microsoft as a platform to pursue that passion. For me, my greatest satisfaction has come from my passion to see technology become more accessible for people with disabilities and to help improve their lives in a myriad of ways.

Just as my predecessor Steve Ballmer had done at these annual gatherings, I’d closed my speech with a call to action, but one with a very different mood and purpose. I had essentially asked employees to identify their innermost passions and to connect them in some way to our new mission and culture. In so doing we would transform our company and change the world. When you’re CEO, these goals can be easy to imagine, but when an employee’s aperture is smaller – a marketer in Malaysia or technical support in Texas – such a mission can seem distant and unattainable. So the challenge I’d set forth in my speech might be a daunting one. I wondered whether I’d connected with the audience or left them baffled and untouched.

Feeling my emotions beginning to overcome me, I skipped my last slide and quickly exited the stage. Jill pointed at the doorway to the auditorium, not my private green room, “Watch with them.” As a video started presenting not just the year’s progress but the expansive, mission-driven opportunity ahead, I slipped back into the auditorium through a side entrance. No one could see me in the darkened auditorium. Every eye was glued to the screen, but I was watching them, gauging the emotion in the room. Everyone was locked in and some were softly wiping away tears. I knew then that we were onto something.

Excerpted with permission from Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone, Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft. Published by Harper Business, an imprint of HarperCollins.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.