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What Business and HR Leaders can learn from the CEO of Microsoft

Each week, we bring you some of our favourite articles and stories from some of the brightest and most innovative minds in the area of business performance.

This month, we bring you a fascinating article from one of our favourite thinkers, Matthew Syed. Matthew is a British journalist, author, broadcaster, and table tennis player. He competed as an English table tennis international, and was the English number one for many years. He was three times the men's singles champion at the Commonwealth Table Tennis Championships (in 1997, 2000 and 2001), and also competed for Great Britain in two Olympic Games, at Barcelona in 1992 and at Sydney in 2000. He has published three books, Bounce in 2010, Black Box Thinking in 2015, and You Are Awesome in 2018.

In this article, Matthew writes about what business and HR leaders can learn from Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. He learns about the challenges Nadella faced when taking over Microsoft and how creating a 'learning culture' was the foundation for the amazing turnaround since then.


I spent the day with Satya Nadella, the chief executive of Microsoft, last Friday. He is regarded as one of the world’s top leaders, having grown market cap by $250 billion since taking the helm in 2014. A big part of his explanation for this turnaround is simple: creating a “learning culture”. “I wanted our company to be a team of ‘learn it alls’ rather than ‘know it alls’” he said.

The problem Nadella inherited was that many within the organisation wanted to look like the smartest person in the room. People in this mindset (sometimes called the fixed mindset) struggle to admit to their own weaknesses. They become defensive when their mistakes are pointed out (or cover them up). And they don’t like innovating because of the failures that inevitably arise when trying new things. They fear that this might make them look less than super-smart.

This mindset can be profoundly destructive. In a complex world, progress is not about proclaiming how much you know, but finding out what you don’t know. It is about finding weaknesses quickly, so they can be turned into strengths. In short, it is about a mindset that is not defensive (“how dare you tell me that I am not super smart!”), but expansive (“none of us have all the answers, so let’s discover new ideas!”). This is sometimes called the growth mindset.

Enjoy the full article here.