Thank you, Satya Nadella! Leadership Lessons from CEO of Microsoft and Pope Francis

Last October, when the Karma-gate exploded at the annual Grace Hopper conference, it was a true blessing for women in corporations everywhere! It was as if two world-class leaders who are passionate about making a difference and leaving a legacy of transformational innovation had staged a cosmic theater play for shifting the consciousness of corporate leaders everywhere.

President of Harvey-Mudd College, Maria Klawe is also one of the two women on board of Microsoft Corporation. This gives her unique access and powers to talk to important leaders like Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella who agreed to satya nadella and maria klawe at grace hopper oct 2014be interviewed by her on stage at the annual gathering of women in tech and computing. It was a brilliant move by Klawe who is a staunch advocate for gender balance and women’s rights. However, I doubt she knew she was holding a grenade in her hands. While the explosion made a great show and woke up audiences all around the world,  I think she could not have choreographed it any better – had she known.

So, when Nadella blurted that women do not need to ask for a raise but “trust the system” because good karma comes to those who do good work… he spoke with the voice of thousands of CEO’s. This is what they do believe. And I believe that until that moment most male CEO’s around the country did actually think that we live in the era of meritocracy; and therefore, women do not need to ask for raises. Or try so hard. (When women try hard, they are often perceived as unpleasant, un-feminine, and some even use the “b” word.)

Now, thanks to the storm of worldwide press and social media rumba about the matter and Nadella’s stature, thousands of CEO’s have been now educated about the state of the matter while also probably thanking their gods for not having been in his shoes at Grace Hopper. Nadella’s rapid response team from Waggener Edstrom Communications prepared him well. He immediately admitted his faux pas – even on his Facebook page – and publicized his newly awakened commitment to inclusion and diversity (which Microsoft notably lacks). By doing this he has opened a path for thousands of companies around the world to do the same.

For women at Microsoft and in tech companies everywhere this was a watershed moment. No CEO will ever again (I hope) go to speak at a women’s leadership conference without first checking in with their diversity officers and their gender balance policies. Now that the unconscious bias is finally out of the box, we can work to change things.

This is a fascinating story for me not only because of Nadella’s public commitment to women and diversity at Microsoft but also because with this issue he has stepped into the Pantheon of new leaders right next to Pope Francis. These guys represent the new doctrine of leadership and I’m watching with fascination. The leaders of this new era have demonstrated these principles:

  1. Transparency rules.
  2. Mix it up & include.
  3. Own your mistakes quickly.
  4. Have the hard conversations with heart, humility, willingness to listen and learn.
  5. Take action and commit to change. Again and again.

What else are you noticing? Who else belongs in the new Pantheon of leaders? What is possible when leaders become transformational? Hmmm. Perhaps, even some opportunities for innovation…?

I’m excited how the emergence of smart leadership offers a potential to renew, update and upgrade the cultures in some of the dusty behemoths of organizations. It’s about time, don’t you think?

Author: Kristiina Hiukka is a Seattle-based professional leadership consultant, coach and trainer. She works with CEO’s who invest in women leaders in their companies. She specializes coaching executives and management teams. She believes in creating positivity driven performance cultures. She has coached leaders and facilitated teams at small companies as well as global organizations such as Microsoft, Nokia and the American Red Cross. She founded Women in Innovation, a community and summit that convenes women leaders with Big Ideas to transform the ways we live and work. A native of Finland, Kristiina serves as Honorary Vice Consul of Finland for the State of Washington. Kristiina speaks on a variety of leadership topics connected to her passions: Leadership, Innovation, Collaboration, Communication, and Gender Intelligence.



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