The sheer number of books contained in Satya Nadella’s corner office highlight how much he reads — both pages and screens are indispensable parts of his life.
The CEO of Microsoft, the most valuable company in the world, grounds himself and Microsoft’s culture on ideas he’s learned thanks to his reading habit. The principles he derived from psychological and historical titles like "Mindset" by Carol Dweck continue to define his tenure as CEO.
"I read a few pages here or a few pages there," Nadella told Fast Company. "There are a few books, of course, that you read end-to-end. But without books I can’t live."
Nadella’s time as CEO was initially shaped by Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication, which he asked his top executives to read. This was the first indicator to senior leadership that Nadella would not operate like his predecessors. In his second earnings call, Nadella borrowed a phrase from Friedrich Nietzsche by saying that investors could expect "courage in the face of reality" from Microsoft.
We’ve compiled in the following list for anyone who wants to start reading, or quoting literature, like Satya Nadella.
"Little Gidding" by T. S. Eliot
Faber and Faber
In Nadella’s first press briefing on March 2014, he memorably quoted a line from prolific 20th-century poet T.S. Eliot’s "Little Gidding." Nadella used this in the context of explaining how even though he had spent 22 years at Microsoft, he saw things in a different perspective from his new position as CEO.
"I think TS Elliot captured it best when he said that you should never cease from exploration, and at the end of all exploring you arrive where you started and know the place for the very first time," Nadella said. "And for me that has been more true than ever before."
"Little Gidding" was actually Eliot’s last great work. As one analysis suggests, "it is a poem about traditions in the present, and a present-day poem that absorbs past traditions."
"Nonviolent Communication" by Marshall Rosenberg
Nonviolent communication integrates qualities like compassion, and effective communication to allow for better leadership.
Dr. Rosenberg writes from a position of experience and research: He has started peace programs in places throughout the world that have experienced the effects of war, including Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Serbia, and Ireland. This book outlines the principles of peaceful conflict resolution. It’s interesting to note that one of the concepts involves sharing power with others instead of using power over others.
Nadella recommended it to his leadership team, symbolically differentiating his expectations from that of his predecessors. Reports have found that Microsoft used to have a conflict-heavy culture under Steve Ballmer — now there’s nonviolent communication coming from the top of the house.
"Mindset: The New Psychology of Success" by Carol Dweck
Dweck, a Stanford psychology professor, popularized her research into mindsets with this book. Instead of assuming that your abilities are stuck in place— signaling a "fixed mindset" — Dweck encourages people to view skills as learnable, flexible, growable, or a "a growth mindset."
Her research shows that mindset is an predictor of achievement across fields, from education to negotiations to performance evaluation to motivation to international conflict to how likely people are to stereotype others.
Nadella has pointed to growth mindset as the essential ingredient of the change he’s driven at Microsoft.
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