Selfless Leadership: Team Success Over Personal Glory

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Hit Refresh" by Satya Nadella. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What’s more important—your team’s success or your own? At what cost will you protect your leadership position?

In his book Hit Refresh, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella explains that a good leader prioritizes the success of the team above his own. He also discusses the importance of involving your team in decisions so that everyone has a say.

Read more to learn about Nadella’s philosophy and practice of selfless leadership.

Put Your Team Ahead of Yourself

As a lifelong devotee of cricket, Nadella understands the importance of working together as a team. He writes that individuals—no matter how talented—can destroy a team if they’re more concerned about personal glory rather than collective success. Nadella himself is an example of selfless leadership—someone who puts the team ahead of himself. In Hit Refresh, he acknowledges how different team members help him lead Microsoft. 

(Shortform note: Leaders who put themselves ahead of the team can be considered positional leaders—they think they’ve “arrived” by virtue of their title and are obsessed with protecting their position. In The 5 Levels of Leadership, Maxwell writes that such leaders make others look bad to make themselves look good and use their position to their advantage instead of thinking about their responsibilities to the team. This is bad for the workplace because it results in low morale and a toxic work environment.)

Nadella also writes about the importance of creating a “shared context” when leading a team. This means being able to get your team on board with your decisions. He relates that, prior to becoming CEO, he was appointed to lead a new group and decided not to bring his old team with him. Each leader in the new group seemed to be operating autonomously, so Nadella met with each one individually and listened to what they had to say. This led to more openness and cooperation within the group.

(Shortform note: Nadella doesn’t go into detail about how to create a “shared context.” In Team of Teams, Stanley McChrystal writes that one way you can build this shared context, or shared consciousness, is by adopting a policy of extreme transparency. This means sharing information so that everyone has an accurate, real-time view of the organization. In McChrystal’s case, he implemented a daily briefing, making use of technology so that others who weren’t at headquarters in Iraq could still participate.)

Selfless Leadership: Team Success Over Personal Glory

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  • How Satya Nadella brought Microsoft back from its decline
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  • A look at the ethical responsibilities of tech companies

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, science, and philosophy. A switch to audio books has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a creative nonfiction book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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