Hit Refresh by Satya Nadella is not your average leadership book with paeans about either the company or the CEO

Microsoft is so ubiquitous that one sometimes forgets how old a company it is – about 43+ years old as of 2018.

Interestingly, it has had only 3 CEOs till now.

Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer had their own aggressive personalities and drove hard to grow the company over the years, which is why a lot of folks were surprised when Satya Nadella was chosen as the 3rd CEO.

It’s not often that you find a CEO so big on EMPATHY a quality which a lot of leaders seem to regard as a ‘soft skill’

Hit Refresh chronicles how Satya has used empathy and his is unique leadership skills to change the culture at Microsoft and turbo charge it for the future. And it seems to be working.

The book is divided into 9 chapters and starts off with a brief background about Satya and the factors which shaped his upbringing – the values instilled by his parents, his love for cricket and a sort of early life of privilege.

It moves on to his time at Microsoft and the changes and leadership lessons he experienced over the years leading up to the top job at Microsoft.

Then comes the really interesting part – where how he set about to bring a change of culture and motivate a company which seemed to be losing its technological edge.

And ends with Satya’s thoughts on how mixed reality, artificial intelligence and quantum computing will impact our world in the future.

Here are some notes which stood out:

3 principles of leadership from Cricket

  1. Compete vigorously and with passion in the face of uncertainty and intimdation
  2. The importance of putting your team first ahead of your personal stats and recognition
  3. The central importance of leadership who can bring out the best in everyone.

One brilliant ‘rockstar’ who does not put the team first can destroy the entire team.

The number one thing which leaders have to do: bolster the confidence of people they are leading

Focus on culture and imagine what’s possible – instead of just running business as usual.

Life’s problems cannot always be solved in the manner we want – Instead we also need to learn to cope ( When his son Zain was born with disabilities )

Being empathetic – always searching to understand people’s thoughts, feelings and ideas – a desire to discover the core, the soul makes me a better leader

Few tasks are more difficult than building a lasting institution – The choice of leading through consensus vs fiat is a false one.

Any institution building comes from having a clear vision and culture that works to motivate progress from both top-down and bottom-up.

A leader must see external opportunities and the internal capability and culture – and all the connections among them – and respond to them before they become obvious parts of conventional wisdom.

Why does Microsoft exist ? To Build Products that empower others.

Consistency is better than perfection ( When communicating your mission or vision to the world )

Culture is multi faceted Рa kind of social unconscious 

Culture Values, Customs, beliefs and symbolic practices that men and women live and breathe each day

Culture is made up of acts that become habitual and accrue to something coherent and meaningful.

Culture is how an organisation thinks and acts, but individuals shape it.

Growth vs Fixed Mindset – The hand that you are dealt is just the starting point.

Empathy is essential to deal with problems everywhere.

What gives me deep meaning is the ability to take new ideas and empathy for people, to connect the two and have great impact.

To transform our company and change the world, I asked our employees to identify their innermost passions and to connect them in some way to our new mission and culture. That’s what helps them visualise the impact they can achieve and are then intrinsically motivated.

Culture change should never be done. It’s not a program with a start and end date – It’s a way of being.

When I learn about a shortcoming, its a thrilling moment. The person who point’s it out has given me the gift of insight.

The key to culture change is individual empowerment – We sometimes underestimate what we can do to make things happen, and overestimate what others need to do for us.

Want something?  РMake it happen.

Once you become a VP or a partner in the endeavour, the whining is over.

To be a leader in this company, your job is to find the rose petals in a field of shit.

Constraints are real, and will always be there – Leaders are champions of overcoming constraints. They make things happen.

3 Leadership principles for anyone leading others are Microsoft: Clarity – Energy – Deliver

  1. Bring clarity to those you work with – Synthesise the complex
  2. Generate energy – inspire optimism, creativity and shared commitment
  3. Find a way to deliver success

Reasoned judgement and inner conviction – Make the call but don’t always expect consensus.

Build partnerships before you need them

Steve Ballmer’s 3 Cs – Concepts > Capabilities > Culture

Essentially, the ability to generate concepts or ideas, the capability to deliver them and a culture which embraces the new and doesn’t choke either.

Compete hard and and then equally celebrate the opportunities created for everyone – It’s not a zero-sum game.

On Managing time – Employees, Customers, Products, Partners

We tend to overestimate what we can achieve in the short term but underestimate what can be achieved in the long run.

He who has a why to live for can can bear almost any how – Nietzsche

Empathy + Shared Values + Safety and Reliability = Trust Over Time.


If you are leader or an entrepreneur, Hit Refresh can be a great way to pause and reflect for a while and then maybe refresh your life and organisation a bit.

Worth a Read. Get it here on Amazon