“Our lives are defined by opportunities, even the ones we miss.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald
People often ask me why I’ve been at Microsoft so long. It’s simple. It’s the people. It’s people with a passion for more from life.
The variety of people is mind blowing. From teachers to scientists to you name it. There are doctors on staff who even write code. There are world-class musicians, mathematicians, best-selling authors, outstanding speakers, and inspiring minds that bring science fiction to life.
What brings such an unlikely band of heroes together? Values. Values are the lightening rod that attract and bind us.
Just about everybody I know wants to change the world and make a difference in their unique way, and to leave the world a better place. So many unsung heroes give way more than they’ll ever get, while they follow their heart, and give their best, where they have their best to give.
Values at Microsoft
Here are the shared values at Microsoft as you’ll find them on Microsoft.com:
“As a company, and as individuals, we value integrity, honesty, openness, personal excellence, constructive self-criticism, continual self-improvement, and mutual respect. … We take on big challenges, and pride ourselves on seeing them through.”
That’s some powerful stuff. If you are a fan of continuous learning or personal growth, Microsoft is the ultimate dojo of personal excellence. There are so many people to learn from in so many ways, and the feedback loops are extreme. It’s an arena that’s empowered me expand my capabilities beyond my wildest imagination, in leadership, business, and life.
I joined Microsoft to follow Bill Gates. Here was a guy with all the money in the world, yet he showed up every day and worked harder than most people I know to do what he loved. He wants to empower people. He wants to change the world and technology is his way.
When You Know Your Values, You can Live Them
I value adventure, excellence, and empowerment. In one of my leadership trainings, a colleague pointed out to me that adventure is a strong theme in my life (she mentioned my motorcycle, my Jeep, my passion for road trips, etc.) She challenged me and ask me how I could bring more of that to work?
There’s no shortage of big challenges at Microsoft. I decided to treat each of my projects as an epic adventure. For each project I took on, I would envision what the movie poster would look like. The energy was contagious and it helped inspire the teams I lead. One of my colleagues said they thought of me as, “the director of block-busters.”
Excellence is another theme in my day to day. I challenge myself to master my craft or hone my skills or expand my capabilities. To do so, I model the best. I find the people that are great at what they do and I learn from them. This helps me stay in the game, and grow better at what I do. It also helps me keep a “beginner’s mind.” I’m always open to new ways and new perspectives. It’s a quest for the best, and failure is an option, as long as it’s failing forward.
Empowerment is another theme that drives me. I empower people. I like to bring out the best in people and often that means setting the goals and getting out of the way. People get creative and resourceful when they take on challenges. The trick is not to tie their hands with process or style, but instead to help them internalize the tests for success. Then they can use all their resources and passion to rise above the challenge before them and grow in the process.
Every day, there are so many chances to spend more time in our values, if we first know what our values are. As one of my colleagues put it so well, “Do more art.”
Don’t Break Yourself Against Your Values
During my interview for Microsoft, my hiring manager asked me if I was joining for fame or fortune. Ironically, I didn’t want either. I told him I wanted to make impact. He liked that answer.
I was not actually a fan of fame. In fact, what I like about Microsoft is how many unsung heroes there are among the halls. There are so many people with so many amazing lives and amazing achievements. You would just never know. For example, do you know Wikipedia? Well, I used to work with the guy that created the Wiki platform. He never bragged about it. In fact, he never brought it up unless I asked him about it.
I prefer to make impact behind the scenes and to lead in a quiet way. For me, I measure my success internally, not externally, and my bar for me is high. I learned early on to practice the art of leadership aikido and to “shape without a wake.” My manager’s philosophy was — make great things happen, but don’t leave a wake behind you, and don’t leave a trail of dead bodies.
Sometimes I run into a conflict where the culture values visible and vocal, while I value quiet and effective. What I’ve learned is to blend. What I found is that it gives me more options, and I can choose the most effective approach for the scenario.
The more important lesson I learned though is that many things that seem like conflict of values, are really conflict of styles. Conflict of styles is easy to deal with when you see it for what it is. You just change your approach. A Darwin way to put it is, “adapt or die.” The way to see through style conflict is to always connect back at the values, find the common ground, and create shared goals.
We have a lot more in common then we think we do, if we don’t get blinded by conflict in styles.
Every now and then, there truly is a conflict in values, such as one person value freedom, while another values control, or one person values routine, while another values innovation, or one person values people while another values things.
In my experience, it’s better to find a better fit than to break yourself against your values. If roller coasters aren’t for you, find another ride.