Microsoft’s CEO - The Question Isn’t Who But How

Microsoft’s CEO – The Question Isn’t Who But How

There are plenty of posts about who Microsoft should hire and why. You can even place bets. Are you tilting towards Turner, Microsoft’s current COO? Are you favoring Elop over Mulally? What about an ex internal candidate? Rudder, Sinofsky or Maritz? These discussions are fun but miss the point. This approach devolves into a debate of experiences or skills. On that basis these candidates are not differentiable. Microsoft faces the problem of every hiring manager. Facing a stack of candidates, all possessing incredible, in this case unmatchable, credentials, how do you decide?

Being CEO of a major corporation is not just an IQ test. Too many candidates are hired for intellectual horsepower. For a small number of positions this might be appropriate, but I’m unconvinced. How many times have we read interview feedback akin to, “Wow, they graduated [insert honors here] from [insert impressive school(s) here] and worked at [insert list of impressive companies here]”? This is neither competent interviewing nor sufficient hiring criteria. After all, we have all experienced candidates with impressive resumes crash on the rocky shores of ‘bad fit’? Microsoft doesn’t get to make this mistake; there is no second ‘at bat’ for them.

They, and we, have to hire for intellectual breadth. Howard Gardner, the progenitor of the idea of ‘multiple intelligences’ proposes that effective leaders draw on personal resources that span intellect, instinct and integrity. At SHP we focus deeply on recruiting candidates with impressive credentials and emotional agility. Gardner (and SHP) focus on three dominant capabilities:

  • Linguistic: The ‘Emotional Olympian’ must be gifted linguistically. Can they create and convey a story that enthralls non-specialists?
  • Interpersonal: Leaders also need to be gifted interpersonally; they must be able to quickly and accurately assess the needs of the people (customers, partners, employees and Board) that define their success.
  • Existential: Can they step back and pose the fundamental questions like ‘why are we doing this?’ ‘Does this fit with our long-term goals?’

This morning Microsoft offered its first clue that it is ready for zero-based planning by rejecting their cumbersome review model. Everything must be on the table for the new CEO, The must be intellectually and emotionally equipped.

Microsoft should pay particular attention here. The new CEO faces existential decisions about its business portfolio. Each has powerfully intelligent entrenched lobbies. The CEO must quickly understand the requirements of the people involved and weave a narrative that pulls them together. Otherwise Microsoft will persist in doing a little more or a little less of what it is already doing today. And that would be tragic. Of all the candidates available, Mulally has shown himself to be the most agile performer. Yes, Boeing and Ford are both manufacturers but they are vastly different cultures. His success in both earns our vote as the top candidate.

I’ve helped many companies with grounded cultures only to see that sense of self suffer with scale.  Your company is your culture, your values. How your team expresses those values at every point of contact determines your odds of success. Hiring stellar candidates assures that expression is an asset.