Be the Boss

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on the 3 qualities that make a great leader

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella walks in front of the Cortana logo.
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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella walks in front of the Cortana logo.

Having spent over two decades at Microsoft, which led to him heading up the software giant in 2014, CEO Satya Nadella has had a lot of time to discover what it means to be a good leader.

Speaking at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona this week, Nadella explained how he has refined his thoughts on good leadership down to three main areas.

And for the CEO, he not only looks for this level of leadership in those he works with, but in himself too — something he admits is not always easy to maintain every day.

Here are the three traits that Nadella looks for in a leader:

1) Provide clarity

In times of crisis or chaos, the people who are often looked up to, are those who are able to offer clarity and help ease a difficult situation.

Microsoft chief executive officer Satya Nadella (R) and Daimler AG and Mercedes Benz chairperson Dieter Zetsche (C) hold a panel discussion at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona on February 25, 2019.
LLUIS GENE | AFP | Getty Images
Microsoft chief executive officer Satya Nadella (R) and Daimler AG and Mercedes Benz chairperson Dieter Zetsche (C) hold a panel discussion at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona on February 25, 2019.

"Leaders have this amazing, uncanny capability of bringing clarity into a situation where none exists," he said during a keynote Monday.

"You can't call yourself a leader by coming into a situation that is by nature uncertain, ambiguous — and create confusion," he stated in Barcelona, adding that to be a leader, you "have to create clarity, where none exists."

In the past, Nadella has highlighted that this is the "most important attribute" that any kind of leader should have, yet it can often be underestimated.

2) Generate energy

While offering precision and clarity is extremely useful in times of uncertainty, it's not the only attribute a leader should embody. For Microsoft's chief executive, having genuine passion and enthusiasm for what you do will be important when pursuing leadership qualities.

"Leaders create energy," Nadella said Monday, adding that if a person comes up to you and says "'I'm great, my team is great, everybody else around me sucks.' That person is not a leader."

"You have to create energy all around you," said Nadella, building upon comments he made in Chicago last year, where he explained that you have to "be at your evangelical best. You have got to have followership all around you."

3) Drive success — in any condition

Finally, being successful doesn't happen overnight. And even when you do become successful, you're bound to hit a few hurdles on your way — so bear this in mind.

"The last thing is that leaders have to drive success in — what is essentially — an over-constrained problem," Nadella added. "You can't say 'I'm waiting for the perfect weather and the full alignment of stars, and I'll show you my brilliance.' I mean, that's not leadership."

"You have to be able to figure it out and drive success."

And those are some key aspects Microsoft takes into account when looking at job applicants. At the software giant, Microsoft encourages its employees to pursue their passion and embrace their own identities.

Yet, if you're trying to get a foot in the door, the company states that its looking for people who have a "strong desire to learn, intelligence, a passion for technology, a willingness to work hard, rock-solid skills, an entrepreneurial spirit, and a desire to be the best."

Nadella's comments at MWC echo previous discussions he's had on the topic of leadership. Late last year, the CEO visited the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, where he secured his MBA in 1997, and highlighted these leadership qualities to its dean, Madhav Rajan. He did however emphasize that on top of this, empathy is a crucial ingredient to have both in your personal life and in the workplace.

Ultimately it's understandable to if you fail to hit top form for all three elements, all the time, Nadella concluded Monday. It's trying your best and learning from mistakes that matters.

"To do these three things well and not have hubris is what I think you need in leaders."

"You've got to start by — someone like me — acknowledging that I'm not perfect on those three all the time and pushing myself to learn," he said.

CNBC's Elizabeth Schulze contributed to this report.

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