Leadership attributes

As part of Leadership Development efforts at Microsoft, I get an opportunity to chat with people about my leadership philosophy.  Here are a couple of nuggets of information that I wanted to share broadly with you all.


Sometimes we use the word leadership and management interchangeably, but in my mind there can be a huge difference between the two.  If I have to sum up the differences in one sentence, here is how I think about it – Managers define the best way to scale a wall, while Leaders define which wall to scale in the first place.  In my ideal world, I want to see a leader having great management skills and a manager possessing strong leadership skills.  If not, I encourage people to think about what their strengths are and how they can surround themselves with people that complement them.


There are a lot of different leadership attributes that I can talk about.  If I have to prioritize the attributes, here are the top five that come to my mind as key ingredients for a successful leader.

1.  Dream big

2.  Integrity

3.  Communication

4.  Share credit and take the blame

5.  Set the right expectations


Why Dream big? I believe that if you aspire for the stars, you may reach the tree top; on the other hand if you aspire for the tree top, you may fall flat on the ground.  Integrity is all about doing what you say.  In other words, if you say something I want to know that you are going to do your very best to make that happen and if you can’t you will come back to me and talk about that in a very timely manner.  As far as communication is concerned, Leadership and Communication are two sides of the same coin.  While communicating, successful leaders pay attention to simplicity, maturity and frequency.  Simplicity is about resonance with the listener’s thoughts while maturity is a good balance between the leader’s conviction for her own thoughts with consideration for the listener’s opinions.  Be it JFK’s “putting a man in the moon” or Bill Gates’ “a computer for every desk”, or Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream…”, these are examples of leaders communicating their vision in a way that is simple and yet resonates super well with the world.  Successful leaders share credit & take the blame. As Lao Tzu said -- “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worse when they despise him....But of a good leader who talks little when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, "We did it ourselves”.  Finally, good leaders set the right expectations. In Max DePree’s words -- “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.”


The ultimate test of leadership is if you can have people follow you on the journey.  I remember reading this quote somewhere and unfortunately don't remember who said it, but it resonated with me quite well and here it goes - "A leader without followers is a person out for a walk alone".



Comments (17)

  1. meysun says:

    Excellent!! Simple & Clear

  2. Srikanth says:

    Good one & Inspiring!

  3. Herman says:

    Do you read the Mini-Microsoft weblog?

    It seems to suggest that Microsoft (and according to certain comments, you and DevDiv in particular) are failing badly with leadership.

    I’d be interested in your response (and your thoughts about Mini generally).

  4. William says:

    Well said!!!

  5. loc says:

    I need to work on 3 and 5. How about you?

    I also believe that you need to have the killer instinct to lead people. You must do what you have to, no matter what/when/where/how. If something/someone is not a good fit for your team, you must not need it/her around. Always set a good example. Do/enjoy whatever it takes to get the team there. People will follow because they believe you can take them there.

  6. loc says:

    "While communicating, successful leaders pay attention to simplicity, maturity and frequency."

    I’m not very clear with "simplicity" and "frequency". Could you elaborate on those ends? Thanks.

  7. Somasegar says:

    Hi Loc,

    I am a big believer in learning and getting better and from that perspective, I want to get even better on all the attributes that I mention above.

    When I talk about simplicity of communication, I am referring to making the message powerful, yet simple to comprehend. THe examples I use like "man on the moon", "computer on every desk" are simple yet super powerful vision statements that can rally people around.

    Also, it is important to repeat the messages over and over again so that a) you are consistent in what you want to accomplish and the priorities and b) it sticks with the people in a meaningful way.

    – somasegar

  8. loc says:

    Thanks for the pointers.

    Speaking of the classic "computer on every desk" vision, it’s pretty obsolete nowadays, don’t you think? My vision is you don’t have to be at your desk to accomplish most of the tasks you normally do on a computer. Keyboards and mice are way too primitive. Placing LCD’s around the house and the office is also not quite ideal. I’m really onto this hobbyish research – defining the reality, you can say. Just imagine how convenient, productive, and efficient it’d be for computer users.

  9. loc says:

    I’m not talking about tablets and laptops. Even tablets and laptops are also too primitive in my imagination. It can be better.

  10. Sriram says:

    All of them sound very true…. "Integrity" is most powerful one of all i guess….

    Thanks Soma for a very useful and motivational post…

  11. loc says:

    Apparently, my message/vision is not powerful nor simple enough to rally people around. I thought some people would show some interest.

    It’s completely doable and valuable to the evolution of computing. It’s the key to link the computer to all other electronic devices. It’s what can free the user from the computer desk, from the monitor and the kb/mouse half of the time. The existing technologies can make it happen:

    – Voice recognition: Currently it’s already really improved. But it’s a dumb idea to try to make the software recognize voices universally. A PC is usually utilized by a single user in most cases (if now, i can be more specific in this area), so why not personalized training? Just like how children have a hard time understanding an immigrant/stranger at first, but get better over time. Besides, the computer only needs to be trained the common words and computer commands. Some certain tasks will still require kb/mice, but hopefully after a year or so of training, it’ll be less typing and mousing.

    – The PC: A 64-bit multi-core and some dozen gigs of DDR2 memory should provide enough computing power for a thick voice recognition software. The disk storage is massively large and relatively cheap.

    – Wireless Networking: Currently at 108Mbps and potentially much faster with MIMO and 802.11n, this should connect the central PC with a special device the size of a bigger PDA, functioning like a tablet PC, just to remote desktop to the central PC all the time, connecting with a bluetooth headset. Its main task is to deliver the audio/voice data to and from the user. He/she can also interact with the computer by touchscreen and some limited typing (for username/pwd or URL adress stuff). Well, but in the future, you’ll only need to scan your finger on this device and provide a short, numeric password for every authentication. This can allow user to be away from the central computer. This can link all the electronic devices with the central PC. To open the door while cooking in the kitchen, you’ll only need to say "computer, object is door, do open". Or you can read the web feed of this page while changing oil.

    Later on in the future, the PC should also see and understand simple body languages, such as shaking head or forward/backward or up/down, and so on.

    Wouldn’t that be better than having your eyes glued to the monitor and your hands typing/mousing all the time? If you can come up with a problem of this vision, I’ll have a solution for it.

  12. loc says:

    Although it’s off-topic, I have a bad need to see it happen in this generation. After "computer on every desk".

  13. Sukhvinder says:

    A Wonderful article. I would like to add a quote related to "Successful Leader" attributes well elaborated by you:

    ‘True Success is the only thing that you cannot have unless and until you have offerred it to others.’



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