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Leadership Lessons From a Former Microsoft Human Resources Director Comments

  • By Amanda Steinberg, founder & CEO of DailyWorth
  • November 04, 2013

Iris NafshiEntrepreneurs often start businesses seduced by the allure of being one's own boss — free and clear of authority or bureaucracy. But as that business grows and you hire a team, that rogue independence shifts, along with your role. When you run a company, your job is to lead — and that’s a discipline unto itself.

I recently had the honor of chatting with Iris Nafshi, who just left her position as director of leadership development at Microsoft, where she reported directly to CEO Steve Ballmer. Nafshi said that the first time she walked into a meeting with Ballmer, she was scared, but didn’t show it. She said, “I resolved not to show any fear because I knew he was the type of person who appreciates focused, smart and knowledgeable leaders." In remaining calm and articulate, she earned his respect and continued there for two years, in charge of executive leadership development.

Previously, Nafshi was a captain in the Israeli army, responsible for organizational psychology in the field artillery division. She specifically looked at something called sociometrics (similar to 360-degree evaluation but focused on leadership capabilities), which involves measuring the responsiveness of a team to its leader.

Clearly, Nafshi knows a thing or two about leadership, so I asked for her top lessons on developing yourself as a leader.

1. Set expectations and communicate them. Pay attention to the clear directions and expectations you’re setting for your team. It’s important that these expectations are communicated and results are celebrated publicly. This is critical. When leaders are really clear about performance expectations and then reward people’s success with not only money but also public recognition, Nafshi says that people “will crawl through the mud for you.”

2. The best leaders exhibit a combination of hard and soft skills: They are clear in communicating (almost like a parent), setting boundaries and expectations, but also have warmth, smile when things are hard and empathize when plans don't materialize as expected. Many leaders are strong at one or the other, but it’s when they’re strong at both that things go well for the organization.

Conversations with Nafshi reminded me to step away from the grind, take a deep breath and reflect on being a leader. As CEO of your company, I invite you to do the same. Leaders aren't perfect, nor do they always have the answers. Leaders choose to say: "Here is the vision. I invite you to join my team, and here's what we're going to accomplish together."

What do you believe makes a great leader?

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