How to foster the inclusive, learning culture that accelerates transformation


I was living overseas when then Chief of Army David Morrison made his now-famous video calling out unacceptable behaviour in the armed forces.

He looked into the barrel of the camera to make his point forcefully and clearly, and told every soldier and officer serving in the army what sort of culture and behaviours he expected, adding that “if this doesn’t suit you, then get out.” That video was a watershed moment in Australia – but it ricocheted over social media right around the world, signalling what good leadership looked like.

It was a huge honour to speak with David at Microsoft’s Business Forward event in Melbourne where we brought together business leaders from around Australia. We wanted him to share his insights about leadership, culture and the importance of legacy.

The event itself showcased what we, our partners and businesses in every sector are already doing to move forward and be the best versions of ourselves.

IT explored how we empower employees, support diverse workforces, and drive innovation across the economy, helping business optimise and innovate.

Culture wars

I work for one of the biggest technology companies in the world. But I also know that you can have the best technology in the world, but if you don’t have the people and the culture, you’ll never drive the transformation that you need.

That was exactly what David Morrison was saying.

At Microsoft we talk a lot about having a growth mindset, David knows that transformation and growth has to start with people. He was at the helm of the army of 30,000 men and women, he faced many different leadership challenges and was grappling with cultural transformation on an almost unimaginable scale.

And as he’d tell you himself he learned that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

The power of culture is something that our CEO, Satya Nadella, fully understands. He’s been driving a massive transformation across Microsoft in the last few years – a transformation of technology, of culture, of purpose.

He’s very much an empathetic leader. And I think it’s a been one of the biggest changes that we’ve seen within Microsoft, to be more empathetic to our employees, empathetic for our partners and our customers. And it just can’t be that one-off moment, it has to be very much about ongoing learning and engagement, always with empathy.

At the end of the Business Forward event, and after a presentation during which David impressed on delegates the critical importance of leaving a positive legacy regardless of our business or sector, I was able to sit down and ask him a few questions to learn how each of us can aspire to his level of leadership and positive influence.

Heart and head

One of the stories that David tells is of a day when he met a young woman soldier and her mother, both of whom felt betrayed at the experience the daughter had gone through because of a flawed culture. It was a profound moment for him as it signalled the importance of leading not just with the head and intellect, but with the heart and empathy.

Here at Microsoft we try to engage at a deeper level with customers – not to just walk a mile in our customers’ shoes, but to support them while they are walking, to look for better routes, to lift their burden and walk alongside them on a smoother path.

Another story that David shared with us was about a book he was reading about Robert Kennedy. After his brother, the president JFK, was assassinated, Kennedy had an epiphany about his previously somewhat “crash-through” approach and instead started to take up different causes to promote and a fresh approach.

Kennedy described himself as a “life in progress.”

As David said it’s such a great epithet for any leader – that we are all still learning, transforming to be the best version of ourselves that we can be. That learning mindset is so important to business leaders who truly want to make a difference and strive for continuous and continual improvement both of themselves and their organisation and their teams.

Finally, David stressed the importance of trust, the compact between individuals and organisations. It can take generations to develop and yet be breached in a heartbeat.

Trust is the foundation of any relationship be it personal, professional or business. It’s something we take seriously at Microsoft, we invest in trusted technology that protects privacy and bolsters security, we work with our partners and out customers in a fair and transparent manner, and we remain respectful of everyone.

David Morrison talked about the importance of legacy in his presentation and provided signposts about the cultural settings that we need to establish to build trust. He’s a leader to follow.

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