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Microsoft GM Cally Chan mulls over the art of leadership

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At a recent conference, “Leadership – A Blessing or Curse?”, held by Chinese University of Hong Kong, Li Wendong, assistant professor of department of management at CUHK Business School, and Cally Chan, general manager of Microsoft Hong Kong and Macau, shared their thoughts on successful leadership traits, its perks and downsides.

The art of leadership 

Chan shared the first internal meeting she took part in as a Microsoft leader. While she assumed she gave an excellent and comprehensive presentation with her meticulous research, she was later told by a colleague that it was “terrible” because she didn’t give any chance for her subordinates to speak. That was when she realised she needed to change her approach to leadership.

Abiding by the 3C rule, “concept, capability, company culture”, the ideal leadership is to cultivate an environment to empower the employees so their potential can be unleashed.

To achieve this, one has to understand employees’ needs, passions and ambitions. Control or manipulation is the last thing a leader should do. One also has to ensure everyone in the company has a say.

Her ideal three leader duties are to create clarity, generate energy and deliver outcomes. She always shares this perspective with employees to align the direction. Then, each individual can come up with solutions in their own way.

When onboarding new hires, she strives to leverage their unique attributes and create a place for them at Microsoft, instead of fixing them into a certain archetype.

With the buzz of AI, Microsoft has adapted it into 40% of its work. In the next three years, the company aims to extend its coverage to 79%.

“It is not about what technology can do, but what we can do with tech,” Chan advised.

When asked if she was worried AI could replace her role, she answered:

“Leadership is science and art (empathy). Empower and empathy = great leadership.”

The science of leadership

Li’s research study, entitled “Is being a leader a mixed blessing? a dual-pathway model linking leadership role occupancy to wellbeing” addressed how leadership roles are related to both job demands  (which refer to the psycho-social demands at the workplace), and job control (which relates to the level of discretion in how one chooses to perform one’s core job).

“Leadership roles may have highly stressful demands while simultaneously conferring high levels of control. Such distinct pathways connecting leadership role occupancy to wellbeing may be mutually countervailing,” he explained.

Research shows that leaders who reported both high job demands and high job control also have a steeper trajectories over time in job demands and job control than non-leaders.

Higher job demands were associated with lower wellbeing, whereas higher job control was associated with greater wellbeing.

Leaders who perceived higher job demands also self-reported more chronic diseases and higher blood pressure.

When Li was asked about the ideal leader personality, he revealed:

“While many people assume extroversion is the ideal leader attribute, many leaders nowadays are de facto introverts.”

The study was conducted in collaboration with professor John M. Schaubroeck, from Michigan State University, professor Jia Lin Xie, from the University of Toronto, and professor Anita Keller from the University of Groningen.

The researchers tested their hypotheses with four independent samples from different cultural contexts – Switzerland, the US, China and Japan.

Chan leads Microsoft’s overall strategy and business operations, raises the talent bar and provides leadership in customer satisfaction and business growth. She leverages more than 27 years of business and IT experience to drive Microsoft’s mission to empower every person and every organisation to achieve more.

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