What I learned from Jean-Philippe Courtois

Nov 30 / Utkarsh Amitabh
Jean-Philippe is one of the most senior leaders at Microsoft and I did not work with him on a daily basis. However, I did get opportunities to help out with some strategic projects. These projects turned out to be tremendous learning opportunities. Among other things, I realized what mattered most to me and how might I serve others uniquely.
I first met Jean-Philippe Courtois at the Microsoft MBA orientation at the company-wide strategy summit in Miami. That was 6 years ago. I was a freshly minted MBA from INSEAD and Microsoft was my first real corporate gig. 

My pre-business school experience was mostly in social impact and I was eager to connect the dots between business and society. During the Q&A, I asked him about Microsoft's strategy to empower digitally disconnected communities. How might we calculate ROI (return on investment)? Should we calculate ROI at all? How might we move beyond CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and explore sustainable business models? 

It is company-sensitive information so I won't be able to share what he said but his words have been my guiding force ever since. There were two things that jumped out at me.

First, his energy.

It was an intense week and my question was towards the very end of the summit. He didn't need to answer my fairly broad question with such depth and detail but he did. And did so with full energy and great empathy. 

For those five minutes, I was the most important part of his packed agenda. It made me realize that great leaders are there in the moment. They are present, they care and no matter how exhausted they are, they do what they do with full energy.

Second, his clarity of thought.

I was struck by how quickly he understood my underlying question and explained the context and the concept in a way that a newbie would get it. He even assigned a small "home work" to all the MBAs in the room. I ended up doing it an it helped me tremendously. 

Jean-Philippe is one of the most senior leaders at Microsoft and I did not work with him on a daily basis. However, I did get opportunities to help out with some strategic projects. These projects turned out to be tremendous learning opportunities. Among other things, I realized what mattered most to me and how might I serve others uniquely. 

These are many things I learned from JP (what he is fondly called within the company) but I will reflect on five key takeaways today.

1. Empower others
. The best way to empower yourself is to empower others. It makes strategic sense but more importantly, it is the right thing to do. JP's mantra is to relentlessly work towards enabling others to achieve outcomes that matter to them. His giver-first philosophy has led to tremendous business success and also create a platform for young leaders to flower - within and outside Microsoft. 

2. Lead with grit and empathy. Enterprise and public sector deals/partnerships at the highest levels are both complex and sensitive. JP balances grit and empathy with panache. I learned how one can be firm with one's goals and understand where the other party is coming from to explore an optimum partnership that is a win-win for everyone.
3. Social impact. One area where JP and many millennials such as myself have strong resonance is social impact. In all the roundtables and discussions that I helped organize at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, I was moved by his relentless focus on moving the needle for those who needed it the most. JP gets us. I remember how energized all the Global Shapers and Social Entrepreneurs were after interacting with him. The best part was that he ensured that there was strong follow-up on deliverables and even fluid ideas with potential got the support required to achieve their true potential. In a way, he gave wings to dreams and transformed ideas into action. To share an example, one shaper based in Nigeria needed executive support to move his connectivity project forward. 
Without batting an eyelid, he asked his Corporate Vice President (a super senior position) to intervene so that things could proceed.

4. Surprise + Inevitability. JP is intensely prepared for all meetings. He of course knows his facts and figures but there is a sense of adventure with the way he goes about stuff. "Eat Pray Love" author Elizabeth Gilbert says that great writing is often a combination of surprise and inevitability. I think this holds true for great meetings and great partnerships as well. This Surprise + Inevitability is something JP brings to every context he shapes. 

5. Cultural Intelligence. Cultural intelligence is our ability to build bridges and add unique value to companies/communities. Cultural contribution is more important than cultural fit but you can’t impose your contribution. Understanding this is cultural intelligence and I learned this from JP.
I could go on but I will pause for now. I plan to dive deep into some of these lessons during JP's Network Capital Vodcast in a few weeks. I am of course thrilled but so are 100,000+ other millennials from 104 countries who will be watching and hearing as he reflects on his leadership principles. Hope you tune in.

It goes without saying that what I learned from JP and the broader Microsoft ecosystem also features in my book "The Seductive Illusion of Hard Work" which has now become an Amazon best-seller globally. If you have not read my book but wish to get a flavor of what it entails, feel free to check out my Harvard Business Review article.

JP, by virtue of doing what he does and standing up for what he believes in, has built his category of one and inspired thousands of others along the way. Let me conclude with a quote that means a lot to JP an is an important reminder to all of us.

"I have this vital desire to positively change other people’s lives"

Whose life will you positive change today?

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