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[Hankyung Essay] Completing leadership through ‘synergy of conflicting capabilities’

Young Bum Kwon, CEO & Founder of YoungLimWon Soft-Lab

[Hankyung Essay] Completing leadership through ‘synergy of conflicting capabilities’

21. February 2024

Recently, as the market capitalization of Microsoft in the U.S. exceeded $3 trillion for the second time in history, CEO Satya Nadella received widespread attention. When he took office, Microsoft was nearly in ruins, but 10 years after he assumed leadership, the company has dramatically rebounded and is poised to continue its success for the next decade.

Leaders of major global IT companies, including Nadella at Microsoft, Sundar Pichai at Google, Arvind Krishna at IBM, Shantanu Narayen at Adobe, and Sanjay Mehrotra at Micron, hail from India. This prompts a question: what kind of leadership is required in the 21st century, a time of rapid change and increasing uncertainty?

Since the 18th century, India has been synonymous with poverty, which has only increased the uncertainty and chaos within the country. Those who have managed to navigate these turbulent times likely developed great patience and adaptability. Furthermore, they would have been brought up on teachings from Hindu classics like the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita, which emphasize the unchanging values of human principles, the essence of life, and the cosmic order. Such resilient individuals have moved to the U.S. and excelled, contributing leaders like Vice President Kamala Harris.

In the 21st century, despite the rapid advancements in science and technology that have made life more convenient, there is constant unease due to relentless competition and ideological conflicts. The emergence of artificial intelligence (AI), surpassing human intellect, even raises fears of human dependency on AI in the future. In such an environment, the role of a leader is more crucial than ever to ensure that organizations remain stable and continue to grow.

Effective modern leadership requires two seemingly contradictory qualities. The first is an insight into timeless, intrinsic values. The second is the flexibility to read and adapt to changing circumstances. Nadella’s approach as CEO, with his ‘Cloud First’ strategy, has revitalized Microsoft and helped it reclaim the top spot in global market share. Moreover, since 2019, strategic partnerships like the bold $13 billion investment in OpenAI, the creators of ChatGPT, have secured Microsoft a competitive advantage in the marketplace. It is clear that the synergy between these two capabilities has enabled such achievements.

Koreans inherently possess a “quick quick” nature, which makes them adaptable and flexible in the face of change. However, they often overlook the importance of steadfast core values, neglecting educational investment and personal effort in this area. To cultivate strong leaders for the 21st century, a balanced approach to developing both capabilities through strategic investment is essential.

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