Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella learned this key lesson from his son – Business Insider
  • Empathy is one of the biggest leadership lessons Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella learned after his son was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, he said on an episode of LinkedIn’s “Hello Monday” podcast.
  • The experience helped Nadella better relate to his employees and understand where they’re coming from.
  • It’s important to remember that building empathy takes time, but it can be a great tool to develop a rapport with employees, he said.
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Empathy, or the ability to share feelings and connect with another person, is a critical skill for nurturing employees’ success. 

In an episode of LinkedIn’s “Hello Monday” podcast, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said the best way to learn empathy was to offer it to people in your everyday life. During the interview, Nadella said empathy was one of the biggest lessons he learned after his son Zain was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

Zain, who is now in his early 20s, was diagnosed with the condition when he was born, according to Good Housekeeping. Nadella said having empathy has taught him to understand other people’s feelings and given him a sense of how others perceive the world. At work, having empathy means showing you truly care about your employees’ or coworkers’ well-being, he said.

“Having empathy for your team is perhaps the best way to make progress in your career,” Nadella said on the podcast. “If you have empathy for your people, they will do their best work and you’ll make progress.” 

Nadella’s advice about having empathy for employees is backed by research. The State of Workplace Empathy report from the benefits-administration company Businessolver showed that 82% of surveyed employees would consider leaving their job for a more empathetic organization. And 72% of CEOs in the study said their company needed more empathy, but many did not know how to implement it.

If a company lacks empathy, employees may be more distracted and have poor listening skills.

Other top executives echo Nadella’s comments. For example, Hilton values hiring employees who display empathy, the hotel giant’s talent chief previously told Business Insider. In spring, Apple CEO Tim Cook encouraged graduate students to have empathy for one another. Cook said that would have a lasting effect on the solutions they offer customers throughout their careers. 

According to Nadella, empathy is a skill every employee should develop at some point in their career. Here’s why empathy is such a key part of Nadella’s leadership strategy. 

Developing empathy takes time 

At first, Nadella struggled to cope with his son’s diagnosis. He said he had been “mourning the change” in his life. But slowly, he learned to empathize.

“My son has challenges, and I needed to step up as a father and as a parent to give him the best support,” Nadella said. His son’s disorder inspired him to focus on making workplaces more accessible.  

“Even with my own son, I had that difficulty of not being able to put myself in his shoes,” Nadella said. Through understanding his son’s feelings he was able to connect more with his family.

Nadella has adopted this strategy at Microsoft, where he learned to listen and identify the needs of his employees. Employees there believe colleagues show empathy by helping one another, whether it’s by giving a colleague a hand with a report or talking out their challenges at work.

“I was able to relate better,” Nadella said. When he works with an employee, he will try to assess their needs and think about their feelings.

Being empathetic at work can help build a rapport with employees

Research shows that empathy is one of the best tools leaders can use for success with their employees. For example, being a good listener is a sign of empathy, which is one of the top 10 traits of a “perfect boss,” according to research from Google.

Another strategy Nadella pairs with empathy is the “growth mindset,” or the belief that skills develop through hard work. For instance, Microsoft reviews employee performance partly on how much they help their colleagues succeed, Business Insider previously reported.

“Business is all about finding the unmet and unarticulated need in the marketplace,” Nadella said. “I think design thinking is empathy.” 

However, you can’t “turn on the empathy button,” Nadella said. Building empathy requires time and a vested interest in the needs of others. But we all have the ability to be empathetic, he added. 

“I believe this innate capability is within all of us,” Nadella said. “It’s not about striving for perfection; it’s more about a muscle that you need to exercise every day.” 


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