Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO – His Lesson on Empathy… His Interview Was Over

In the University of Chicago Booth School of Business magazine article, Leadership Lessons from Satya Nadella, by Sandra Jones, Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella shares his thoughts on the three attributes of great leaders “and why none of it matters without empathy.”

Nadella begins with a story that sets the stage for the article – his first interview at Microsoft in 1997. It was a powerful learning experience. When Satya Nadella interviewed for his first job at Microsoft Corp. in the 1990s, he stood at a whiteboard, working through streams of algorithms, one after the other, going through quick sorts and bubble sorts, using minimum data structures and minimum memory, showing off his computer science acuity. It was an arduous interview.

‘I was thinking, God, I’m done. Isn’t it time to get hired finally?’ said Nadella. Not quite. Nadella had one more question to answer before his job interview wrapped up. It was a question that caught him off guard: ‘What if you are standing on a crossroad and you see a baby fall, what will you do?’

‘Now this was 1992. It was before the cell phone era,’ said Nadella. ‘I thought about it for a while. This was a computer science question I had not prepped for. So, I said I’d run to the closest phone booth and call 911.’ The interviewer got up, told Nadella the interview was over, and walked him to the door. Nadella was stunned. ‘I asked him, What happened?’ And he said, ‘You need to develop empathy, because when a child is crying you pick them up and hug them.’ And that’s always stuck with me, that it is an important attribute.

In the end, Nadella did get hired.

With this introduction, Nadella shares his thoughts on the three attributes of great leaders.

Creating Clarity Where None Exists – “The most important attribute that any leader needs to have—and it is often underestimated—is the need to create clarity when none exists. You don’t need a leader when everything is well-defined, and it’s easy, and all you have got to do is follow a well-written plan. But in an ambiguous situation, where there cannot be complete information, that is when leadership will matter.”

Creating Energy – “The second attribute, which goes with bringing clarity, is people who can create energy….There is no simple thing that is always under your control, so the idea that you have got to create energy all around you is another element—you have got to really pick up the skills to do it. You have got to be at your evangelical best. You have got to have followership all around you.”

Driving Success in an Over-constrained World – “Life is an over-constraint problem. So you can’t say, “You know what? I’m just waiting for you to remove all the constraints and I’ll be perfect.” When leaders come in and say, “I’m not able to do this or I’m not able to drive success or achieve success because of all these exogenous factors,” guess what? Everything is exogenous.”

He concludes saying: “I’ve come to realize that if you think about creating anything new, any new product, any new business, as a leader, the one skill that you need more than any other skill is that deep sense of empathy. Our job is to build things that somehow are in tune with these unmet, unarticulated needs of customers. It is not written down.”

Henry David Thoreau writes: Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” May you make miracles all the days of your magnificent life. This is your magical key to unlocking the great leadership gifts you have within you – seeing and experiencing the world through another’s eyes.

Have a beautiful day and a magnificent week!!!

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One Response to Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO – His Lesson on Empathy… His Interview Was Over

  1. Vicki says:

    Nicely stated. Sincere empathy requires humility.

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