Satya Nadella: Learning Empathy from Birth of his son with Cerebral Palsy

(35 min)

.. Nadella himself attributes his management success to one word:

NADELLA: Empathy.

He wasn’t always so empathic.

NADELLA: I always ask myself — at whatever, twenty-five when I was interviewing, and somebody says, “What will you do if you see a baby on the street crying after having fallen down?” I answered, thinking this is some trick question. Maybe there is some algorithm that I’m missing, and said “I’ll call 911” only to have that manager, get up, and walk me out of the room saying, “That’s the absolute bullshit answer.” And if you see a baby falling down, you pick them up and hug them. And I was devastated because I remember thinking about it and I said, “How could I not get that?”

By Nadella’s own admission, it took an even more dramatic event for him to “get it.”

NADELLA: On the 13th of August 1996 at 11:29, all — our life changed.

His wife, Anu, an architect, had just given birth to their first child, Zain. He had a severe case of cerebral palsy.

NADELLA It took me multiple years to even understand what had happened because in some sense I was more about, “Why did this happen to us? What happened to me?” And it’s only by observing my wife really step up, give up her career, and do all things she was doing to care for Zain, that’s when I realized nothing happened to me. In fact, really, something has happened to my son, and it’s time for me to step up and see life through his eyes, and do what I should do as a parent and as a father. That’s, perhaps, the biggest lesson for me around empathy. And it’s only developed through your life’s experience. It’s not something that’s really endowed on you. But as long as — with every passing year with, perhaps, every passing mistake you make, you develop more of a sense of being able to see life through other people’s eyes — is going to make you a more effective parent, more effective colleague, and a more effective partner.