When Satya Nadella took the reins at Microsoft almost three and a half years ago, he had an epiphany that had little to do with hardware development or lines of code. In his new business-book-slash-memoir, Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone, Nadella recounts how, as a new CEO, he came to realize that the company’s recent stumbles weren’t due to failures of intellect, but of cultural cohesion.
In a recent blog post on LinkedIn, Nadella says he hopes readers see the book’s main takeaway as “the power of taking everyday action driven by empathy.”
Empathy might seem like a funny talking point for a giant tech company, but it’s a common theme throughout the book. Nadella makes a compelling case for why empathy matters more than most people think in business.
“Ideas excite me. Empathy grounds and centers me,” Nadella writes in Hit Refresh. But you don’t need to be a multimillion-dollar tech CEO for this trait to make a difference. Here are three ways it can help you reinvent your career.
Empathy improves teamwork. Offices are always going to have personality clashes, a situation that’s even more likely when a group of smart, highly competitive people work together.
This is the situation Nadella says he confronted when he became CEO in 2014. “Teamwork was being replaced by internal politics. We were falling behind,” he writes in Hit Refresh. “While I admired every member of our team, I felt that we needed to deepen our understanding of one another—to delve into what really makes each of us tick—and to connect our personal philosophies to our jobs.” He describes leading his team through exercises where they got to know each other a little bit — not as fellow cubicle drones, but as people.
Empathy helps open your mind. You might think of empathy as a motivation that makes you donate, or volunteer, or do some other good deed. Nadella argues that it does far more than that: It opens your mind up to think more about other people’s perspectives.
“The business we are in is to meet the unmet, unarticulated needs of customers,” Nadella says in a recent Wall Street Journal interview. “And there’s no way you’re going to do that well without having empathy and curiosity.” Nadella acknowledges he didn’t realize just how important empathy was until his son was born with cerebral palsy, an experience that led him to better understand why being able to see things from somebody else’s perspective is so important.
Empathy helps you admit mistakes and move on. Perhaps most importantly, empathy helps you professionally when you practice it on yourself. Empathy is the quality that lets you step back if you think you’re heading down the wrong path, acknowledge that you need to change directions, and — as the title says — “hit refresh” or give yourself a chance to start fresh.
Coming from Nadella, this isn’t a mere platitude: He took over Microsoft right after it bought Nokia’s phone business for more than $7 billion, an investment plenty of tech analysts have argued was a bad idea. Under Nadella, Microsoft stopped trying to go head-to-head with Apple and Android devices in order to focus more on areas where it could shine, like cloud computing and artificial intelligence.
As Nadella writes on LinkedIn, “Hitting refresh is required for any person and organization looking to make a sustained impact over a long period of time.”
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