In his new book, Hit Refresh, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says his highest priority is renewing the company culture with "a growing sense of empathy." The word "empathy" appears 53 times in the book, but Nadella admits he didn't always have the empathy he does today.
Nadella tells the story about his first round of interviews at Microsoft about 25 years ago. An up-and-coming Microsoft manager named Richard Tait asked Nadella a question. The question had nothing to do with coding or solving an engineering problem. Instead, Tait asked:
"Imagine you see a baby laying on the street, and the baby is crying. What do you do?"
Nadella quickly replied, "You call 911."
As Tait walked Nadella out of his office, he put his arm around Nadella and said, "You need some empathy. If a baby is laying on the street crying, you pick up the baby."
Nadella still got the job and learned a valuable lesson that he would take with him throughout his career at Microsoft.
Tait eventually left Microsoft to start his own company, Cranium, which created one of the fastest-selling board games in history (it was later sold to Hasbro). When I first met Tait, I was a communications coach and had been invited to help him prepare for a round of television interviews about his new product.
"Tell me about the game," I said.
"Carmine, you won't understand the game until you know why I'm passionate about it," Tait replied.
Tait then told me the following story. On a cross-country flight from New York to Seattle, Tait sketched an idea on an airplane napkin. It was an idea for a board game that would give all its players the opportunity to excel in at least one area. The idea was to bring "shining moments" to people's lives. Tait told me that his father was a bit concerned when he left Microsoft to start a game company. "What will I tell my friends?" his father asked. Tait responded, "Tell them we're following our hearts. We're going to make history."
At that moment, everything changed for me. Tait was easily one of the most interesting people I had ever met. Why? Because he infused his product with meaning. The features of the product were far less interesting than the story behind it.
Tait taught me that having empathy for your customer and passion for your product is the key to effective communication. Entrepreneurs cannot inspire others unless they are inspired themselves. It's critical to dig deep, identify your unique emotional connection to the product or service, and share your passion with others.
In his book, Nadella writes that "Microsoft has always been at its best when it connects personal passion to a broader purpose." After meeting Richard Tait and working directly with some of the world's most admired entrepreneurs, I can confidently say that Nadella's statement doesn't just apply to Microsoft. A company that combines passion and purpose stands out and gets noticed. It attracts like-minded people who see the company as a platform for helping customers achieve their dreams.