Management Lessons for a Lifetime

A few years ago I read Clayton Christensen’s book How Will You Measure Your Life? The book is a phenomenal read, and I took away a handful of lessons that have contributed to my thinking around career development and life. One insight that really hit me was his idea that being a manager was a noble profession. He said,

“Management is the most noble of professions if it’s practiced well. No other occupation offers as many ways to help others learn and grow, take responsibility and be recognized for achievement, and contribute to the success of a team.”

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Christensen put words to the feelings I had about the previous management experiences I had in my life. It also motivated me to continue to seek opportunities to be a manager because I loved the idea of being able to help others develop and grow. Since then, I’ve been fortunate to reap the rewards of being able to build and impact people in a positive manner.

To me, management is like public speaking — you need to get to a point where you are proficient in it to do your job well, but past that you can (and in my opinion, should) always improve your craft. As such, I try to learn and improve my management style by studying the topic and observing others, which leads me to my next great book — High Output Management, written by Andy Grove.

While I am too young to fully understand and grasp what he did for the technology industry, I’m mature enough to know that without him the industry would not be where it is today. While I don’t have an amazing personal tribute (you can read them though, here, here, and here) one of my favorite Chapters from High Output Management is Chapter 16 titled “Why Training is the Boss’s Job,” where Grove talks in detail about how a managers output is the output of an organization, and his or her role is to train their people as best they can in order to produce the highest possible output. Grove writes,

“A manager generally has two ways to raise the level of individual performance of his subordinates; by increasing motivation, the desire of each person to do his job well, and by increasing individual capability, which is where training comes in.”

Stated another way, employees either can’t do something (train them) or won’t do something (motivate them) and the role of the manager is to figure out how to use both in order to achieve maximum output. Ben Horowitz summarized it best:

“There are only two ways in which a manager can impact an employee’s output: motivation and training. If you are not training, then you are basically neglecting half the job.”

After reading more about Grove it makes sense as to why he believed so strongly in this concept. He was a teacher at heart, and from all accounts taught and trained many. His dedication to teaching, and the reason why management can be so rewarding can be summed up at the end of the chapter:

“You will find when the training process goes well, it is nothing short of exhilarating. And even this exhilarating is dwarfed by the warm feeling you’ll get when you see a subordinate practice something you have taught him.”

If that statement is true (I am sure that it is) Andy must have had a lifetime of warm feelings. Thanks Andy. Rest in Peace.

Want to learn? Spend time with A+ people

Hunter Walk, one of my favorite VC’s wrote a great post on spending time with A+ people in other industries. The post is geared for people who are early in their tech careers but can really be applied to anyone. I’ve long be a proponent for Hunter’s strategy and have gained a lot from my meetings with these people.

This week, I got the chance to meet an A+ person in Nikita. Nikita and I were introduced via a mutual friend (thanks Julio!) for an opportunity to write on my blog. While that never panned out, it was clear to me that from our brief conversation Nikita was an A+ individual, so after months of trying to coordinate through our busy personal/work schedules we finally got the chance to connect. It ended up being a fantastic conversation, and reinforced my belief in spending time with people who stretch your thinking. Here are some reasons why meeting with other A+ people is great:

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They Challenge You – Nikita and I are similar in a lot of ways. In addition to both starting our career in consulting and at the same firm, we also have a similar approach for how we engage with others. For instance, we started catching up on work, Nikita began asking me a series of questions that put me on the spot, and made me consider things I hadn’t really thought about. At some point, she apologized for the inquisition (my friends tell me I tend to do this to them..) but it challenged me to think on the spot about things I hadn’t quite thought through.

They empathize with you – MBA graduates, regardless of where they went to school share a lot from the common experience. I’d be experiencing some challenges post-MBA lately and I thought I was alone, only to find out Nikita shared some of my similar thoughts and frustrations. Call it piece of mind, but at least I know I’m not alone!

They stretch your mind – I think a lot about my own management style since I’m now managing people, but a lot of this is done internally. We both are in positions right now where we are directly/indirectly managing others. Comparing/contrasting our experiences managing people made me think differently about how I could alter, improve, or iterate on my own management techniques.

They give you motivation – Nikita’s working on some big things – you can read about them here. It takes courage and conviction to speak and pursue a big goal, and something that I’ve struggled with because I’m human. But seeing and hearing other people who are doing it motivates me to push aside any doubts or concerns and do the same for myself.

Last but not least, they give you ideas – such as this post 🙂

TLDR: Conversations with A+ people give you thoughts, ideas, and energy that can be helpful to other areas of your life. Go and find some A+ folks to chat with and let me know what you learn.

The Career Learning Curve is about Slope and Speed

When I was deciding on a career as a college senior, I took the advice of those around me and chose to optimize for learning – That is, to select a job with a steep learning curve. The hypothesis was that if you find a job that enables you to gain lots of incredible experiences early on that will proper you forward throughout your career. While I still think this is great advice, I want to update that to include a new element: speed, and specifically, speed of feedback and teaching.

Sarah Tavel talks about this in her post about fast learning cycles. The idea here is you want a job that can teach and provide you feedback so you can execute, learn, fail, and scale faster. Her example:

At a fast growing startup, your learning cycle is incredibly fast. For example, at Pinterest, particularly early on, if I had a hypothesis I wanted to test, I could ship an experiment fast, and because we already had an incredibly engaged user base, learn from the results within a week or two. Basically, my learning cycle was as fast as you could ask for, which meant I was able to cram an incredible amount of learning into a very short period of time.

On the other hand, I’d often interview product manager candidates who worked at big companies like Microsoft. I’d always be amazed at how little product management they actually got to do over their many years of experience. It’d take them years (literally!) to ship a feature, despite many promotions along the way.

In many ways, the concept of slope and speed is similar to agile methodology, where instead of building everything all at once, you build and launch a much smaller set of features and functionality in a much shorter period of time. Once it’s launched, you obtain feedback, find what works and what doesn’t, and use that to build your next iteration.

As it turns out, it’s not just about finding a steep learning curve, but also an environment that allows you to get feedback and iterate quickly. It’s not just about a brand name company, or getting to work on a lot of projects, but having a continuous cycle of learning, testing, getting real-time feedback and iterating.