Managing & Motivating

Earlier this week I got to spend some time with one of my favorite professors and thinkers, Bob Sutton, in one of his classes at Stanford. I’ve given talks over the years for his classes, but for this one we decided to mix things up, and so he & I just had a conversation. He had a few questions prepared, but, honestly, we have so many shared interests in how to manage people and organizations that it took a first starter question for us to riff on a bit — and that generated plenty of questions from the class for the rest of the hour.

2 questions stood out to me that I thought were worth writing about some.

The first was this: how do you motivate people? I had to think about this for a bit, because my answer is sort of a cheat: it seems to me that it’s too hard to motivate people who aren’t. So what you need to do is to hire incredibly motivated people, take them off the leash, and help them be great. Now, I think hiring great people is definitely hard — but finding motivated people isn’t really as hard as it sounds. My strong, strong belief is that most people really, really want to be good at what they want to do. In life, in work, in sport, whatever. People want to be good. Mostly people are willing to put in work to become good. So in my experience the art of getting motivated output is just helping people understand what good is and how to get from here to there. If you show them and help them get there, the motivation usually takes care of itself.

The other interesting question is something like: why do people think you’re a good leader? This one I had to think through some — because I think there are a lot of details that maybe aren’t the core reason. But I think the core, long lasting reason is that most people I’ve worked with over the last 20 years or so know that I really want to help them win, to help them be good themselves. And that’s helped develop some amazing relationships with coworkers.

I think that’s one of the secrets. I always want to follow people who can help me become amazing and who want to help me win, and I think that’s what people have seen in my own management over the years. It’s the decisive factor in my choices I’ve made over the years, including coming to Greylock.

So I guess that’s the core of my management philosophy: we’re lucky to work in an industry where people are generally very talented, and want to be good — they want to make a difference and change the world — so mostly good management is about helping them see how, and helping them get there.

Fun class with Bob as always. (And he’s working on some new research with Huggy Rao now that I think is going to be awesomely valuable to read and digest.)

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