Three Years in San Francisco

Three Years in San Francisco

Former Twitter employee Mike Davidson, articulating some lessons learned about product management, people management, and even how his surroundings have led to a better sense of himself. Well worth a read.

One of the things Mike soeaks to in the article that touched a nerve in me is emotional intelligence:

The definition of emotional intelligence I use may be a little more liberal than most. To me, emotional intelligence means that someone not only picks up on how teammates are feeling, but they also care deeply about running a team in which people are emotionally fulfilled and inspired.

Some people are almost born with emotional intelligence. They have it by the time they get to high school. Others need to spend a bunch of time in the workplace getting experience with all sorts of conflicts and original situations before they have it. And still others will simply never have it, or at least they won’t have it at a level which qualifies them to be what I consider a great manager. You’ve probably met all three of these sorts of people and can pick out the last group pretty easily.

I believe that every organization should make emotional intelligence a requirement of being a manager or executive leader. It should be no less a requirement than ability to recruit, inspire, multitask, prioritize or any other thing we typically require in our leaders. We should interview specifically for it and we should categorically reject as candidates those who show no aptitude for it. Some amount of “learning on the job” is of course ok, but where I struggled the most during my time in San Francisco was dealing with people who showed no ability or desire to balance happiness of people with visible output. False dichotomies like “we can’t optimize for happiness” make the problem even worse. That sort of thinking pre-supposes that somehow happiness is in conflict with execution. It also implies that the whole world is a math problem, which I strongly disagree with.

I could not agree with Mike more on this point. Growing from a small business into a larger business (I’ll use the term corporation for distinction) is hard. On everyone. What used to be, what used to work, no longer does. It just doesn’t. It’s not a fault in the people who were there before or a fault in what they contributed. The needs of a corporation are different than the needs of a small business.

In the end, it’s about the people who are needed now to make the corporation successful. As layers are added to accommodate multiple levels of multiple departments, people become more and more important. Which means you need people managers. Good people managers. Managers that support, motivate, and strive to make their teams better each and every day.

Too many times, the “old guard” are promoted into management because that’s seen as the logical next step. I think Twitter’s organization of product vs people management is very interesting. One that I think all businesses should at least consider.


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