Cracking the Culture Code

with Kim Malone Scott

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State of Mind

The most important quality in a manager is sincerity.

Kim Malone Scott

CEO Coach, Management Manager, Author

Lessons Learned

Attitude is a dangerous word for a manager.

Good managers are interested in helping team grow professionally and as human beings.

With feedback, do not focus on the sting; focus on the learning.


Lesson: Cruel Empathy with Kim Malone Scott

Step #6 State of Mind: The most important quality in a manager is sincerity

I think that attitude is a dangerous word when it comes to being a manager, because there's a lot of “shoulds” implied with the word “attitude.” Like, “You should have a good attitude.” “You should have a positive attitude.”

I don't think that's the most important. I think the most important thing to being a great manager is to be sincere, and to sincerely care about the people that you're working with and to be sincerely interested in them, and sincerely interested in helping them grow both professionally and as human beings.

One of the great things that Sheryl Sandberg did for us at Google was to bring in this coach named Fred Kofman. And it was as a result of coaching sessions with him that I realized how much I cared about writing and managed to find the time to write a novel while I was working at Google. That helped me as a person probably more than as a manager, but it also made me a better, happier manager.

I think that being sincere and caring about the people you're working with, both as professionals but also just as human beings.

One of the hardest things about giving great feedback is controlling your own emotions. It's really hard not to react to somebody else, especially if they're getting angry, or if they start to cry, or if they just start to shut down. It’s very, very difficult to just continue to be clear in those situations.

A few things have helped me. There was one time at Juice, the startup that did, when I realized the most important thing I could do for that company was not hire great engineers, not set a great strategy, not raise money, but get enough sleep, and go running every morning, because maintaining my own sort of emotional equilibrium was incredibly important to helping the people around me be effective and to help myself be clear and not to react in the moment to the stress.

I have been very lucky. I think the companies where I've worked, people have generally taken pretty good care of themselves and there's an emphasis at the companies where I've worked on taking care of yourself. I mean, there are always times when people are not getting enough sleep or are not exercising.

It's one of the things I love about Silicon Valley is there does seem to be a focus on hard work, but people generally take pretty good care of themselves. There have been times when I've been working with somebody, particularly people really early in their careers, right out of college, and I have found that I'm having to remind them to get some sleep. That I'd rather have you not do several things and I'll go so far as to take things off of people's to-do lists. But in general, I think people take care of themselves. I try not to fall into the role of mother figure as manager.

Often when you get feedback from people, either in a formal 360 process or just sort of off the cuff, it will be very true, and it's going to sting a little bit. In fact, if you're not getting feedback that stings, you're probably not getting enough feedback.

One of the things that I have found very helpful to sort of cope with the sting is to focus on the learning. What really motivates me in life is to continue to improve, to get better. And so when I see, even though it stings, the truth in what somebody is saying, that is very helpful.

For example, one time when my boss told me that I sounded stupid in a presentation because I said “um” too much, it stung, but I also could immediately see that that was true and that there was a solution to that and it was useful to identify. So trying to focus on sort of improvement and growth, instead of what hurts or doesn't hurt, is one of the ways that has helped me to take it.

Another time there was somebody who worked for me who said, “Kim, you're too fast to hit the bozo bit,” meaning that I would make up my mind about somebody and then I wouldn't keep taking new input. And one of the things I pride myself on is that I think I'm a good judge of character and a good judge of people. And so that was a hard thing for me to hear, but I realized, as a thought about it, that there was a lot of truth to it. So I've tried to remember that.

I think that it's important to show that you're human and you're vulnerable, but it's also important to show that you're confident. If you are going to turn into a puddle every time somebody gives you feedback, you won't get feedback anymore.

It's important if you cannot cry when you get feedback. It's important not to cry, because if you cry the next time people are not going to give you feedback, which is not to say you should never cry. We all do sometimes. It's important not to yell. It's important not to lose your temper. It's important to take that feedback and to grow from it.

At the same time, I think that you do your best work, that everyone does their best work when they bring their full selves to work and we're all vulnerable. I don't you want to exaggerate your vulnerabilities, but you've got to be human.

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