“It’s a lot harder than acting like an asshole”: Jeff Weiner puts his “compassionate management” words into action with $14m move
The good news for Jeff Weiner as he navigates a particularly challenging 2016 in which LinkedIn’s stock dropped more than 40% in one day?
He’s been in tougher spots as a manager. Like some large percentage of Silicon Valley managers, he too spent a chunk of his career on the thankless task of trying to resurrect Yahoo to its former glory.
Not in the Marissa years or even the Carol Bartz years. He was there in the original Terry Semel turnaround attempt, followed by the Jerry Yang turnaround attempt. He stayed two years longer than he wanted to and likely “too long,” he said in a PandoMonthly interview August 2014. He said in retrospect he was grateful, but “when I was in it I wasn’t so grateful because it was painful.”
Why grateful? “That period was the most valuable period of learning in my entire career.”
One of the big takeaways: How to manage people “compassionately” through a downturn, a crisis, a slump or whatever noun you want to use. Compassion, Weiner explained, isn’t the same as empathy. Compassion entails feeling what someone else is going through, but having enough emotional space to do something about it.
In the interview, Weiner described a length his Road to Damascus like conversion from an “intense” manager (some would use other words to describe a young Weiner) who couldn’t see outside of his own worldview, to one who took the time to think about how others were feeling and the best way to motivate them.
Yeah yeah. A lot of managers talk about stuff like this. Yesterday, Weiner showed he lives it by foregoing his annual $14 million stock grant and putting it instead back in the employee pool.
Some snarked that he can do that because he’s rich, and that’s true. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a meaningful gesture. For one thing, Weiner isn’t “Valley rich.” He didn’t found LinkedIn and isn’t a billionaire. People drew comparisons with Twitter’s Jack Dorsey doing the same, but there’s a big difference in the net worth of the two, some hundreds of millions of dollars. (Although I applauded Dorsey’s move too at the time.) Secondly, the Valley has never been a place where you hit a point of “rich” and stop aggregating wealth.
The move matters more than any words a CEO could say to employees at a moment like that. And it was a clear gesture of what Weiner explained two years ago: To understand how his employees were feeling having watched LinkedIn’s stock crater and take some sort of action to try to make them feel better.
In our interview, he drew a distinction between managing “compassionately” and the bad behavior prevalent in so much of Silicon Valley. “It’s really hard,” he said. “It’s a lot harder than acting like an asshole. Acting like an asshole is easy by comparison. And oftentimes I think some of that behavior emanates from laziness because you don’t want to take the time to think about what that person is thinking or feeling or you don’t want to deal with their energy or their bad day...It’s exhausting. But it’s the only way to build a team that scales. Bad behavior is the exact opposite. It’s just doing whatever comes to mind.”