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I'm a partner at Greylock, former CEO of Mozilla, founder of Reactivity, dad, husband & nerd, among other things.

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    What do you want? What do you need?

    Last week I got to spend time with a friend I’ve known & worked with more than 10 years. He’s trying to sort out some things about how to think about his job & career, so we spent a while getting caught up then he asked my advice.

    I said something to the effect of, “Well, you know what I’m going to ask — it’s really the only question I ever ask when people ask me for advice, and it’s this: What do you want?” When I’m in advice mode, everything else follows from that question. It’s broad & vague, but you can dial it into near term or long term, and the answer is always telling and useful (even when you find you don’t have an answer — that’s important, too).

    Then later in the week I was talking with an entrepreneur friend who’s learning how to manage a group for the first time, and I told him that little vignette, and he was excited because he’d written down in his notebook “What do you need?” — a question he’s found super useful as he builds his team and figures out how to make them even more awesome than they already are.

    And then I realized that it’s really those 2 questions: What do you want? and What do you need? that I really work everything else around as I’ve led organizations and now as I work with entrepreneurs every day. (And the obvious follow up question: How can I help?)

    Asked together: What do you need? What do you want? How can I help — those three questions are about all you really need to lead and manage people.

    What do you need? is a question that’s really about getting someone all the tools and time and permissions they need to be able to do the work for the company. 

    What do you want? on the other hand, is more about what a person’s longer term goals and aspirations are, and really fall along the lines of what a company can do for that person. 

    How can I help? is useful for obvious reasons, but also because it helps you understand how someone is thinking about problems, whether they’re breaking them down into things they know how to do and things they don’t, and whether they’re thinking in terms of all the resources available to them.

    Anyway, was a nice couple of conversations that helped me crystallize pretty well the main tools I’ve used over the years.

    And for whatever it’s worth, they’re questions I ask myself pretty regularly as a way to reflect on where I am and what I should be doing, too.

    What do you need? What do you want?

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