Lisa Pearson | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Lisa Pearson


Founded in 2010, Austin-based Umbel offers a data management platform that allows sports and entertainment users to access, acquire, activate and analyze their customer data. Umbel will be speaking at a panel, and participating in a roundtable discussion, at the upcoming Texas Conference for Women.

The Mistake:

I assumed people I manage have the same interests, needs and validation points that I do.

Nearly a decade ago, I was managing a fairly senior woman. She was very smart and talented, highly capable and incredibly motivated. But I could tell that we just weren’t gelling, and that she wasn’t happy. I couldn’t figure it out.

So I sat down with her and told her that I believed she had an extraordinary amount of autonomy and the ability to shape her function the way she wanted. I told her she was empowered to make any decision on her own, and the flexibility and freedom to run with her ideas. I asked her to help me understand what the challenge was.

Her response was that she didn’t want any of those things.

I was shocked. It was so sobering for me. We were sitting across the table from one another with our eyes locked together and me thinking, “How could you not want those things?”

To me, that was the gold standard for how you would want to run a department. It never occurred to me that those attributes or values or dynamics would be a handicap to someone else, and I wasn’t an inexperienced manager.

She did me a tremendous service by telling me that she didn’t want to be the leader of her function and that she felt very untethered and disconnected when she was autonomous. She said, “That’s not the way I work. It doesn’t feel safe to me. It’s not that I want to be micromanaged but being autonomous doesn’t bring out my best work. It feels intimidating, daunting and not enjoyable to me.”

It was so constructive to me. She and I ultimately found a way of working together. What she said was very courageous and very clear and it stuck in my head. She and I very quickly worked through it and found our own rhythm that was right for her.

I should not assume that everyone wants to be managed the same way I prefer to be managed.

The Lesson:

That experience helped me realize that I should not assume that everyone wants to be managed the same way I prefer to be managed. People are motivated by different things and to assume that what they value is the same as what you do can have a catastrophic impact. I also realized that when you start to shift your mindset, you start to get the best of people.

Now I am careful to ask if I am just projecting the way I like to be managed onto other people. I really try to get very clear on what other people’s preferences are.  Sometimes they can be accommodated and sometimes they can’t. It’s just good to know what their preferences are, how they like to be recognized and how they don’t.

It’s helpful to understand what degree of autonomy they want. I now encourage people that report to me to dig in and not just assume I know what people want.

I try to step back and assess, “Is this what I prefer or what they prefer?”


Follow Umbel on Twitter at @Umbel.

Pictured: Lisa Pearson | Photo courtesy of Umbel.

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