I am a huge fan of celebrating failure because organizations that are overly risk averse are doomed to sameness.

In this episode

How often do you celebrate failures?

Don’t let the fear of failure stop your organization from reaching its full potential.

Shanee Ben-Zur explains that “Companies that are overly risk averse are doomed to sameness,” which is a fate much worse than failure. She also shares how other types of fears can negatively impact your organization such as the fear of commitment.

Shanee Ben-Zur is a customer-obsessed marketing leader with 15 years of experience leading teams across all areas of marketing. She has worked in various positions at Dropbox, PlayStation, NVIDIA, and Salesforce, and was the Chief Growth and Marketing Officer at Crunchbase.

In episode #163, Shanee shares her advice for going from peer to manager, learning what your values are, and why you should hire sporks – not spoons.

Tune in to learn more about Shanee’s leadership journey and the invaluable lessons she’s gathered along the way!

Like this episode? Be sure to leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ review and share the podcast with your colleagues.


Going from peer to manager


Learn what your values are


Share the milestones you’ve reached


How to get people to speed up


Take measured risks


Help them with the hurdles


Hire sporks and not spoons

Resources mentioned in this episode:


Shanee, welcome to the show. 

Shanee Ben-Zur (Crunchbase)  01:58

Thank you for having me. 

Aydin Mirzaee (  02:03

Yeah, excited to do this. And so there’s a lot of topics that we want to talk about. You’ve been a leader for a long time now at a bunch of very recognizable companies, Dropbox, Salesforce, user chief, growth and marketing officer at Crunchbase. So lots of different experiences for us to touch on. But I did want to start from the very beginning and ask you: Do you remember when you first started to manage or lead a team? What were some of those very early mistakes that you used to make back then?

Shanee Ben-Zur (Crunchbase)  02:58

Yeah, I mean, the first time I started being a manager was actually at a PR agency. And I think that I just had observed a lot of other managers in my time, and I thought you had to act a certain way and speak a certain way to your direct reports, when in reality, the day before we were peers, and the day after I’m managing, and that is a weird dynamic to inherit, to to go from being friend and peer to having a little bit of a power shift. And I think the thing that I got wrong was, I thought I had to pretend to know everything. As in somehow overnight, I woke up with all of the knowledge of the manager universe. And the reality was, I did not have any of that knowledge. I was just as naive as it was the day before. And I think if I had kind of spoken more honestly, with the people that I was managing to say, like, Hey, I think this is weird for both of us. Let’s try to figure it out together, that would have been a better way of going about it than what I did, which was a little bit faking it till it made it. How do

Aydin Mirzaee (  03:56

you approach things today? So for example, in your role today, nobody ever has all the answers. So what is your approach? Now, when you do encounter something that maybe baffles you?

Shanee Ben-Zur (Crunchbase)  04:09

I am very honest, when I don’t know what is going on. Now I am the first to say, I don’t understand this. Can you explain it to me? Can you say it again, differently, because what I’ve found through the years is that there’s always one other person who also doesn’t get in the room. And if you from a position of power can be the one to show vulnerability and say, Hey, can somebody help me understand this? It signals to everybody else in the room that it is okay to not know the answer. And it’s better to ask than to pretend. And so I’m very, very forthcoming. And sometimes, you know, you even have a sense of when other people don’t know what’s going on. And you might have a clearer idea. But just asking that question of like, can somebody say this in a different way for me, just so I make sure I fully understand what we’re talking about. It helps people see that you are a vulnerable manager, your manager that leads with empathy. and honesty, and it just makes everybody feel a lot safer to be open and honest in return.

Aydin Mirzaee (  05:06

Yeah, I love that phrase, can you see it differently? Because yeah, sometimes hearing it differently does make all the difference. But of course other people in the room would also appreciate that I sometimes say explain it, like you’re explaining it to a first grader, I don’t get it. And so just like really dumb it down. But yeah, that’s a really good way to put it. The other topic I wanted to also talk to you about is the realistic side of being a manager, you had this article that you had posted, and you mentioned that people are a lot more complicated than projects. So we’d love to get your thoughts. Why is it that management is so hard, or what is the complicated side of being a manager,

Shanee Ben-Zur (Crunchbase)  05:46

I think when you first become a manager, your idea is, I’m going to push off all of the dirty work onto somebody else. Because oftentimes, that’s what you feel like is happening to you when you’re early in your career is that people are giving you the non glamorous tasks to do and you think, when I become a manager, I’m gonna push off all the non glamorous tasks onto someone else. But the reality is, when you become a manager, your job changes from tasks to how do you ensure that everybody else can do their job really, really well. And people are extremely complicated is true people are more complicated than projects. And you have to be a different person, for everybody who reports to you. They need different things at different times. And you have to somehow context switch from meeting to meeting to meeting to meet them where they are. And that is hard. That is very mentally challenging work. It’s a good thing. But I think that the workforce now has a much higher requirement for managers than the workforce say 20 years ago, people expect a lot from their managers, they expect support in their career growth, they expect support in their functional expertise, they expect support for mental health, they expect support for kind of navigating new areas. And I think it’s good that people’s expectations have grown. But I think it also means that managers, their skills, and expertise has to grow significantly to meet their direct reports, as well. So it is not as glamorous as I thought it was going to be. It’s a privilege. And there’s a lot of exciting things that I like about being a manager. But there have absolutely been times where I asked myself like, is there a way that I could do this just as an individual contributor? Because sometimes it’s overwhelming carrying that responsibility for other people’s careers? Yeah, so

Aydin Mirzaee (  07:31

what is your thought on when this change? Or why this change? You’re right? Like, these are new things you’re expected to, I guess, do a lot more than maybe was expected a few decades ago.

Shanee Ben-Zur (Crunchbase)  07:45

Every decade, every generation, the expectations grow. Like our parents, parents looked at our parents and thought they asked for too much. And our parents look at us, and they think that we ask for too much. And then we look at the next generation. And we might think that they asked for too much. But the reality is, you want the working experience to get better you want workers rights to grow. So in my mind, yes, does it make my job a little harder? Sure. But I will also benefit from it as an employee myself, like there’s always somebody who is above you, you know, even when you’re the CEO, there’s the board above you, I guess the board doesn’t have anybody. So maybe they they’ve been sitting pretty this whole time. But for the rest of us, it’s a good thing. And I think every generation, the expectations get higher and higher. What’s interesting right now is in the current job market, where it’s definitely more of a an employer’s job market versus a candidate’s job market. You see, there’s a little bit of backsliding happening, you see that it starts with, we’re going from fully remote to we’re going to require three days in the office or five days in the office. And it went from being like, we’re going to give people the flexibility to work from anywhere to well actually want you in the office now, or might be something like we’re taking away such and such benefit that you used to have or such and such perk, even things like we’re not investing in D IB. I’m seeing that happen a lot of different companies that some of the people they’re laying off, or they’re only D IB person. So I think the market might also dictate, taking away some of those individual rights. But for the most part, things are getting better and better over time.

Aydin Mirzaee (  09:19

Yeah. And market stuff aside, I think all of us want to as managers really focus on impact. And so if one of the best ways that we can have impact is also focusing on things like career growth, and you know, carrying the bag like you said, in all those other areas than so be it. And I think this is something that you care a lot about as well, right? I know that you care a lot about being a high impact and high integrity leader, maybe you can describe what those words mean to you, and what does one need to do to win in both of those categories?

Shanee Ben-Zur (Crunchbase)  09:56

Yeah, those are kind of my mission. My mission is to be a high impact high Integrity leader. And my hope is that the people who work with me feel like they can achieve more than they ever thought possible. And it’s really about making sure that I am doing what I believe is right. And being honest, when I have to do something that is not pleasant, because sometimes the right thing does not make everybody happy. And I want to ensure that I can sleep at night, I can look at myself in the mirror, and that I have been aligned with my own values. Career Coach was talking to me and she was saying, your happiest time at work will be when your values line up with the company values. And when your mission lines up with a company mission. And when those get out of whack, that’s when you’ll start to feel uncomfortable. That’s when you’ll start to feel dissatisfaction in your job. And at some point, the things that you value will supersede even the paycheck that you’re getting. I think that’s very true. I think that is absolutely right. So for me being the high impact high integrity leader is making sure that my team can make a big impact for the company, that each of the individuals can grow in ways they didn’t know they could grow. But I do it in a way that is true to my moral compass, that it’s not that you are doing everything for a nonprofit, because we’re still doing it for work. But you’re doing it in a way that has integrity. Yes,

Aydin Mirzaee (  11:24

this is super interesting. Just on the the values point. When did you figure out what your values were? And the reason I asked that is because sometimes you just need to experience a bunch of things. Before you can say I kind of like this, and I don’t like this and it really cements over the course of time. And so how did you realize what your values were?

Shanee Ben-Zur (Crunchbase)  11:46

I think they’ve evolved. You know, I think what my values were when I first started working are different than my values. Now, one of the tactics that I’ve used is thinking about when I’ve been happiest in my job, like what were times where I was feeling the best, what were times where I was feeling the worst, and then trying to kind of extract what was going on what was I doing what was I feeling at that time and is something in there a thing that I actually value to my core. And an example for me is I’ve had a lot of opportunities to lead very cross functional groups that don’t report in to me, behind me in kind of like these impossible missions, like things that somebody gave me this crazy goal that had never been done before. And I always get scared before I do it. But then I have a great time just getting everybody excited about it kind of rallying the troops, and then having us all March, and all achieve really great things. Those are things that make me feel really good inside. That’s when I’ve been the happiest is when I can work those long hours and not even feel like I’m working at all. And that was something that I had to learn through experience. I had to do it a few times to realize, oh, it’s not like if I would have intellectualized it, I would have thought, oh, I don’t want to do it, because I don’t like failing. But the reality was, I love doing it because the pressure is exciting. And getting people rallied around an idea is really exciting. So I think you do need a little bit of kind of practice and trial and error on your own to see what matters. And then you know, my old Fallback is I Google a worksheet on how to find your own values. There’s a bunch of tests online, you can take.

Aydin Mirzaee (  13:16

Yeah, but I love the way you approach it, which was, when did I feel the most happy? And then just figuring out what kind of things were happening there. And it’s a really good exercise. I wonder that’s kind of a good, almost like a homework item for everybody today, which is just to ask that question, when were you most happy and what things were happening for you at work during that time? I think a lot of insights can come from that. So on this impact points, I think one of the things you just mentioned is you want to help people do have a lot of impact themselves and be able to do things that they never thought that they could do. And so part of that, I think in that same bucket, I would also put the creating visibility for the work that’s being done. So that’s, I think, something that you also care a lot about. And of course, a lot of this has become a lot more difficult with remote work. It’s maybe harder to just randomly see someone’s screen and see what they’re working on. And so how do you solve for that in this sort of environment, making sure that people get the appreciation and notice for the things that they are doing?

Shanee Ben-Zur (Crunchbase)  14:25

Yeah, and I will I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes I’m not the best at doing this. But I think the key is to change your mindset. Most people I talked to when they say I don’t feel comfortable doing this, I feel like I’m bragging. What I tell them is you’re assuming that everyone in the world cares about everyone else. And the reality is, most people in the world are really only fixated on their own stuff. And they don’t have time to go out and research what’s happening throughout the company, or even anything outside of your front door. So by sharing your work, you’re actually doing them a favor because you’re saying, I know you’re busy. I know you don’t have a lot of time. So I’ve packaged this up neatly, to just help you see what’s happening throughout the company. And similarly, you know, I often see people on team saying, I wish I knew what the other team was doing, like I have no visibility into it. I think people underestimate how much appetite there actually is for seeing it. Obviously, there’s a way to communicate, you know, you don’t have to pump it up too much. But just sharing like, if you really did have an impact, share that impact, share some of your key learnings share some of the challenges that you had along the way you can show again, that level of vulnerability, but you have to do it because nobody has time. And a lot of people are a little egocentric, it’s just human nature. So you’re actually doing the world a favor by sharing it. The other way to think about it is if you don’t share what your knowledge is, if you don’t share what you’ve experienced, what the lessons you learned are, then you’re dooming everybody else to have to relearn it from scratch. So there’s also an opportunity to use your kind of self promotion as a chance to educate others so that they don’t waste their time. I’ve seen this happen a lot in meetings where people are like, Oh, I didn’t want to raise my hand because I figured they already knew it. Who cares? Who cares? If somebody already knows it, you know it to you, you have just as much right to share what you know, in that meeting. And unfortunately, I see this happens more often than not for women and people of color, people from underrepresented groups, they kind of discount their own knowledge in favor of somebody who’s from a non marginalized group sharing there’s, so I definitely feel like even if it’s uncomfortable, you have to start training yourself to share the milestones that you’ve reached, especially if they’re valuable to the company, like, just do it. Just try it, get used to it.

Aydin Mirzaee (  16:46

Yeah. So I guess when it comes to this, some of it is encouraging people. And I think everything you said, is what people should take to heart and do these things and share that knowledge for the reasons that you said, what kind of things do you do to like, do you ever take people’s work on your team and do it for them if they’re not doing it themselves, and what I mean is the sharing part, not not like do their work, but you know, share their work.

Shanee Ben-Zur (Crunchbase)  17:12

Both have probably happened at some point in my career. But the sharing part is, I feel a part of my responsibility as a manager, because I get to be in rooms that they’re not necessarily in. So where you have access, whether it’s slack, or a meeting, you should do your own self promotion, you should definitely promote yourself to your manager. And then it’s your manager’s job to bring that information to the right rooms that they’re in. And the hope is that it kind of daisy chains its way up. An example of this happened while I was at CrunchBase, where one of my product marketing managers had on her own, put together a brand new kind of messaging framework that was based off of a relatively new vision that we had for the company. And she really thought through everything she thought through the positioning, she thought through the audience. And she gave it just these beautiful words that we didn’t have internally that people were struggling to grasp. And she sent it to me very kind of tentatively, like, I did this thing like I don’t know. And I saw it and I was like, This is amazing. Can I send it to the CEO? And she was like, Maybe I should refine it. I was like, no, no, no, no, no, you don’t have to do anything, I just want to send it to him. And I forwarded on to him, and long story short, that messaging ended up being what we used for the whole company, and ended up making its way into our board decks and made its way into our company kickoff. And it really was just that moment that she took to give herself permission to self promote about the thing that she had built, actually benefited the company enormously. And I felt that it was my job to accelerate that and just let her know, even though it feels a little like wonky to pass it on at this stage, you need to get it out there, you need to get that information out there. And I think that really opened the door for her to see that her point of view is very, very valuable to the company.

Aydin Mirzaee (  19:00

Yeah, that’s a great story and really drives the point home. So to get a little tactical on this. So you have a one on one and your team, you’ve been telling them about sharing and so everybody on your team is really good at this. And they’re good at promoting themselves to you the manager. And so they come to one on one and what do you do? So they’ll say things like, Okay, here’s all the things I did. Here’s all the good feedback I got, here’s how do you respond to that? Just from an acknowledgement perspective, like what do you do when you hear them doing that kind of self promotion,

Shanee Ben-Zur (Crunchbase)  19:33

I put a little bit of structure on it. So it’s not like come to me and tell me all the things you’re working on because that has the risk of them feeling like they’re about to get micromanaged if they tell me everything they’re working on. Instead, what I do is we build our objectives and key results at the beginning of the quarter. And really what they’re giving me updates on is progress to the impact performance indicator that they pick the KPI that they picked. And so then the conversation is framed differently, like oh, we’re very close to hit Number, these are some of the things that are working well, or we’re still in the build phase. Okay, great. Just let me know when you’re closer to the impact area. And then, as part of the one on one, I asked them the question of like, what are two things you’re proud of from the last week? And that lets them kind of if they’re not comfortable with the self promotion, it lets them think a little bit from the perspective of what am I proud of, versus what do I want you to be proud of me for. So that opens up the conversation that way. And then I asked them, well, what’s been difficult in the past week, and that opens a door for me to see where my I’d be able to help them get closer to that KPI that they care about. For me, what I tried to do is if a person shares what they’re proud of, I think sometimes managers have an instinct to like want to fix or tweak or find a problem, that is not the time for it. If a person is proud of something, that is your time to say, congratulations, that is your time to give them a pat on the back. You want them to know that you are an advocate for them. When they get to the part that is challenging. That’s where you could have the conversation of, okay, tell me what you’ve done to problem solve here, what is left, what other steps are remaining, and it’s more about a coaching opportunity.

Aydin Mirzaee (  21:09

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Shanee Ben-Zur (Crunchbase)  22:44

And listen, I am definitely known for giving critical feedback. I’m very direct. But I think one thing I learned when I first joined CrunchBase was I’m a child of immigrants and I grew up where the way I was raised was every one of my faults was pointed out to me. And it was so that I could get you know, if I got an A minus, why didn’t you get an A plus, it was to push me to try harder. And I internalized that kind of critical, we’ll call it upbringing. And that’s what I brought as a manager. And I thought I was really helping people by pointing out the myriad ways, they were not quite meeting my standards. And what I realized was it was creating fear in my organization, it was making people feel scared that I was going to be disappointed with them. I didn’t realize how much my approval meant to them. And I thought I was nobody, I thought, Well, my opinion doesn’t matter. I’m just giving you feedback on what you could do better for the company. And once I realized that was happening, when there was this lack of psychological safety in the team, I did a 180. And I started spending more of my time pointing out the things they were doing well, and I had been fearful that if I did that people would start to get lackadaisical, they would start resting on their laurels. And the opposite happened. When they had more psychological safety, they started taking bigger swings, they started being more proactive, they started giving each other positive feedback, and it became a self fulfilling prophecy. And then it actually created the space where they’re like, I want you to tell me what I could do better. They were hungry for the critical feedback. And then that opened the door for me to give it in a way that didn’t make them feel like what I was saying was I am disappointed in you. Instead, what I’m saying is, I think we can do even more like let’s push

Aydin Mirzaee (  24:23

harder. Yeah, I love the way that you put it. And it’s really interesting how you first thought that it might actually get people to slow down, but it actually got them to speed up. And that’s super interesting to see. So on a related note, it’s kind of related to maybe the self promotion aspect or the sharing of your knowledge, but why don’t companies have rituals? We have one at Fellow town halls. And so as part of the townhall process, there’s shout outs. And so this is common. A lot of companies do stuff like this. And every so often I’ll get a comment from someone on the team that hate and have them like we’re just Adding out, Shawn, so for doing blah, isn’t that their job? So why are we shouting out people for just doing their job? And so shouldn’t we shadow only super extraordinary things? And I’d love to get your thoughts on that. When it comes to in the realm of positive feedback and creating that kind of environment. What would you say to the person who comes to you and says, Why are we shouting out people who are just doing their job?

Shanee Ben-Zur (Crunchbase)  25:24

The first thing I would say to that person would be to ask like, are you okay? You know, I’m definitely not a fan of toxic positivity, where people are expressing something that they’re concerned with. And then you just brush it off and say, everything’s fine, everything’s fine. And I can understand the perspective of like, Should we be celebrating somebody just doing something basic, I think the interesting thing about shoutouts is, it’s typically not coming from the manager, it’s coming from somebody else in the organization, recognizing a person for work that they themselves are impressed by. And given that that’s the parameter, then nobody really has the right to judge who somebody else shouts out for, like, there are times where I will watch a salesperson be on a call, deal with a super difficult prospect get hung up on and I just want to say, I am so impressed with the fact that you can keep coming to work every day, even though this is what happens to you, it is their job. But I as a person in a different team, am extremely impressed with fortitude and resilience it takes to deal with that. So I think the concept of the shout out is really more of like giving somebody props, like respect, like, respect of what you’re doing. If it’s coming from the manager, yeah, you as a manager don’t necessarily need to give everybody a high five for doing the basics. But you can usually tell after a while when somebody goes above and beyond to do the thing, or if they’re dealing with something challenging in their personal life, you can let them know like, Hey, you don’t have to push that hard right now. Now’s not the time, you have to push that hard. But for the person who feels like I’m annoyed that I’m seeing other people get props, I really in my mind start to wonder if maybe that person is actually crying out for recognition, that they’re not being recognized for their work. And maybe they’re feeling like they’re working really hard. And they want to be seen. So there’s usually like, something more personal going on.

Aydin Mirzaee (  27:19

Yeah, lots of things unpacking what you said. But my favorite part about it is the way that you just broke it down in the I can respect or appreciate the opinion or I’m also not a fan of toxic positivity. And then you just proceeded to break it down. And at the end of the day, maybe it is a cry for help, that feedback item. So I think that was a really cool troubleshooting session happening live.

Shanee Ben-Zur (Crunchbase)  27:44

What I thought you were going to ask is, why don’t we celebrate the failures. And I am a huge fan of celebrating failures. Because again, organizations that are overly risk averse, are ones that are doomed to sameness. Whereas companies that know how to fail, within reason, I mean, not like spraying and praying, but actually taking measured risks and knowing that it may or may not pay off. Those are the ones that end up innovating and kind of having the rocketship style growth. And one of the awards that I had within my team was called the spicy. And the spicy award was given by the managers on the team to a person or a team that had shown resilience, like they experience something difficult. We even use little emojis. And it was kind of like the emoji that had the head hurt. There was some an emoji where they’re falling off a skateboard. And then they get back on the skateboard. And they learned something, the experiment might not be a success, but they learned something and they kind of get back on the horse and try again. And so I’m a big fan of celebrating resilience in the face of failure, versus only celebrating people who win because again, what that ends up breeding is fear.

Aydin Mirzaee (  28:55

Yeah. And so I think I agree with that, too. I think all these failures help, as long as you reflect on them. And as long as you learn something from them, they actually make you and the company better person better company. And so I agree that those should be celebrated, but on the topic of fear. So we have this quote from you where you say the biggest mistake I see in startup leadership is fear of commitment. That sounds very provocative. What does it mean?

Shanee Ben-Zur (Crunchbase)  29:21

I think speaking of giving prompts, I have a lot of respect for company leaders, especially for founders and CEOs, because the buck stops at you, right. And so with all of that pressure, I think that sometimes there’s a hesitation to pick a lane. And there’s a fear that if you pick the wrong lane, you’re going to doom the company. But by not picking a lane. What ends up happening is the company has a lack of focus, the company has a lack of direction. And so it’s kind of like inaction is also a decision. So no matter what a choice is being made, and I think where executives kind of get caught up is they feel like well if I don’t do change anything, then I still have Nic, the board is still open, I can still go down any lane. And the reality is that’s not true, because you’ll always have a limiting factor, whether it be budget headcount time market. So really what you need to do is pick the lane based off of what you know. I mean, you became the founder for a reason. It couldn’t be experienced expertise, passion, you’re in that role, you are well within your rights to make a call. And if it fails, okay, great, at least you failed, trying to figure out whether your vision was actually the right vision. And I think the leadership roles are a very lonely role. And they don’t often have people who are giving them that permission to take that risk. And the same way that we as managers give our teams permission to take that risk. The executive teams don’t always have that that’s where I feel like boards can really step up, is give their executive teams permission to take the big swing to pick a lane and say no to any of the distractions. Yeah, I

Aydin Mirzaee (  30:55

think it’s very well put. And of course, it applies to founders, but also, I think, leaders in terms of many decisions, right? So when you don’t make a decision, you are making a decision in some ways, and you’re delaying other things. Sometimes it can be good to delay a decision. So my question for you is, but at some point, you notice that hey, might delaying is actually causing more problems, just so that we can like really make it super clear for people so that they can notice the symptom of delaying decisions? What are some consequences like I don’t know, if you have a story, or an example, or just some symptoms to look out for, to say that, hey, like, this is bad, we do need to make a call. And I’m seeing like the bad things happen, because I haven’t made a call yet.

Shanee Ben-Zur (Crunchbase)  31:40

Yeah, but just before I share that story, I want to acknowledge your point about the opposite end of acting too quickly, also being dangerous. Because I am probably the most guilty of that, I think my brain is operating on too many frames per second. And so I’m like a hummingbird I operate so quickly, sometimes I react too quickly. And I think if that’s who you are, then you would benefit from slowing down and waiting a day waiting a week to see how things resolve on their own. But to your point about the longer the signals that you’ll start to see is teams start breaking down. Oftentimes what happens with indecision at the executive level is friction at the mid level, and the individual contributor level, and teams start having issues with each other there start being muddy swim lanes, you might even start to see customer impact. Confusion, you’re running out of budget, people are losing motivation, they’re losing trust in the executive team. So when that starts to happen, and that does take a little bit of time, like it’s not that it will be like overnight. But when that starts to happen, that gives you a pretty strong signal that you need to pick a lane and be comfortable knowing that some people will be with you. And some people won’t. And it’s a little bit like qualifying leads, you know what I mean? Like the goal isn’t to get as many leads as you can in and then end up with super high churn. The goal is to get the qualified leads in who will stay with you expand with you retain. And I think the same thing is true for company culture, you want to pick a lane, just like you want to pick a specific segment of the industry, you want to pick a vision and a strategy that people can get excited about. And if they’re not excited about it, it’s a great self selection metric for whether they should or shouldn’t work there.

Aydin Mirzaee (  33:21

Yeah, those are all really, really good points. So in terms of the other quotes, and there’s another good one that we have for me, where you say project owners need to feel like you’re their sponsor, and not their test greater. And so yeah, I’d love for you to unpack that. I definitely agree with with the concept, but I’d love for you to elaborate on how you came upon that.

Shanee Ben-Zur (Crunchbase)  33:46

That’s like the school of all the things she did wrong before she figured out how to do it differently. I think when I was originally starting out as a manager, I thought my goal was to make sure that people didn’t fail. My goal was to make sure that all of their experiments were perfect to make sure that every word that they wrote was copy edited. And I thought that if they ever looked bad, then that meant I failed as a manager. And what I realized was happening was those people were feeling like I didn’t trust them, like I didn’t believe in them. And that’s a terrible feeling. If you don’t think your manager believes in you like that is very demotivating. And so the shift that had to happen was that I went from being I guess copy editor is the closest thing like the person who is really there to point out the flaws to being the cheerleader on the side, to go from pointing out what is wrong to offering questions for them to consider. And once I did that, then what I saw was they internalized the same kind of frameworks of questions that I was asking. And they would ask themselves those questions they would find the issues on their own. And then I could really focus on just like cheering them on or offering them empathy when things were difficult. And ultimately, you try to hire good people who know how to do their job. And so ideally, this is the work that you have to do. Every once in a while you do have to give critical feedback. But again, if you have more of the cheerleading happening, the critical feedback will be better received. I’ve had rock stars on my team, people who are just, they’re geniuses, I will work for them one day, and I’ve had to give them critical feedback. And they were excited to get it because they knew, Okay, this is going to be the thing that helps me get to the next level. Not this is Shanee, trying to push me down.

Aydin Mirzaee (  35:30

What do you do in a situation where, say there is a project and your team comes back and says, This isn’t doable, for whatever reason we tried it, we looked at it doesn’t work, can’t do it. But you know that it can be done. And there’s a lot of I would say famed founders, entrepreneurs out there people that will take the I’ll show you how it’s done, and jump in, and do the thing, and then prove that something can be done, and then like, let the team carry the rest. What do you think about that approach?

Shanee Ben-Zur (Crunchbase)  36:05

You’re so smart, do it yourself, then. I feel like if once you do that, you know, what are the consequences, it would take a very specific kind of person to enjoy having their manager demoralize them in that way. I think people want to be the masters of their own destiny, it doesn’t mean they necessarily have the roadmap there every time, I think an alternative way to doing it, rather than like, give me that I’ll show you how it’s done. And I’ll preface this by saying there may be times where you’re under so much stress as a company that you do have to do that. But there’s a way to do it. And I’ll talk about that in a second. But the alternative that I would encourage people to try first is ask them to help you understand what are the main hurdles to getting the project done. Sometimes they’ll talk about another team, sometimes they’ll talk about budget, sometimes they’ll talk about the quality that would be required. And if you really do see that one of those things is not actually a hurdle. And you can give them permission. Like, there have been times where people are saying like, Oh, I don’t think we can do this because the CEO doesn’t like XYZ. And I know that I can relieve that tension by saying Let me handle that. Let me worry about that. I’ll go have that conversation with the CEO. You focus on executing if I take away that stress, do you think you could do it? And then the conversation changes? And they’re like, oh, yeah, I think I can. So it’s not I’m gonna go do the project for you. It’s I’m going to help block and tackle the hurdles that are keeping you from being able to execute this project. And also, by letting them talk through what are the hurdles you as a manager can decide whether or not is this, like, maybe I wasn’t even thinking about all of the nuance involved in this, and it actually isn’t feasible. Now. So that’s like the positive side, if you really, you know, there are times where you just have some folks on the team that just can’t get stuff done. And you’re really under the gun and you don’t have the luxury of time, then you have to be respectful and give them the grace to say, thank you so much for doing this first round, we’re under a time crunch. And I am going to jump in in a way that I would normally not jump in. I just want to apologize in advance for that. I’m gonna have to take this across the finish line. Are you okay with that? And typically, people will say like, Oh, yes, totally understand, go for it. And those who are like, Well, can I help, then you can start to think about, alright, here’s ways how you can help me in this stage. And now they become a partner to you, rather than you becoming an adversary to them. And I think the ultimate goal of a manager is to find every way you can to both be on the same side of the table looking at a problem versus you looking at each other as the problem.

Aydin Mirzaee (  38:42

Yeah, I love that being on the same side of the table, as opposed to looking at each other as adversaries. So that makes a lot of sense. And really good way to put it. I did want to before we get to the end here, ask you about another thing that you’ve said, which is don’t haven’t correctly that you’ve said when it comes to hiring, to try and hire sporks, where we can explain what you meant by that. That sounds very interesting as well.

Shanee Ben-Zur (Crunchbase)  39:07

I think that’s stage specific. So if you’re working at a startup, you want a spork and not a spoon, because roles are constantly changing in startups, teams are constantly changing and startups. And if you hire somebody for a very specific function, and those things change around them, a they’re going to be super dissatisfied. They’re going to feel like they were kind of sold a false bill of goods. B, you’re gonna have a lot of trouble getting work done. And it’s not going to be because they committed some fireable offense. It’s because you change the rules of the game. So a spork is a multifunction tool. And when you are early on as a company, what you need are those multifunction athletes who really they have a desire to learn. They have a hunger to help and they have flexibility and they understand that the game will be constantly changing and eventually as you get further and further along Then you might look for Super athletes who have a specific skill. But earlier on, you can’t do that, because it’s just gonna hurt you and I made that mistake myself in hiring, I thought, Oh, the best thing I could do is bring in the very best person at this one specific function. And magically, the company will evolve to meet it. And that was simply not the reality. There’s just a lot of work that has to happen before you get to best in class.

Aydin Mirzaee (  40:24

And how do you know if someone is dysphoric? Like, how do you tease that out?

Shanee Ben-Zur (Crunchbase)  40:28

There are a couple of signals that I look at, I think one is, when you’re asking people about the challenges they’ve experienced, if they show kind of an excitement for the lesson that they learned, versus disappointment in the challenge. That’s one thing because from my own career, I have people talk about corporate ladder versus jungle gym, I am definitely jungle gym, I have been in many different functions. And it’s because for me learning is so fun. A challenge is really what I want. And I’m agnostic in some ways about the job function I have. So I’m personally very much a sport, which will keep me from being able to work at let’s say, like a fortune 100 company as an executive level person, because I would probably get bored. So I think as you’re interviewing, what you want to look for is, do they get excited when they talk about the challenges they faced? Do they get excited telling you about the lessons they’ve learned when they’ve had failures? Do they get excited telling you about the last thing they learned about a new skill? Or something? Like if you could ask them? What’s the new skill that you’re teaching yourself? You know, these are kind of constant learners. And the negative signals will be people who are like, I just want to own this, I want to be clear, do I own this thing? Because the concept of ownership in a startup is imaginary. Yeah, the swim lanes are constantly changing, like imagine swimming a lab, where they just keep moving on you. That’s working at a startup.

Aydin Mirzaee (  41:52

Yeah, it takes a special type of person to work in the startup. So I do agree with that. So Shanee, this has been an excellent conversation, so many different things we’ve talked about. Love the conversation that we started talking about, just the basic phrase of can you say it differently, how people expect a lot more from their managers love the story of the spicy award, how to create visibility for your team? And how to ask questions. Instead of just pointing things out so many different topics. The question that we always like to end on is for all the managers and leaders constantly looking to get better at their craft. Are there any final tips, tricks, or words of wisdom that you would leave them with?

Shanee Ben-Zur (Crunchbase)  42:30

The question that I find helps my managers become the best managers is always, what would you want me to do for you? So in a way, ask yourself what you would want your manager to do for you, and then try to offer that same thing for the people who work for you. And it’s so interesting how often, we forget that that is an easy exercise to do. It’s like, what would I want, if I were in their shoes? Well, what I want my manager to do for me in the situation, and then offer that up your needs and wants might be different from the person that you’re managing. But it’s a pretty good filter, to just make sure that you’re at least offering the basics. And then the next question you should ask your direct report is, what do you want from me. So offer what you want, and then ask what they want. And typically, you’ll be able to find a very happy medium between

Aydin Mirzaee (  43:22

the two. That’s great advice and a great place to end it, Shanee. Thanks so much for doing this.

Shanee Ben-Zur (Crunchbase)  43:27

Thanks for having me.

Aydin Mirzaee (  43:29

And that’s it for today. Thank you so much for tuning into this episode of the Supermanagers podcast. You can find the show notes and transcript at If you liked the content, be sure to rate review and subscribe so you can get notified when we post the next episode. And please tell your friends and Fellow managers about it. It’d be awesome if you can help us spread the word about the show. See you next time.

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