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Being Your Own Leader in Times of Transition with Han Yuan

Episode 40

What does it look like to be your own leader in times of professional transition? In this episode of Programming Leadership, Marcus talks with Han Yuan, friend and former Senior Vice President of Engineering at Upwork, about transitioning into entrepreneurship from a traditional job and vice versa. How do you know it’s time to make a transition? Where do you find the support you need? How can you prepare team members for their own transitions? It’s a scary proposition for anyone. Fortunately, Yuan says it can be managed effectively with a combination of objective benchmarks, meaningful relationships, and authenticity.


Show Notes

  • The dangers of becoming an entrepreneur (2:41)
  • When it’s time to leave your “good” job (4:00)
  • How professional managers can help employees think this way through career development (6:30)
  • Helping team members transition out of the organization (8:37)
  • Avoid win-lose situations by mentoring people, not professional roles (9:56)
  • Dealing with uncertainty during transition (15:05)
  • Connecting activities to outcomes (19:39)
  • Be authentic when “parachuting” into a new work culture (23:17)
  • How entrepreneurs can maintain structure and build peer groups outside of traditional work structures (28:37)



Speaker 1: Welcome to the Programming Leadership podcast where we help great coders become skilled leaders and build happy, high-performing software teams.


Marcus: All right. Welcome to the episode. I’m Marcus and this is the Programming Leadership podcast. I’m very excited to have my friend Han Yuan with me today. Welcome, Han.


Han: Thank you, Marcus.


Marcus: Han and I met on GitPrime Webinar. Han at the time was the VP of Engineering at Upwork. Is that right?


Han: Technically, the SVP of Engineering.


Marcus: Thank you.


Han: We have some title magic, but I was the head of engineering at Upwork. I reported to the CEO.


Marcus: Yes. No. I think it’s important that we just embrace the title Senior Vice President of Engineering at Upwork. Today’s show is going to be a little interesting, I think. I’m excited about it. If you know, from being a listener of the show, I happen to personally be in transition between being an entrepreneur and taking a job. I was chatting with Han and he finds himself in transition, as well. So we thought we’d talk about job transitions today. Han, give the audience a sense about what you’re transitioning from and to.


Han: I’m transitioning from what many people, including myself, would consider a really amazing job. Upwork is the world’s largest platform for freelancing, its marketplace. It enables people to be able to both sell their services and their capabilities as well as clients who need something done in this platform. There’s quite a bit of money transacted between clients and freelancers or professionals, close to $2 billion.


Han: That’s an incredibly gratifying job in that sense because your work is helping other people make a living. That’s been pretty neat. I’ve been in that role for four and a half years with a really, really good team. I’ve worked with many people who I met, both at the company but also who chose to join me at Upwork. In some cases, some individuals have been with me through three different companies, many of them have been with me through two different companies. So it’s been a very difficult transition in that sense because it’s a really good job. In some ways, I think people would wonder, like, why? Why?


Marcus: It sounds like the question my father would ask me, “Why would you leave a good job?”


Han: My father did ask me that question. But what I’m leaving that job for is essentially what I would hope is an entrepreneurship venture, but it’s kind of a different way of thinking about entrepreneurship in some ways. I have oftentimes been very fascinated by the act of entrepreneurship itself. To me, it seems like one of the absolute toughest things to be able to do, to take something from nothing and then generate value for other people, society, the world. I think that’s very, very difficult to do and it’s also very difficult to sustain over a long period of time. I’ve always been very fascinated by that process. I think as a engineer, it also seems highly irrational because the probability of failure is so high, and so why would anybody in the right mind, like yourself, ever do that? But yet people do, and lots of things are made in the world from hard goods to software. So, I really want to take some time and explore that because I think it’s an enormous challenge and I’m hoping that I’ll personally grow from that.


Marcus: I’m curious. I love this framing of you had a good job and no one asked you to leave, let’s be clear, but how did you know that or why… I don’t like the phrase “How did you know” now that I’ve said it, but I’ll just reframe it as, why do you feel this was the right time for you to leave?


Han: I think that’s a really good question. I think, maybe as humans, or… And this is I think. So, I don’t have any scientific evidence to support this, but I’ve noticed certainly in myself where once I get into certain habits, it’s very easy to continue doing the same thing over and over again. But at some point, you get diminishing margins of returns from doing the same thing. What I’ve started to do, dating many, many years back, is as I start a job, I ask myself “What are the few things that I really want to accomplish such that when I leave, I can put these three things on my resume or on my LinkedIn profile that maybe people liked me, maybe people that didn’t, maybe people liked working with me.” But these are things that I could say, “I accomplished this and it’s objective. It’s factual. It would seem something like meaningful, different in the context of my own resume.”


Han: So when I joined Upwork, I came up with three objectives. And at some point early last year, I started to realize, you know what, a lot of these things, a lot of these goals that I set for myself four and a half years ago, they have more or less been achieved. My framework involves, okay, well can I come up with three more things? As I started thinking about what are the three things that I could do in my current role to sort of extend the ride, versus what are all the other things that I could do in the universe of possibilities. I started to make some trade-offs and that gave me a framework to rationally assess, should I stay or should I go. Ultimately, I chose to move on.


Marcus: I love that idea that when you came in you said, “Three things I want to be able to put on my LinkedIn or on my resume and then when I get there that’s one sign that it’s time to reevaluate.” I’m curious, when you’ve hired people, have you ever met anybody who on their first day, they sat down and told you their three things? Because this sounds like a rare idea in the world of work.


Han: It is. As a professional manager, I obviously do quite a bit of professional development when we have development conversations, and I do find that when I speak to individuals about, “Well, what does it take to get promoted, blah, blah, blah.” When I reframe the question as, “What are the three things that you want to accomplish here such that when you leave, which most people will inevitably leave, like these are things that you’re really, really proud of?” What I find is that most people never really think about it and it’s fascinating. So we almost never finish that first conversation. Instead, folks will go back, will spend another couple of weeks doing their day job, and they’ll come back and they’ll say, “Hey, this is what I think I want to do.”


Han: I find that to be incredibly powerful because that helps me cater my professional advice to the people I’m working with, to the extent they work with me. It also gives me a framework for setting up their annual goals in a sort of traditional performance review type system so that there’s a little bit more synergy. I think for the individual, it also gives them a solid anchor in which to frame their day-to-day work. I find that people are generally much more motivated by that versus sort of these finite goals of, “I need to move this metric from X to Y. I need to get promoted from senior or whatever to super senior or whatever.” I think it just makes the conversation a lot more productive over the weeks, months and years.


Marcus: Do you think it’s too late, if somebody is listening and maybe they’ve managed a team for a few years or they’ve just kind of grown up in the organization and they would like to engage in that kind of conversation, do you think that it has to be done when somebody joins or is this one of these kind of things that it’s never too late to ask people, “What do you want to leave here to be prepared for your next role?”


Han: As it turns out, for me at least in the last couple of roles, I’ve often been involved in organizations that already exist. I think by definition, you have to have these conversations sort of in play but I don’t think that it is ever too late. There have been cases where I’ve had unintended consequences where people go like, “Oh, I have nothing else to do here. I need to reevaluate my life.” That’s okay, too. I think as a mentor, as a manager, and if you… It’s obviously inconvenient when somebody decides it’s time to move on, but it also opens the door to be able to talk through an ordered transition. Usually that conversation will then go, “Well, okay, it’s time to move on. I’ll help you look for work, okay? But let’s make sure that I don’t get caught holding the bag when you disappear and all of the people that reported to you now report to me.” I find that to be a much more orderly way of going about business and ultimately it’s a win-win for the company you work for as well as the person hopefully transitioning on to something that is more in line with what they want to achieve in life.


Marcus: I think you hit on the fear I was going to ask about next. You basically said, “Yeah, it happens.” I have a feeling, and more than a feeling, I’ve seen it in myself and in other managers that if we talk about the fact that people might leave some day, they might leave. Like we have this idea that it might actually cause it. Generally I’ve thought, “Oh, that probably won’t happen.” Of course, you just laid out a scenario by which if somebody has that moment of self-reflection where they say, “Well, maybe there isn’t anything more here for me to for me to do,” then they start asking themselves, “What do I really want next?” And maybe that does not involve that company. But I do think that a lot of managers don’t want to talk about anything at the end of the sort of employee life cycle for fear that talking about it will cause it somehow.


Han: It very well could.


Marcus: It very well could.


Han: It very well could.


Marcus: But I love the way you said, “But darn it, think about how much better it will be than just getting dumped on one day and being surprised.”


Han: Yeah, absolutely. I do think these kind of like win-lose relationships, where the company is winning and the employee is ultimate losing, it’s not long-term sustainable because you’re kind of just borrowing time. So, having the plain facts available for all parties is pretty useful. I think, also, when people are mentoring, well, when there’s a mentor-mentee relationship, there’s sort of implied trust and that you can’t live up to that covenant unless you’re willing to be able to step into those topics that are very, very focused on the person that you’re mentoring, right? Some of those outcomes may inconveniently involve actually transitioning onto another company.


Marcus: Yeah. I like the way you say that person… You’re mentoring a person, you’re not mentoring a role. You really are mentoring another human being and they are trusting you. Even though it might be senior manager to team lead, is the roles in place, I think that whenever trust gets built, it’s between people not between these ideas of job function or role.


Han: Absolutely. The other observation that I’ve made having spent 20 plus years working in a traditional J-O-B is that your relationships with people tend to be enduring. If they’re meaningful, they could go on for years or maybe even decades in certain cases, like in my case. But the roles themselves, those are just essentially borrowed, right? They’re just somebody who borrows a role for a while, they get promoted and then somebody else gets that role. So, I think having that clarity when you’re in that corner of mentor-mentee relationship is really key.


Marcus: You mentioned earlier, one of the things that personally, and I didn’t tell you this as we were talking, but one of the biggest joys I had is when I was able to bring people from the company that I had a job at to work for me when I was an entrepreneur and they were excited about it. It wasn’t like pulling teeth, it wasn’t about more money. They were like, “I absolutely want to follow you on this adventure.” And they put a lot on the line. And then when the adventure didn’t work out, I did help them get another job. But I remember with such fondness, these people, that we had bi-directional loyalty between. I think you mentioned as we were talking, there’s been some folks like that in your career as well.


Han: Yeah. I think those types of relationships are incredibly meaningful and it makes going to work a joy every day because you have that trust. If two people are talking to each other, and I’ve known you for 10 years and you give me feedback, I don’t have to read too much into that because I know, “Hey, you have my best interest in mind.” I think it’s less about working for somebody, at least the way I tend to work. But for me, it’s really the opportunity to work with somebody and work with people that you really like. I find that to be a privilege to a large degree. I think I’ve been very fortunate that there are those people in the past who wanted to work with me and I’ve obviously wanted to work with them and all these other people that I’ve never had a chance to work with again. But those are definitely gifts.


Marcus: It’ll be fun to watch, and I certainly will be watching from the sidelines as you start this new adventure, but the folks that raised their hand that are your longterm brothers in arms, if they would be, they may come over and join you in the future. It’d be very interesting to see how that pans out.


Han: Yeah. I certainly wouldn’t, say, wish it on, say, folks that followed me to Upwork and then potentially create some chaos by resigning or anything like that, but the reality is as those transitions do happen from time to time, to the extent that I have an opportunity to work with anybody that I worked with in the past, I’ve always really greatly enjoyed that.


Marcus: Well, let me turn the topic around to something that I’ve struggled with in transition and that is a sense of uncertainty, uncertainty about why did I do this? What does it mean that I’ve done this? What does it mean for my past as I sort of, quote unquote, “Stopped running a business that felt a lot like failures.” I’m looking at taking a job here in less than a week as we record this. What does it mean? Am I going to get a J-O-B? I liked the way you said that, that has a certain smell in the entrepreneurial community. I guess I’m curious, how are you handling this uncertainty and what uncertainty are you feeling?


Han: I think in my case, which would probably be different than yours so I’d be curious what you say, is I don’t know what’ll happen next. Jobs are amazing because you have a task or you have a role that you need to fill. The parameters of the role are fairly well understood. And as long as you go through the motions, you get money. That’s pretty awesome. If you get a different role which might be in more demand, then you get more money. It’s sort of a supply-demand thing. The mechanics of that are, at least for me having lived a more traditional life as opposed to you, are very well understood. But now I’m going to a place where it’s unclear whether or not the activities that I do will generate income. It’s unclear in such a fancy title of Senior Vice President or what have you, whether or not people treat you the same way, so on and so forth. So, all of those are some sort of insecurities about how you kind of fit in the fabric of society, kind of hit you. But I also tell myself that I think our professional lives are certainly finite, and not to be existential, but I think our actual lives are also finite.


Marcus: That, I can tell.


Han: Yeah. I think on the professional front, as a technologist in my case, I probably have another 10, 15 years left. I had to ultimately ask myself if I’m going to do this entrepreneurial thing, I probably need to give it a shot at some point and probably there’s no time like the present. If it doesn’t work out, maybe I need to go get a job again for a little bit, maybe I go back but I have to try. I think the act of trying, knowing that the reward is learning something new, I think that’s what motivates me. That’s what’s giving me the momentum to be able to step into this void of uncertainty.


Marcus: I love that. I think I echoed every single thing that you said. You said, “I don’t know what will happen next.” I absolutely feel that way. I don’t know what’ll happen next, even though I’m joining a company with a job where there are parameters in place, see I took notes, and where going through the motions produces money. What if I can’t go through those motions? What if I don’t fit those parameters? What if I’m not the shape that they need or that… I mean these are just all the things that are running through my head, right? Will people treat me the same way? Yeah, I haven’t worked in a while. I’m concerned like, “Oh, Marcus, do you know anything about Kubernetes?” “No, I’m doing a Udemy course.” Will people treat me the same way? Before, when you’re an entrepreneur you sort of have to prop up your own authority through writing or speaking or other kinds of work. But now I feel like I’m starting at absolute zero.


Marcus: And then, of course, the insecurity of how do I fit in here? Totally unknown. Will I fit? Do I fit? Was this me giving up? But I love your, “I have to try.” Because at the end of the day, I remember that when I left my last company, like it was just time. I said, “I was 39 years old and I have to try.” It was the time. But the last thing I do keep reminding myself, Han, that you just said is, “Can I go back?” Yeah. Yeah, there’s no sort of closed locked doors. I can go back to being an entrepreneur. I can be an entrepreneur on the side. I think all of those kind of give me a little less anxiety as I stand in uncertainty.


Han: That’s good advice. It’s nice hearing that from somebody who’s done it before. Do you have other advice that you could give me?


Marcus: Oh, you know what, I’ll trade-


Han: Am I running your podcast?


Marcus: I’ll trade you some. I could use some advice, how to parachute into a team and all that. Let’s see. You know, I’ll be honest, I think one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in the past two years with my business is not really connecting my activities to the outcomes I wanted. For example, even when I started this podcast, I started this podcast because I thought it would be literally, quote, “Good for marketing.” Turns out that that’s not at all a marketing vehicle for me and for my business. But it is a wonderful place to meet people, like you, to spread ideas, to actually learn in real-time and to connect with folks who I want to connect with, the listeners. I thought I was doing it for marketing and I was wrong, which I’m really glad I was wrong in the end. But I can look back and see a whole bunch of initiatives where I sort of looked at how other people were working and I said in times of stress, “Oh, that must be the golden ticket. Oh, I need a podcast. Oh, I need to speak at…” You do all these things and I just started to emulate rather than really thinking “Does this fit my goal? Does it fit my business? And is this something even I want to do?” I guess, thinking about what it is that you’re doing and I’m sure you won’t have any problem with this, but not thrashing from thing to thing, but being intentional about measuring the outcome of those things and saying, “Is this moving me in the direction I want?”


Han: That’s really good advice. Do you typically set up goals and milestones for yourself on a-


Marcus: Yeah, I typically do and those look various ways. At the beginning they were like revenue goals, like I need to make this much money. But then I really started to look at like the revenue mix because I was bringing in money from consulting or coaching or workshops or speaking or writing. After about every six months, I would sort of examine the balance sheet of like where’s all the money coming from and how do I want to change this? But at the end of the day, I think that I didn’t do enough goal-setting and stick to one set of small goals. So, if you change your goals or they are like, “Let’s do a podcast,” that’s actually not a goal. The goal would be, in theory, let’s earn money from sponsorship, if that becomes a business decision. I actually sort of just stumbled backwards into sponsorship when somebody waved a dollar bill and said, “Can we sponsor your podcast?” Then I made, I don’t know, five figures the first year from it and I was like, “Wow, this is kind of a business.” But it wasn’t intentional and in some ways, it may have been a distraction.


Han: Interesting.


Marcus: I have no doubt that you will find lots of ways to make money. Like for me, sitting on this end of it, there’s almost never the problem… To be honest, I’ve told people this, it was advice given to me, “The thing you fear right now is that no one will hire you. The reality is that too many people will want to hire you and that you will spread yourself too thin and not be able to deliver on all the good promises you make.” Because as this fear of we say yes to everything when it’s very early stage, right? So, I’m sure you won’t have this problem, but I had to sort of get over that of, where I didn’t say yes to everything and I started saying yes to the things that I could do better than anyone else.


Han: That is really fascinating. Thank you for that.


Marcus: Okay. So now I’m going to turn the table. So, here I am, I’m going to parachute… They literally use this military term of, “We’re going to parachute you into this team.” There’s been a lot of turnover. People who have been managers are moving to ICs, so we’re going to need you to… We’re sure it’s going to be great, but you’re going to have eight people that report to you on day one. So, Han, what advice do you have for me?


Han: What I’ve found is if you… I’ve always found that it’s just much easier to be authentic. Maybe that’s too much of a trite piece of advice, but I think, to the extent that you feel insecurities and doubts, it’s actually very useful for your teams to know that because you are also this sort of alien entity in their ecosystem. Especially in a manager-reportee relationship, they’re trying to figure you out, right? Because you have a lot of impact on their careers. You’re going to impact their salary adjustments or their promotion velocity, in most cases. Are they also going to seek you for mentorship? Because they didn’t choose you as a manager, there’s also a lot of insecurity there as well. So, being very honest and authentic and in certain cases opening yourself up to vulnerability is, I think, a more optimal approach. The slightly, I would say, sub-optimal approach is fake it till you make it, so to speak. Because the problem is people are just too smart. They could tell that you’re faking it. They really can.


Marcus: Every time.


Han: They think you’re an imposter and then all those other things just sort of erode trust. So being as authentic as you possibly can, which might not be all that comfortable, I would argue is actually more comfortable in the long run than trying to pretend to be something until you get there. Because, gosh knows like how long that’ll take for you to actually get there. You just don’t know and it’s very uncomfortable when you go to work like that.


Marcus: Oh, it’s so stressful for me even to think about this, but yeah, you’re absolutely right. When I think about the energy, I mean if I were to put my energy into… That’s such a great advice… into like, what do they call that, impression management. I need to manage how other people see me. Do they see me as smart and competent and a leader or whatever rather than just being me? That saves my energy for a whole set of other things I really need to focus on.


Han: Yeah, impression management takes a ton of energy. And in the long run, it may compromise what you’re asked to ultimately do.


Marcus: Oh, yeah.


Han: That would be my advice. Then, I think related to that would be then, like yourself or to somebody like myself who’s been at a few places, you come with all this institutional knowledge from every other place that you’ve worked at and it’s so tempting to sort of say, “You know what, I want to add instant value. I’ve seen this before. Let me tell you how to do it.” My advice is try to restrain yourself as much as you can because a lot of times, the nuances of each situation is just slightly different, so spending a little bit of extra energy, getting deep into the problem statement of what you’re trying to ultimately solve or your suggestion is going to solve is really important. I think that’s rooted in really spending a lot of time listening to people.


Marcus: That is such important advice for me to hear right now because I’ll be honest, I definitely have had the fantasy where like in the first couple weeks, I say something that sounds brilliant and people are like, “Oh, I’m so glad he was here.” But that is pure fantasy, right? That is just my wanting to be accepted and be respected and I got to let that go if I’m going to be real.


Han: Yeah, but it’ll come. It’ll come.


Marcus: That’s the thing I have to trust, right?


Han: Yeah, it’ll come. I mean, you’ve earned a lot of stripes on your belt and I think at some point, people will see it.


Marcus: I don’t know if you’re going to go into the advice-giving business, I don’t think that’s quite your next business, but if you ever decide to, you’re quite good at this and you should have your own podcast or help other people. Because thinking through these things, just as we’ve done today with one another, it’s not easy to do alone, I’ve noticed.


Han: It isn’t. I think the greater challenge is, in the industry sometimes you get these career coaches, so to speak, but because the nature of the work is evolving over time and the career coaches are no longer essentially playing the game, so to speak, the techniques on how you hold the ball, shoot the ball, things like that, are all evolving. So, I do find that these peer to peer conversations like today and some of the advice you’ve given me are very, very valuable because it’s contextually relevant. It’s relevant for the time that we’re in, very late of 2019, so on and so forth.


Marcus: Yeah, thank you. Well, let me ask this, so on this topic of peers, support, of not going it alone, what ideas have you considered for how would the support mechanisms you might put in place for yourself over the next year as you go on this new adventure?


Han: One of the things that I’ve done in the past is to make sure that my day is very structured because I have had a traditional job in the past where you show up, you have a certain number of meetings. It’s very structured. For better or worse, I need that kind of structure. But with that structure in place, I also spend quite a bit of energy reaching out to friends, contacts. Hopefully I’m not wasting their time, but talking about different things that they’re doing, running ideas that I have off of them, so on and so forth. So I try to make sure that I have those kinds of people connections on a pretty regular basis.


Marcus: I think that’s amazing, to be able to… I know that the concept of a first team at work where you’ve got your peers, while I don’t think it’s very popular in a lot of places, a strong peer groups are an important support mechanism. Yeah. I would encourage you to find other entrepreneurs. I know for me that made a big difference because at least in my case it was a bit like a roller coaster, and having someone to share the highs with is just important as having someone to share the lows with.


Han: Yeah. That’s probably the first order of business, I think.


Marcus: It might be. You know, in that same way, I’m thinking now about how I can… Because one of the patterns I want for myself is I want to continue speaking with peers openly, sometimes that may be inside the company, but I think there’s a certain safety in speaking with people who aren’t in the same company and can give you unfiltered feedback. That may be something I need to build for myself as well.


Han: Yeah, definitely. I do find that in cases where I’ve maintained mentor relationships with my colleagues, being outside the company always seems to translate into slightly more meaningful feedback for the receiving party. Even though from my point of view I was like, “I worked there. I know exactly what this person’s going to say or this is how I deal.” I think I’m giving the same advice, but I feel like cloaks on the receiving side feel like, “Okay, there’s some layer of filter removed from that,” because now I’m sort of out of the context, but still able to engage in the conversation, hopefully in a meaningful way.


Marcus: That reminds me of… Yeah, I think that that power dynamic, whether it’s formal authority or a mentor-mentee relationship inside a company, we do always assume it brings some level of moderation to what we say, to what we give and receive. That’s interesting, even though you would have said the same exact thing when you worked there, now that you don’t work there, it seems to carry a little bit more weight.


Han: Yeah. Maybe I could qualify that in some sense. I do think that managers have a very difficult time, in general, operating with a hundred percent honesty. There are certain things that you just can’t talk about sometimes because there are legal implications, like if you’re in a publicly traded company you can’t talk about certain things. So, there’s this idea of trying to be as transparent as possible, but transparency does not necessarily imply honesty because there’s a spectrum of transparency or opaqueness. But not being an insider, to some degree, I think allows you to be completely honest because you don’t have the burdens of the role itself that is going to impose some level of opaqueness to the conversation.


Marcus: Yeah, I think that’s one of the hardest things. Even as a new manager, I certainly struggled with it and I see other people. That’s sort of the care and handling of secrets, things where you can’t talk about them for legal reasons, for HR reasons, again, for business reasons and yet you talk to your team and you say, “I want to be honest. I want you to be honest with me, so of course I’ll try and return the favor.” I think that is a really big challenge and I think people have to kind of find their way through that situationally based on some of these values of like… And maybe it’s even being honest about what we can and can’t talk about.


Han: Yeah.


Marcus: That might be something. Even that feels a little weird but saying like, “I can’t talk to you about this because it’s an HR issue for someone else” wouldn’t be… It doesn’t respect the fact of how that person left the company. I know I’ve had a hard questions, “Why did Jim get walked out?” Like “What went wrong? How did he screw up?” In that way, it was actually pretty easy for me to say, “I wouldn’t think anyone would want to be talked about after they left, so I’m not going to share that with you.”


Han: Yeah. I think, sometimes describing to the extent you can’t be fully honest explaining why-


Marcus: Right.


Han:… is also a very reasonable explanation for most folks.


Marcus: Yeah. I would imagine that generally if we don’t explain why the default answer in people’s heads is because I want to maintain control. Like, I’m not telling you everything because information is power and I don’t want to give away my power. So, when you can tell them that it’s about respect or confidentiality or something about going… I mean there’s a lot of things we can’t say, but I do think people sort of assume when there’s power, that you’re trying to keep it.


Han: Yeah, but if you’re able to develop the trust and the people generally think you’re an honest person, then hopefully the point of view evolves to, “Marcus really wants to tell me but he can’t and this is why.”


Marcus: Right. Sometimes we can also go back and tell people things after the fact, when it’s no longer. Because I think secrets or confidentiality, usually that has a time span. We don’t have to keep that confidential forever. I know I’ve gone to my team and said, “I couldn’t tell you before but I can tell you now.”


Han: Yeah, the expiration date. To the extent that you have visibility into the expiration date is useful because you can also set the expectation that we can’t discuss this now, but we might be able to discuss this at a later date or maybe exactly know the expiration date then we’ll talk about this some future time.


Marcus: Right. I think I’ve even asked my boss that, like when he’s told me something and then I’ve said, “Well, when can I bring this to the team?” Usually, that’s not a consideration that’s been thought of, it’s sort of thought of as like, “Well, you’ll never bring it to the team.” But framing it as when, because secrets always get out and people always find out almost everything, yeah, I think that’s given my boss and I, in the past, some really rich conversations about just the timing and necessity of secrecy versus just the perception that we only say what we have to.


Han: Yeah. I think that the point about secrets getting out, I think, also punctuates my earlier discussion with you, which is, people are too smart, right? [Crosstalk 00:36:04]…


Marcus: They’re too smart.


Han: Don’t try to fool them. Like, they will figure it out. They’re really, really smart. It’s true. There’s just too much energy to fool people. It really is.


Marcus: This is universal. This isn’t even like just engineers or people with bachelor’s degrees. I’ve got a two-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter living with me right now with my son, her dad, and his wife and she is so smart. I can’t fool her ever. She knows exactly what’s going on.


Han: Yeah. You will not be able to… Many people have tried, perhaps we’ve all tried and honestly we will all fail trying to fool people. It’s not going to work.


Marcus: I’m going to write this down as a reminder. Not that I think I try and fool people a lot but I think at any given day, if I can be more honest. Maybe that’s a pattern for 2020 I want to see, is more transparent which does, it requires some amount of courage because of vulnerability and all that stuff. I don’t know. As we end up today, Han, is there a pattern in your work that you’d like to see in 2020?


Han: I think for me, I think transparency has been something that I’ve been personally working on for a couple of years. But I think, for my new adventure, I think some of it is going to be a combination of transparency in terms of the ups and downs of what I’m trying to do, so I’ll be working on that. But I think I’m also going to be working on vulnerability, too, really talking about what are the fears, what am I trying to do and just being very upfront and honest about that. Because it’s very easy to sort of say, “Hey, everything’s awesome” in this whole entrepreneurship thing. I think the industry kind of glamorizes it a little and that’s something that I definitely don’t want to do on purpose, but I think that will be both meaningful for myself and to the extent that I have conversations with other folks that hopefully meaningful for them as well. Because I don’t have delusions of grandeur that entrepreneurship is necessarily the grass is greener on that side. I’m hoping to have a balanced view of both worlds.


Marcus: I like that. Thank you for sharing that with me. Thank you for that transparency.


Han: You’re welcome.


Marcus: Han, where can people find you online and engage with your work with this new adventure you’re putting together?


Han: I’ll occasionally be publishing articles on LinkedIn, so I’ll be using that as my medium. You can find me on LinkedIn, H-A-N dash S-H-E-N Y-U-A-N or Han Yuan. Usually I get pulled up.


Marcus: Great. We’ll include some show notes to your LinkedIn profile and hopefully some pieces of writing you’ve done. I know you were tickling my brain earlier with some topics you intended to write about and I just can’t wait to see those. I really need to read them. So consider me just a rabid, enthusiastic audience for your writing.


Han: If you love recommendations, I could give you a couple of articles I’ve already written and I would love to get your feedback on if they were any good.


Marcus: I’d love that. Yeah, and I’ll include them in the show notes as well so other folks can read them as well.


Han: Thank you, Marcus.


Marcus: Han, thank you for being on the show today and good luck in your next adventure.


Han: Thanks.


Speaker 1: Thank you for listening to Programming Leadership. You can keep up with the latest on the podcast at and on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play or wherever fine podcasts are distributed. Thanks again for listening and we’ll see you next time.

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