As we've grown accustomed to in this interview series, we'll explore the challenges and practices that leaders in tech implement to build healthy, happy, high-performing teams. Jean Hsu took a deep dive into the pillars in which she leans to when leading her teams, emotional intelligence versus IQ, and more.
Rapid-fire: Who are you?
I’m Jean Hsu, and I’m the VP of Engineering at Range and co-founder of Co Leadership. Formerly, I built product and engineering teams at Google, Pulse, and Medium. I’m also a co-actively trained coach — after over five years at Medium, I wanted a change and started coaching engineering leaders, and then co-founded Co Leadership to bring more leadership training specifically to engineers. More recently, I really missed being on a product and engineering team, so jumped back into it with my new role at Range.
I love that, at Range, not only do I get the immediate satisfaction of building and supporting this team, but I also get to work with the team to build a product that has widespread impact of helping other teams work better together.
Through Co Leadership workshops and online courses, I love seeing people have “aha moments” especially around communication skills. Often we think that some people are innately good with people and communication, and that others aren’t — to see that limiting belief challenged and broken is so powerful.
What are the key pillars to lead high-performing teams in the current environment?
Trust - Trust is the foundation of a high-performing team. Without it, every interaction, process, conversation is laden with distrust and friction. When you have high-trust, people can show up as themselves and contribute fully. And they can help each other grow, knowing that they’re sharing feedback with positive intention.
Inclusion - A team that doesn’t feel safe or welcome to the members in it won’t get the best out of everyone. When team members feel psychologically safe, they aren’t constantly re-playing interactions or questioning people’s true motivations — all of which get in the way of the work getting done.
Open and clear communication - Especially in remote teams, being crystal clear about team direction and priorities is so important. You want to make sure everyone stays aligned to prevent wasted time and effort — Range makes this super easy. Each team member publishes a quick check-in at the beginning of their workday, and Range bubbles up daily reports so it’s easy to stay in sync.
EQ vs. IQ. What do you think about it?
I think that probably as an industry, we over-index on IQ, when EQ is just as important. I’ve seen questions like “What do you do with an excellent senior engineer who is rude and condescending to others on the team?” Questions like this reveal that the asker does not incorporate communication ability and relationship-building when evaluating excellence.
I co-founded Co Leadership to fill this gap in the tech industry and to provide resources and tools specifically for engineers — training on how to understand what’s important to other people, frameworks to work through misalignment, ways to share feedback in a way that lands, etc. We use the language and tools that engineers are already familiar with to bridge the technical and relational worlds.
What are the main challenges you had to face in the last few months and what advice would give to new team leaders facing the same?
I personally have navigated a lot of changes, so much that I’m probably a bit numb to it (because people keep telling me “wow that’s a lot of change!”). My kids have been home since the Bay Area’s shelter-in-place began, so juggling childcare and work and everything else going on in the world has certainly been challenging. In my personal life, I’ve definitely built up a support system, joining a pod with another kid and his parents. At work, I’d say to also really lean into your support system and to ask for help. It’s possible that others are also at capacity, but I’ve seen teammates really willing to speak up if they have additional bandwidth to take a load off of someone who needs a bit of help that week.
What is your burnout story while working in tech? If any.
Oof. For a while, I didn’t even know I had been burnt out, because I wasn’t working super long hours. But the combination of feeling less motivated at work, combined with having two young kids at home, and the grueling mornings with kid drop-offs and commute to SF all really wore me down. I remember thinking, I genuinely can’t imagine what any company could say to me to get me excited about joining right now.
What practices do you implement to keep your team productive and healthy?
We recently took an extra day off at Range for a four-day weekend, which provided a much-needed break, but the occasional day off is not really an ongoing practice. We understand that everyone is trying to do their best to navigate these challenging times — rather than the implicit expectation that everyone should be available all the time, we clearly define “windows” of availability and focus time. This lets people define for themselves when their regular work hours are — better accommodating parents who have regular childcare responsibilities and people who want to work early in the morning or just take that mid-day break to recharge.
We sync up as a team every Monday morning to make sure we are well-aligned, and reconnect at the end of two-week cycles to assess progress, celebrate successes, and reflect on what we want to do differently.
What advice would you give a 28-year-old you?
The tech industry really glorified the idea that work should be your all-encompassing passion. The advice I would give my 28-year-old self is that a career in the tech industry is a long endeavor — one that will ebb and flow, and in which work will play many different roles in my life. Sometimes it will provide the flexibility to support other major changes in my life, and sometimes it will be what I pour my energy into. It’s ok for it to not always be the main focus, and it’s ok to not always be sprinting. Figure out what’s most important for you to get from your work, and find ways to optimize for whatever that is.
Favorite book or show right now?
Cobra Kai — maybe I have some latent unexpressed aggression or something, but it’s so satisfying to watch!
What are you excited about now?
Food? I’m always excited about food. There was a dark moment in the pandemic when I couldn’t think of anything that sounded good to eat, and I realized how much I have relied on food as something to look forward to.
What puts a smile in your face every time?
I taught my 4-year-old to flex his biceps and say “Do you have tickets to the gun show?” and then kiss his biceps. It cracks me up every time.
As usual, we thank you so much for making it this far. You keep proving to us that you're in this journey for the long haul, to keep growing as leaders. Let’s raise awareness, inspire, and start a conversation.