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Office Hours: I advised Oprah Winfrey, the Obamas, and Reed Hastings and was an executive at Netflix and Clubhouse. Now, I’m the co-founder & CEO at Manual. I’m Maya Watson. AMA!Featured

Hi Elphas!

I’m Maya Watson, the co-founder and CEO at Manual, where we’re improving the people part of work.

Over the last 18 years, I’ve advised and worked alongside some of the greatest leaders of our time, including Oprah Winfrey, the Obamas, and Reed Hastings. The people part of work has always been my favorite part and it’s the most important. I’m really passionate about reimagining how we work, where we do our best work and live our best life.

During my downtime, I enjoy reading, writing and watching Real Housewives. Some of my favorite things are tacos, tequila and deep conversations. I live in Atlanta with my two dogs, Claire Huxtable and Tina Turner. My daughter just started college so I'm also getting used to being an empty nester.

Ask me anything about leading high-performing teams with a human-centered approach, the privilege of leading people, emotional intelligence, leaving the corporate world, the future of work, building a great culture, being a brand or marketing leader, or anything else!

Thanks so much for joining us @mayawatson!Elphas – please ask @mayawatson your questions before Friday, December 15th. @mayawatson may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites 🔥👍🏾➕
hi friends, so happy to be here!i tried to answer everyone's questions. to keep in touch with me you can find me here:linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/maya-watson-12748611/substack: https://bestworkofyourlife.substack.com/instagram: https://www.instagram.com/maya.j.watson/manual: https://app.manual.me/@maya
Manual looks great! It feels like a networked version of the "personal user manual" many of us are encouraged to create for work. What does your product roadmap look like? What big problems are you imagining solving?
i'm so excited about Manual. you're exactly right that it's a networked, more dynamic version of the personal user manual. we each have our own way of operating. and we're all designed so differently. so we wanted to have a place that is a source of truth about you. that can grow with you and follow you wherever you go so you can discover and do the best work of your life.in order to do the best work of your life you need 2 things:1. you need to know what work you were designed to do2. you need to know the right conditions for success for you to do the work you were designed to doright now, we have: --baseline profile that you fill out in onboarding. --the ability for you to ask questions about yourself or another person. so if you had a Manual, i could ask how to best setup a meeting with you, give you feedback, navigate a conversation or figure out a great idea for a holiday gift that is specific to you. --i can run a compatibility report with you to anticipate how we might work togetherin january, we're adding:--assessments you can fill out if you don't know how to answer the questions yourself (i.e. finding your communication style). --a way to instantly create a resume for job seekers so you don't have to keep customizing one--the ability to connect with others and create groups so you can insights about 2 or more people we also have a pilot with a couple enterprise clients to build company level manuals and integrations for collaboration.
Hey there Maya! Thank you so much for wanting to answer some of our questions! Your background is fascinating! 1) As someone passionate about reimagining how we work, what specific changes do you believe are crucial for the future of work? And how can organizations better prioritize the well-being of their employees?2) Transitioning from the corporate world to founding your own company is a HUGE step. What motivated you to make that transition and what challenges did you face during this process?
i'm so happy to be here. thank you for asking such a thoughtful questions. 1. there's so much i have to say on this topic. 2 things come to mind -- when it comes to specific changes do i believe are crucial to the future of work... i'm big on looking at the bigger picture and macro trends first. We are entering a new era of work ... so far we had the hunter-gatherer era, the agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution and the technological revolution... i think we are entering a new era that is the employee revolution. the era where employees have the freedom of choice in how you work, where you work and the kinds of work you do. for the first time in human history we have the opportunity to really choose our paths. this is why the return to office is so contentious to me... employees are like "nah, i want to freedom and choice" and employers are like ... "we want to stay in the old ways." the system and institution of work is evolving. and it's a good thing! evolution is good. it can just be painful in the process. so for organizations to be on the cutting edge, i think they need to think about how to implement more choice to their employees -- can we give them new options in benefits, how they spend their time, what work they choose to do, where they want to work. employees are taking their power back and organizations who want to attract top talent and do great work are going to have to operate in this understanding. you are nothing with your employees, treat them as such. 2. omg, it's SO huge. what made me transition out of corporate world was the conviction i have for the problem we're trying to solve. i NEVER thought i'd be an entrepreneur. I always considered myself an intrapreneur, someone who builds new things inside of existing infrastructures. but i saw a problem so clearly that it felt like a gravitational pull to build. My experience at Clubhouse also helped me see what it feels like to build a startup, so i wasn't as intimidated by it. there are two big challenges: 1) managing the emotional rollercoaster of building something new and 2) staying on top of all the things to do -- it's just a lot of work, not hard...just a lot.
Thank you so much for your responses!! Really appreciate you taking the time out of your day to respond in such a thoughtful way! You rock!!
Maya, as a seriously smart woman, how long on average does it take you to get comfortable and confident in a new role? Have you battled imposter syndrome? If yes, what mantras have helped you mitigate its effects? If no, how?
i think what i've learned is it's more valuable to learn how to be comfortable in being uncomfortable. things are always changing and we're constantly evolving that mastering how to get cozy in change is the most powerful thing we can do. i don't expect to be comfortable anymore...if that makes sense. every time i would get comfortable, something changed -- the business shifted, team dynamics, new projects, changes in leadership, etc.. i have definitely battled imposter syndrome before but it's something that is becoming less of a thing for me. the root of imposter syndrome is a worthiness issue. i don't feel worthy to be here. i don't feel worthy enough to be in this role. i don't feel good enough. i'm not enough. once i understood that, it changed my relationship to imposter syndrome. of course i'm worthy. of course i'm enough. of course i deserve to be here like everyone else. of course i'm worthy enough to be in this role. instead, when that feeling comes up, i shift it to...what about this moment is making me uncomfortable ...vs. i don't feel like i belong here. switching it to discomfort is easier to solve for -- maybe i feel like i don't understand the topic enough....well that's an easy fix -- ask questions, say you don't understand or go gain knowledge. but you have to fundamentally believe you are deserving of the life you are co-creating with God, the divine or whatever it is you call it.
What a beautiful and helpful answer. I needed to read that today! Thank you.
Thank you so much for being here Maya! You are the coolest, and have such a phenomenal journey. We're so honoured you're sharing some of it with us.I have a lot of questions :) - When putting a team on: if you have someone with a strong EI, what are the optimal personalities to match this person with on a team? - You are a leader and have worked with a lot of them: what is the difference between being authentic and being an oversharer? i am asking because I see a lot of people these days (social media isn't helping frankly), wanting to appear real, authentic but at times I have a feeling we are crossing the oversharing border... but i cannot tell if i am missing something or if it's the world we live that's asking for all- now that you're an empty nester (well with two dogs): what are you most excited about doing? - tell us about your venture: what's keeping you up at night and how can we support you?
thank you for having me. -- before forming a team, i'd take an opportunity to think about what personalities i need to accomplish the work and desired outcomes. ideally, everyone has some level of emotional intelligence. otherwise, it becomes quite a burden for the one person who does who's trying to interpret and navigate everyone elses lack of self awareness. --great question! i agree that we are generally an oversharing culture. it's hard for me to know everyone else's intention for sharing, but i can share how i think about it. A question i ask myself before i share something is... "why am i sharing it?" sometimes i want to feel seen...which is NOT a good reason to share. Sometimes I want other people to have knowledge about something i have (like a great book recommendation), sometimes it's to share an encouraging word. the more intentional we are the less cringe it will be to the people on the receiving end. --i had my daughter at 19, so this is the first time in my life that i'm alone. wild! i'm literally learning myself all over again. so i'm excited to explore who i am at this age with the labels of all the things. i find myself working out more, going for walks, working at odd hours of the night, taking baths in the middle of the day. it's so freeing and exciting.--manual is company that is designed to help you find and do the best work of your life. the idea is we each have our own personal operating manuals -- how we work, think, communicate, learn, desire, etc. we want to make it easier for everyone to understand each other better so we can be more of ourselves on a daily basis. we're in very early stages, but are releasing an updated product in January. if you go to manual.me, you can sign up to get notified. the best way to support is to try and use the product, send us feedback and share it with people that you think would enjoy it.
Hi @mayawatson! Thank you for being here! I have one question!What are some of the soft skills you’ve had to learn along the way and have become invaluable to you as a leader?
hiii! thank you for asking your question....what a great question. i had to think for a second on this...trust -- it's so important to build the muscle to trust yourself. there are so many people with opinions and good intentions and it's easy to be swayed by thoughts and opinions. learning to trust yourself -- your experience, your intelligence, your instincts, your vision ... has been really important for me. curiosity -- if you always have a posture of a student, everything is learning and information. conflict, feedback, failures, discomfort, misunderstandings become moments of learning vs. negative experiences. i am curious about EVERYTHING. like i move through the day... "why is this person repsonding this way?...oh interesting, what happened where this system broke down...i feel uncomfortable in this meeting, what area of insecurity is coming forward right now?... this encounter or this project energized me, what else can i learn about this area?"understanding -- everybody is doing the best they can. truly. there are very few exceptions (i.e. sociopaths), but generally, no one wakes up wanting to be a problem, do a bad job, being difficult...everyone is bringing everything that's ever happened to them in each encounter. seeking to understand is my greatest superpower for sure. because if i can understand, i can have compassion. if i have compassion, i can really hear you. if you really felt heard, the situation changes.
Love the dog names, perfect, I laughed so hard!
both are adopted. they came with their first names...i added their last names.
Another question for you, Maya—you're obviously a HIGHLY successful & accomplished woman, who most likely holds herself up to high standards. Do you hold friends, colleagues, family to those same standards? Either way, how has that impacted your relationship with them?
wonderful question that we don't ask enough...the truth is your success will trigger others. you haven't done anything wrong but be excellent but it happens. i've had some pretty painful experiences with people, in relationships, with my own family, with bosses. ain't no pain like the pain of people who are supposed love and care for you. i learned a lot through experience and therapy into what i want in those relationships. i have different standards and expectations for each group. so for example...friends -- i don't have a lot of friends. i know a lot of people. there's a handful of people who get the full expression and experience of me. i'm the kind of friend that goes really hard and deep with each friend. so i literally don't have the capacity for a lot of friends. i had to learn that. before i was stretching myself so thin trying to be a friend to too many people vs. learning which friendships are truly mutually beneficial and worth investing in.colleagues -- i generally really enjoy most of my colleagues. i see each person as a walking encyclopedia of intelligence and experiences. so i lead with a lot of curiosity and wanting to understand people. I also always seek to understand their boundaries so i'm respectful of the kind of relationship they want in this workplace. everyone has different desires on who they are at work and how they show up, so i try not to assume. I also share my boundaries and expectations. through that sharing i tend to find the colleagues that ultimately transition into deeper relationships and connections...family -- phew. well, i will say this. there is blood family and chosen family. decide what you will and won't tolerate, regardless of it's from "family." life is too short to accept anything less than God's best.
I'm 100% with you on all of this.Friends? Yeah, it's better to have a great relationship with a few than a thin association with many. Though those few can be frustrating as HELL sometimes when you see them being unnecessarily messy. So you limit your exposure to them, but then start to think, "but finding new adult friends is so HAAAAAAAAARRRD!"🤣🤦🏾‍♀️ Colleagues? Yes. Everything you mentioned above.Family? Blood family and a chosen family? That's real talk...As a part of that quote from Marianne Williamson goes, "As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."That's real.I've experienced it. Even today.Great insight. Thanks Maya!
What qualities make someone a high quality colleague that is trusted by the greats?
Maya - Thanks so much for answering our (many!) questions! Did your vision for Manual come ... naturally? Or, did you have to put a lot of effort in and it evolved over time? You worked with many influential people. Did you feel a heaviness/responsibility to yourself to deliver for them?Thanks!
thank you for asking a question!the vision for manual has definitely evolved. i would say that it came first as a prompting and an instinct that somethings wrong in the workplace, specifically around how we understand people and each other. I originally thought i was going to build a coaching company, but it's evolved quite a bit from that. i would say that staying clear and convicted on the problem but allowing space to let the solution arise has been the sweet spot into building it so far. i continued to be so surprised and delighted about what works and what doesn't. i definitely felt a responsibility to deliver for them but it came from a place of wanting to help their mission. all the people i've worked with and worked for have had very clear missions that i've felt aligned to. it felt more like being of service than anything else.
Hi Maya! Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. How do you navigate and overcome skepticism or doubts that others may have about your ability to lead effectively?
i know this is cliche, but you have to belief in yourself first. if i don't have strong beliefs or convictions about my abilities, i am too reactive to doubt and skepticism. if you have strong beliefs about your abilities, then you can discern what's true in people's critique of you. sometimes there's good feedback, sometimes they're just haters :)some questions to ask yourself about your ability to lead:--what's your definition of a leader?--how do you know if you're a good leader or not? what are you measuring yourself on?--how are you going to develop and improve your leadership abilities?--whose opinions about your leadership do you seek and/or trust? (not everyone has good feedback)--what do you want the people you lead to say about your leadership?
Hi Maya, you're an inspiration! What would you say was the biggest challenge in being a founder and how you approached it/overcame it?
2 things...1. managing the emotions around it -- it's the most emotionally up and down thing i've ever experienced. i'm learning that the emotional regulation has been critical in moving forward. i recently got certified in somatic trauma therapy just to navigate this. there are highs and lows. but it's part of the journey of embarking into something unknown. 2. managing the amount of work that comes with it -- the work isn't "hard" it's just A LOT of work. nothing exists when you start a company so you have to build everything from scratch. the to do lists are LONG. so there's the work of staying on top of the work that needs to get done and also building first principles around how to approach the work. for example, i recently just setup benefits for our company and our team. in order to do that, i had to think about what is our philosophy around benefits...in order to figure out a philosophy, i had to research how others have done it and how it's worked ....i talked to 3-4 different people who were experts in the space ...i had to find a vendor i liked...do a few demos...there were like 25 steps to make that one decision. but once it's decided it's done. and you move on to the next one. so building your capacity for building is something to consider if you're interested in becoming a founder. but you build the muscle as you go. i'm having a blast doing it. i've also learned that i am more a builder/architect type than a sustainer type person. there's a thrill i get from building something new. not everyone feels the same way lol.
Thank you for sharing, Maya. Leaders talking about emotions are few and far between. Love it! Wishing you all the best and I can't wait to see what else you build.
What can one do to build up their emotional intelligence?How do you tackle difficult decisions?Thank you for sharing your time and experiences with us ! :)
re: emotional intelligence:--learn what it is. it's the combination of proper self-awareness + proper social awareness --you can't lead what you don't understand and the most important person you'll lead is you. so you must understand you better than anyone else. study yourself like you would study a project in school. learn everything you can about yourself. --for my 30th birthday, i sent out a survey to my closest friends, family and colleagues. i asked them -- what do you think my strengths are, what do you think my weaknesses or biggest opportunities are and what do you think is my God given gift and super power. --ask for feedback all the time. --information is power. the more you know about yourself, the more powerful you can be because you know deploy yourself in any and every situation.re: tackling difficult decisions--give yourself some grace and compassion that what you're going to do is difficult. so acknowledge it, speak it, feel it. --start with questions. for almost everything, i build a worksheet of questions (like we used to fill out in elementary school). what questions do i have? i list as many as i possibly can and then go one by one to find the answer. once you have everything you can sit with the information and know what to do next.
Thank you, Maya!
love this idea of sending a survey for your 30th birthday – might do the same for mine next year!
Hi Maya, thank you for doing this. You’re a true role model! What advice would you give to young professionals aspiring to lead with a human-centered approach?
seek to understand first. yourself. why am i like this? do i want to be like this? where did this come from?others. why are they like this? i wonder where this came from? i'd like to learn more about it...the situation. why is this happening? why is this happening now? what are meant to learn, do or shift right now?start with seeking.
Did you architect your career path or did it happen organically (e.g., people offered you an opportunity and you just saying, "Yes")? If you architected it, what advice would you give to a person that is looking to do the same?Also Claire Huxtable & Tina Turner? SQUIRREL, YASSSS!!! The BADDEST chicks, yo!!!
I wish I could send pictures of the dogs...they say hello and are sitting beside me. this is such a beautiful question. i wish i could say i perfectly architected my career but it was more of quest than a destination. I still see it as that. I have a few non-negotiables when it comes to the job I take and pursue:1. i have to really love the product , use or be passionate about the offering2. i have to feel like i'm going to learn something that will help me grow3. i have to work for people i believe in and learn from and genuinely enjoy. we spend 70% of our lives at work. it's essential we enjoy them!this has led me to work across many industries and different type of roles. but now as a result i have this incredible treasure chest of knowledge. my advice I would give to someone is this... "think about your life and your work as a great quest. where would you want to go and what would you want to learn and discover." that's served me really well.how do you think about your own career?
You and I are on the same page when it comes to the non-negotiables of work, Maya. Though I must admit, my intuition and even research, has failed me a lot during my career even though I've tried to architect it.I can do the informational interviews, recon on the website & product, ask all the right questions in the interview—but I never REALLY know how a company operates until I get inside and have a look around. And that's when it all goes to hell😅My background is in marketing.But I have a natural, hard lean, inclination towards UX, CX, and product management. So even though I'm hired to build an audience, I do these things first: - I talk to sales and customer support (they're the closest to the customer, so they know all)- I ask to see the analytics (e.g., app flow analytics, any heatmaps they have running, google analytics to the website, to the blog, etc)- I go through the customer journey from beginning to end- I ask what they've done for promotion & getting new customers in the past—what did work, what didn't, what was your final assessment, what changes did you make, did you try again, etc.- I ask people who've been there longer than me—their thoughts on x, y, and z within the company. What can be improved? An open forum. They always have good, if not great, suggestionsOverall, I'm searching for holes & dumpster fires.I can not do my job effectively, if 80% of your incoming audience is leaving at step 3 of 10 of their onboarding.I can not do my job effectively if 83% of your customers, are one-time customers, because they have a bad experience on the platform or with the product. I can not do my job effectively if there is a 98% employee turnover rate because of leadership, and the lack there of.All of these are real numbers, within real companies, by the way.😳🤯😵I point out these holes. Talk with individuals.Come up with a plan to fix them that leads into my marketing plan.I present it to my managers or the c-suite—and that usually gets me told, "to stay in my lane" and eventually laid off. 🙄😅🤷🏾‍♀️The c-suite doesn't look kindly on people pointing these facts out sometimes.🤦🏾‍♀️Then just recently, after 10-years in marketing, I realized there is an EXCELLENT chance I was in the wrong industries. I should've been in D2C, because they DEEPLY care about everything I listed above. Analytics, the customer experience, the whole tequila shop. Damnit!🤦🏾‍♀️😅I've been hitchhiking the wrong direction the whole time...So after just recently being laid off again (and honestly I'm grateful for it)—I need to look at D2C companies OR just go out on my own.I'm pursuing the latter even though I'd still LOVE to work at a company where I can learn invaluable skills. I know there's still a lot for me to learn & I'm hungry for the knowledge & experience under good people with a good product.BUT—that has been my attempts at architecting my career😅 #AnEpicFailMaybe I'll have better luck architecting my business, while maintaining my standards 😏😉
Hi Maya! Thanks so much for doing this. I'd love to know your lessons learned from advising and working with such influential leaders like Oprah Winfrey, the Obamas, and Reed Hastings and how those experiences shaped your perspective on leadership and the people part of work.
Oprah -- her mission and purpose on this planet is to help people live the highest, fullest expression of themselves. so i learned why that matters and how to help people do that and the barriers that keep people from it.Obamas -- they're mission is to be of service and bring dignity back to people and the political process. so i learned to treat everyone with dignity, respect and kindness. Reed -- his mission was to build a workplace where people could solve really big problems and have freedom to be themselves and be empowered to make big, bold decisions. so i learned to lead and manage teams there and the importance of creating conditions for success. each of them deeply cared about people and the development of their people. feel very grateful and blessed to have had and learned from those experiences!
Thank you Maya! What’s one piece of advice you’d give on managing up and influencing people more senior than you? Also how did you overcome the discomfort of doing that/ gain the confidence to do it? My role’s recently required lots managing up. The learning curve is MAD but I’m keen to make full use of this opportunity to learn and try new things!
i struggled for a long time in managing up, so i really understand this and thank you for asking this question.what worked best for me is clarifying expectations with people higher than me and building a system of communication so i don't have to guess when you want to hear from me and vice versa. some key questions to ask:--what am i being measured on? --what information is most important for you to know?--what information would you like to updated on?--what decisions are mine vs. ones you want input on?--what do you need to share with your boss? --when there's a problem, how quickly do you want to be notified?--how do you best receive and process information?--how frequently do you want to touch base -- 1:1 vs digital communication?--what format of receiving information works best for you? (i.e. slack updates vs. more in-depth emails vs. calls)--what areas are you most concerned about?things like that. so you take the guess work out of it. if you can align on these things, then you can build a system around it.
Love these questions! I added them to my OneNote for 1:1s.