“The Making of a Manager” is the first book by Julie Zhuo, VP of Product Design at Facebook. In “The Making of a Manager”, Zhuo shares her experiences and learnings with regard to her transition from being a personal contributor to becoming a manager. “This is a book about how someone with no formal training learned to become a confident manager” is the starting point for the book.
When she started her first role as a manager at Facebook, Zhuo had very little experience under her belt and she describes what she thought a manager’s job was:
- have meetings with reports to help them solve their problems,
- share feedback about what is or isn’t going well, and
- figure out who should be promoted and who should be fired.
Without wanting to spoil the rest of “The Making of a Manager”, this is how Zhuo sees a manager’s job today:
- build a team that works well together,
- support members in reaching their career goals, and
- create processes to get work done smoothly and efficiently.
Zhuo summarises that “Your job, as a manager, is to get better outcomes from a group of people working together.” She puts a great focus on outcomes and refers to her former manager Chris Cox, ex VP of Product at Facebook, who explained that half of what he as a manager looks at were his team’s results and the other half was based on the strength and satisfaction of his team.
I liked the inclusion of Richard J. Hackman’s research into what helps create successful teams (see Fig. 1 below). Zhuo uses a similar approach to managers creating the right conditions for their teams:
- Purpose – The purpose is the outcome your team is trying to accomplish, otherwise known as the why. The first big part of your job as a manager, Julie writes, is to ensure that your team knows what success looks like and cares about achieving it.
- People – This is all about the who. Are the members of your team set up to succeed? Do they have the right skills? Are they motivated to do great work? To manage people well, Zhuo explains, you must develop trusting relationships with them, understand their strengths and weaknesses (as well as your own – see below), make good decisions about who should do what (including hiring and firing when necessary), and coach individuals to do their best.
- Process – This describes how your team works together. Zhuo clarifies that process in her mind isn’t about stacks of paperwork and frameworks for everything, but enabling teams to make decisions and work together effectively: “In a team setting, it’s impossible for a group of people to coordinate what needs to get done without spending time on it. The larger the team, the more time is needed.”
Staying on the topic of defining management, Julie provides a useful distinction between leadership and management. Manager is a specific role, with clear principles outlining what a manager does and how his success is measured. Leadership, on the other hand, is the particular skill of being able to guide and influence other people. Zhuo makes the point that a leader doesn’t have to be a manager; “Anyone can exhibit leadership, regardless of their role.”
In “The Making of a Manager”, Zhuo covers a lot of different facets of becoming and being a manager. From recounts her first couple of months as a manager to breaking down her views on strong management, Julie offers a ton of insights and tips for those of us who are managers or would like to take on this role. Let’s pick some aspects that resonated with me most:
- Trust is the most important ingredient – It may sound obvious, but the importance of investing time and effort into creating / maintaining trusting relationships can get easily overlooked. Zhuo mentions that the hallmark of a trusting relationship is that people feel they can share their mistakes, challenges, and fears with you.
- Giving and receiving critical feedback – Similar to Kim Scott and Amy Edmondson, Zhuo talks about how managers and their direct reports need to be able to give each other critical feedback regularly without it being taken personally. If your report does work that you don’t think is great, are you comfortable saying that directly? Similarly, would your report tell you if you if he thinks you’ve made a mistake?
- Be honest and transparent about your report’s performance – As a manager, your perspective on how your report is doing carries far more weight than his perspective on how you’re doing. After all, you’re the one who determines what he works on and whether he should get a promotion or be fired.
- Admit your own mistakes and growth areas – Zhuo shares how she tries to admit when she doesn’t have the answers or when she’s working through her own personal challenges, and shares a number of useful phrases that she’ll typically use when doing so (see Fig. 2 below).
- Managing yourself – Here, Zhuo talks about the so-called imposter syndrome, i.e. where you doubt your accomplishments and worry being exposed as a “fraud”. She raises the question why imposter syndrome hits managers particularly hard and gives two main reasons. Firstly, because managers are often looked to for answers. Secondly, managers are constantly put in the position where they’re put in the position if doing things they haven’t done before. She also talks about managers identifying their own strengths and weaknesses, and “being brutally honest with yourself”.
- Amazing meetings – I liked Zhuo’s points about meetings, the bane of most managers’ lives. She distinguishes between decision-making meetings and informational meetings and explains how being clear about the meeting objective (and structuring the meeting accordingly) can lead to much more effective and enjoyable meetings (see Fig. 3 below).
Fig. 1 – Richard J. Hackman, Hackman’s 5 Factor Model:
Being a Real Team – One with clear boundaries and stable membership.
Compelling Direction – Provide the team with clear goals, which are both challenging and consequential.
Enabling Structure – Where possible, offering the team variety in the tasks they undertake improves the team’s success. Within the team’s structure it’s also key to ensure that team members have strong social skills.
Supportive Context – A supportive context is essential for companies and organisations, as they are made up of small groups which when combined form a larger group.
Expert Coaching – This is about coaching and mentoring the team to help achieve the outcomes they need to achieve and support team members developing their individual skills.
Fig. 2 – Julie Zhou, The Making of a Manager: Sample things to say when you don’t have the answer or are working through personal challenges:
- “I don’t know the answer. What do you think?”
- “I want to come clean and apologise for what I did/said the other day …”
- “One of my personal growth areas this half is …”
- “I’m afraid I don’t know enough to help you with that problem. Here’s someone you should talk to instead …”
Fig. 3 – Julie Zhou, The Making of a Manager: Decision-Making Meetings and Informational Meetings:
A great decision-making meeting does the following:
- Gets a decision made (obviously)
- Includes the people most directly affected by the decision as well as a clearly designated decision-maker.
- Presents all credible options objectively and with relevant background information, and includes the team’s recommendation if there’s one.
- Gives equal airtime to dissenting opinions and makes people feel that they were heard.
A great informational meeting does the following:
- Enables the group to feel like they learned something valuable.
- Conveys key messages clearly and memorably.
- Keeps the audience’s attention (through dynamic speakers, rich storytelling, skilled pacing, interactivity).
- Evokes and intended emotion – whether inspiration, trust, pride, courage, empathy, etc.
Main learning point: “The Making of a Manager” provides an honest, no bullsh*t account of what it means to be manager and how to best transition into a managerial role. Definitely worth a read if you’re manager or looking to become one.
Related links for further learning: