The Making of a Manager

The Making of a Manager

Author
Julie Zhuo
Year
2019
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Review

What is it about? Was it worth reading?

I love Julie Zhuo’s writing style, she’s able to cover a lot of ground quickly. She frames the major challenges of leading a team well. Her practical advice is spot on. The book is full of little gems. I found myself agreeing with her high-level perspective on things (e.g. hiring is an opportunity not an obligation) and I love that.

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Key Takeaways

The 20% that gave me 80% of the value.

  • Management is the art of getting better outcomes from a group of people working together through influencing purpose, people, and process
  • Assess yourself based on both your team’s achievements now (your work) AND your teams’ ability to achieve outcomes in future
  • Management is a role. Leadership is the ability to guide and influence people - it’s a skill
  • People doing good work is a function of motivation and skill
  • Power dynamics mean the manager must take the lead on building trust - invest time into it.
Coaching Model: Identify, Understand, Support
Identify What Really Matters
  • What is top of mind for you right now?
  • What priorities are you thinking about this week?
  • What's the best use of our time today?
Understand by Getting to the Root of the Problem and What Can Be Done about It
  • What does your ideal outcome look like?
  • What’s hard for you in getting to that outcome?
  • What do you really care about?
  • What do you think is the best course of action?
  • What's the worst case scenario you're worried about?
Support by Identifying Things That You Can Do to Help
  • How can I help you?
  • What can I do to make you more successful?
  • What was the most useful part of our conversation today?
  • Great feedback inspires behaviour change → that results in their life getting better
  • Every major disappointment is a failure to set expectations. You shouldn’t hear bad news for the first time in a review.
  • Have a growth mindset. You can get better at anything. Feedback and making an effort to improve will accelerate your progress.
  • Give every meeting a purpose → think about what a great outcome looks like.
  • Diversity makes amazing teams, and diversity has many dimensions 💯 
  • Prioritise diversity by actively seeking candidates that offer something different 🔥💯 
  • Perfect execution is more powerful than perfect strategy
  • People centric skills become more important as a manager: Hiring leaders, building self-reliant teams, establishing a clear vision, communicating it well
  • Always walk the walk → if you’re not willing to change your behaviour for a stated value then don’t bring it up in the first place
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Deep Summary

Longer form notes, typically condensed, reworded and de-duplicated.

Management 101

  • Why have a team? — So you can achieve more than one person alone
  • Management is the art of getting better outcomes from a group of people working together through influencing purpose, people, and process
  • Assess yourself based on both your team’s achievements now (your work) AND your teams’ ability to achieve outcomes in future
  • Purpose, people and process are your levers - focus efforts there to have a multiplier effect.
    • People: the right people, skills, motivation, coaching, roles
    • Process: How you work together, principles for decision-making, who does what by when
    • Purpose: What you’re trying to do - the why. What success looks like. Getting buy-in.
  • Leaders don’t need to know the most and do the most
  • The best outcomes come from inspiring people to action, not telling them what to do
  • Management is a role. Leadership is the ability to guide and influence people - it’s a skill.
  • Great managers are made not born
  • Before taking on management: Know there’s unglamorous work, lots of listening, tricky conversations. No day is the same - adaptability is key. If you prefer making individual contributions vs enjoying the success of the team - then management might not be for you

Design critiques are great → Share work, invite feedback, accept challenges and explore ideas together in the spirit of doing better work

The Basics

  • People doing good work is a function of motivation and skill. Set clear expectations with your reports - define ‘great work’ together
  • Trust is key. You need to know how your reports feel, what challenges they’re facing and as a pair you need to be able to give and receive feedback safely. Power dynamics mean the manager must take the lead on building trust - invest time into it.
  • Be a human not a boss - care for report, do your best to help them be successful and fulfilled
  • Make your weekly one-to-ones useful for your report. Focus on making them more successful - not your needs. Calibrate priorities. Agree what great looks like. Share feedback. Reflect on how things are going.
Coaching Model: Identify, Understand, Support
Identify What Really Matters
  • What is top of mind for you right now?
  • What priorities are you thinking about this week?
  • What's the best use of our time today?
Understand by Getting to the Root of the Problem and What Can Be Done about It
  • What does your ideal outcome look like?
  • What’s hard for you in getting to that outcome?
  • What do you really care about?
  • What do you think is the best course of action?
  • What's the worst case scenario you're worried about?
Support by Identifying Things That You Can Do to Help
  • How can I help you?
  • What can I do to make you more successful?
  • What was the most useful part of our conversation today?
  • Be honest and transparent about their performance - Due to the imbalance of power you need to be honest and transparent about how you are evaluating performance - they should know how you feel about them
  • Discover and share your reports unique strengths → it can be their fuel
  • Teams are better off without the brilliant assholes - often theres somebody just as talented and humble that can take their place
  • Think of building at team like dating - sometimes they have good attributes but you don’t click
  • If it isn’t working with somebody, move them on quickly. 80% of turnaround efforts don’t work

Admit mistakes. Be honest when you don’t know. Share your growth areas.

The Art of Feedback

  • There’s a bunch of reasons why people struggle with feedback - they don’t have anything to say, don’t want the hard conversation, don’t want to hurt feelings
  • Great feedback inspires behaviour change → that results in their life getting better
  • How to inspire changes in behaviour…
    • Set clear expectations. What does great look like? How to start well, and avoid pitfalls.
    • Give task-specific feedback frequently. Make it habitual. Small does of coaching in everything you see them do.
    • Share behavioural feedback thoughtfully and regularly. Focus on longterm themes, reflect on unique strengths and habits - and how to leverage them. This provides a personalisation and depth that is missing from task-specific feedback.
    • Collect 360 feedback. Helps you see how others see them, because it’s a faff you can’t do it that regularly
  • Every major disappointment is a failure to set expectations. You shouldn’t hear bad news for the first time in a review. Avoid that by setting clear expectations, assessing performance and sharing feedback throughout the year. Align your promotion expectations early.
  • Great coaches improve people - feedback only counts if it helps people improve. They need to take action - so agree some specific next steps and expectations for improvement.
  • Give task-specific feedback at every opportunity. Balance it with feedback relating to their skills and career trajectory, think about their output and them as a person.
  • For your feedback to be heard - you need to make the listener feel safe. This is why trust is important and positive feedback is more powerful. Share critical feedback with a curiosity and ask for a response. State the point, then ask… does that resonate with you?
  • Sharing feedback from multiple sources is more powerful - ask others if they’re comfortable revealing their names
  • Align on next steps at the end of the feedback session.
Delivering critical feedback or bad news
  • It’s important, unavoidable and a big part of being a manager
  • It's OK to make a decision or give feedback that your report doesn’t agree with
Avoid
Do
Using charged language
Deliver it directly and dispassionately
Declarations that are personal or attack identity.
State the perceived issue, what made you feel that way - how you’d like to work together to resolve the concern
Putting them on the defensive, they’ll be less able to receive the feedback
When I (heard/observed/reflected) on your (action/behaviour/output), I felt concern because…. I’d like to understand your perspective and talk about how we can resolve this
Engaging when you’re angry or upset.
Lead with bad news. I’ve decided to go with somebody else to lead this initiative…
Don’t lose the plot, or frame as a question.
Don’t present your decision as a discussion. Don’t open up for debate - where there isn’t one

Feedback as a gift. It costs time and effort to share, but when we have it, we're better off.

Managing Yourself

  • Imposter syndrome hits hard as a manager as people look to you for answers and you’re doing things for the first time
  • Be honest with yourself. Learn your strengths and weaknesses, play to your strengths.
Identifying your strengths and weakness
Strengths
Weaknesses
What 3 words would your biggest supporter use to describe you?
What 3 words would your biggest critic use to describe you?
What are your three best qualities?
What 3 qualities do you wish you had?
What personal traits helped your successes?
What are three things that trigger me?
3 most common bits of positive feedback you get
3 most common bits of negative feedback you get
  • Calibrate your list with your manager → what opportunities to do better, things that are holding you back from having more impact. What skills would a perfect person have in my role? How would you rate me on each skill?
  • Get 360 feedback from 3-7 people. Include a disclaimer so people are more likely to be honest. Ask about how you make impact, and how you could have more impact.
  • Ask for task-specific feedback. Calibrate your strength on specific skils
  • Have a growth mindset. You can get better at anything. Feedback and making an effort to improve will accelerate your progress.
Identify when you’re at your best and worse → then use that to your advantage
  • When have you performed well? What gave you that energy?
  • What conditions made your recent highlights possible? Can you recreate them?
  • How did you last get into flow?
  • What annoyed you last? Who annoyed you last?
  • Who are you wary of? and why?

Now Hack your habits and your environment to spend more time at your best

  • Find confidence. Everyone struggles.
    • Stressed? Write down what’s stressing you out, then go after the root cause.
    • Worried? People aren’t out to get you. What are you missing? How can you get to the truth
    • Celebrate the little wins.
  • Practice self care by establishing healthy boundaries
  • Turn everyone that impresses you into a mentor

Habitually reflect on your progress. Weekly and quarterly.

Amazing Meetings

  • Meetings can be useful, engaging, welcoming and bring clarity
  • Give every meeting a purpose → think about what a great outcome looks like.
Reasons to have meetings + tips
Making a Decision
  • Need for people to have trust in the process. Therefore
    • Agree the decision maker
    • Frame the options and present context clearly
    • Involve the right people
    • Give equal airtime to dissenting opinions
  • Make a clear decision - communicate it well afterwards
  • Sometimes you’ll need people to disagree and commit
Sharing information
  • Keep the attention of the audience
  • Convey key messages clearly and memorably
  • People leave having learnt something valuable
  • Evokes your intended emotion - Think, Feel, Do Framework
Providing feedback
  • Agree what good looks like
  • Honestly represent state of current work
  • What’s the delta since the last check-in
  • What future are the future plans
  • Frame open questions / key decisions / known concerns / next steps
Generating ideas
  • Goal: maximise quantity of ideas. Withhold judgement of them.
  • Give people time alone to generate their own ideas (diverse and non-obvious)
  • Give everyone a chance to speak.
  • YES AND. Build on each others ideas
  • Look for great ideas - not ones that get consensus.
  • End with clear next steps, and how to turn into action
Strengthening Relationships
  • Create a trust between participants
  • Encourage people to be open and authentic
  • Make people feel cared for
  • Invite the right people. Include those you need to make it happen, and those affected
  • Let people come pre-pared. Send an agenda and a pre-read the day before.
  • Agree on next steps together
  • Communicate decisions clearly and widely
  • Make it safe to contribute - ask for hard questions
  • Select a format that encourages participation (popcorn agenda, silent post-its)
  • Ensure everyone has a chance to be heard (stop interruptions, ask for opinions)
  • Get feedback about your meeting.
  • Question if the meeting needs to exist (stop recurring ones)
  • Question if you need to be in the meeting (did you contribute, were you critical, did you learn something?)

Hiring well

  • A single great hire can make a big difference to outcomes
  • Don’t think of hiring as a problem - but an opportunity to build for the future
Design your team. Plan ahead. Think about your ambitions and diversity.
  • How many people will you add?
  • What level of experience?
  • Which skills or strengths do we need in our team?
  • Where are we currently strong? Can new hires be weaker in these areas?
  • What traits, past experiences or personalities would strengthen the diversity of our team?
  • Get involved with recruitment. Describe your ideal candidate. Co-create your sourcing strategy.
  • Deliver an amazing interview experience - attentive, fast and focused
  • If you offer → Check in with the candidate every other day until they accept or decline
  • Google found no relationship between interviews and performance on job. You can’t re-create the environment, you bring personal bias to interviewers and people are capable of change. Academic performance doesn’t predict on the job performance either.
  • Example past examples of their work
  • Seek out trusted references
  • Get multiple interviewers involved
  • When triangulating on feedback. A strong yes is a good signal. Be wary of a consensus of weak yeses.
  • Reject anyone who exhibits toxic Behaviour
Some all purpose interview questions
  • What challenges are interesting to you and why? Can you describe your favourite project?
  • What are your greatest strengths? What growth areas would your peers highlight?
  • In three years. What do you hope will be different about you?
  • What’s the hardest conflict you’ve had this year? How did it end, what did you learn?
  • What’s something that’s inspired you in your work recently?
  • Diversity makes amazing teams, and diversity has many dimensions 💯  → culture, gender, race, background, previous companies, previous sized companies, the way people think, work history, life experiences, industries
  • Prioritise diversity by actively seeking candidates that offer something different 🔥💯 
  • Hire people capable of more → empower them to the limits of their capabilities
  • Great outcomes hinge on consistently attracting great people.
  • Successful hiring is about diligent execution → a well oiled recruiting machine
  • Do a lot of research on senior hires → they have a disproportionate impact
  • You need to build relationships over time to recruit top talent and rising stars in your industry
  • Make sure your reports are setup to succeed without you, giving you freedom to focus on what’s next

Create a culture that prioritises hiring → coach your team to treat recruitment with care

Process · Making Things Happen

  • Start with a concrete vision. What you want to achieve? How will you add value?
  • Craft a plan, that targets a problem and leverages the unique ability of your team
  • Prioritisation is key - focus on doing a few things well. Complete the top of your list before moving down. Learn to say no.
  • Effort doesn’t count - results are what matters.
  • Make it clear who is responsible for what. Without ownership nothing gets done, either because it’s not clear, or people disagree about how to proceed.
  • Break big projects into small steps, work back from completion, create milestones, create small tasks and time-box activities .
  • Perfect execution is more powerful than perfect strategy
  • Executing well includes learning as you go and doubling down on what’s working.
Executing well tests
  • Tasks and Projects → are prioritised
  • Decision Making Process → understood and trusted
    • Make reversible decisions freely
    • Disagree and commit
  • New Information → quickly results in adjustment to the plan
  • Every task has a who and by when → Owners follow through
  • Failures make the team stronger. Learn from mistakes
  • Team have a learning attitude
  • Balance short-term needs with long-term thinking. Don’t always take a position at either extreme.
  • Work backwards from your vision - it’s the North Star that guides decision-making
  • Split the team across initiatives with different completion times (weeks, months, longer)
  • Relate everything back to the vision
  • Connect every task, decision, or goal with the higher-level purpose → repeat, repeat, repeat
  • Evolve and iterate your process over time. Run regular retro’s.

Set a vision → Hire leaders → Delegate responsibility

Leading a Growing Team

  • Things break as you scale - your structure and process need to change
  • You move from direct to indirect management → you have to trust in others
  • People treat you differently → you get challenged less, suggestions become orders, people start sugarcoating news
  • The team is big enough that there’s always some fire fighting to do
  • Time to prioritise your time and pick battles → you can’t do everything
People centric skills become more important.
  • Hiring leaders, building self-reliant teams, establishing a clear vision, communicating it well
  • Balance delegation. Doing nothing vs micro managing
  • Give people problems, believe in your reports → it shows trust → helps them learn
  • Don’t overestimate your ability and take on too much.
  • Provide support when you delegate something
  • Get close to your reports. Agree shared vision, priorities, people allocation etc
  • Are your reports performing? If you’d risk going to market, they’re not performing.
  • Aim to put yourself out of a job. Delegate regular responsibilities, spend time and energy on the intersection of what you’re best at and what the company needs

Nurturing Culture

Define the kind of team you want to be a part of
Current Status
Desired Status
3 Adjectives that describe the team
3 Adjectives you wish described the team
What moments make you proud?
What would ruthless adherence to those look like?
What do you do better than others?
What other teams do you admire and why?
Does your team culture differ from the company culture?
What things do you want to emulate from other teams?
What would stakeholders say isn’t working?
  • Understand the difference. How close are you to your aspirations? What are the biggest gaps? What do you plan to do about it over the next year? What are the biggest obstacles to closing the gaps?
  • Never stop talking about what is important → have the hard conversations with your team
  • Always walk the walk → if you’re not willing to change your behaviour for a stated value then don’t bring it up in the first place
  • Create the right incentives → create an environment that rewards behaviour inline with the team’s values and holds people accountable when they don’t

THE END