The Making of a Manager – Congratulations, you’re a manager! After you pop the champagne, accept the shiny new title, and step into this thrilling next chapter of your career, the truth descends like a fog: you don’t really know what you’re doing.
That’s exactly how Julie Zhuo felt when she became a rookie manager at the age of 25. She stared at a long list of logistics–from hiring to firing, from meeting to messaging, from planning to pitching–and faced a thousand questions and uncertainties. How was she supposed to spin teamwork into value? How could she be a good steward of her reports’ careers? What was the secret to leading with confidence in new and unexpected situations?
Now, having managed dozens of teams spanning tens to hundreds of people, Julie knows the most important lesson of all: great managers are made, not born. If you care enough to be reading this, then you care enough to be a great manager.
The Making of a Manager is a modern field guide packed everyday examples and transformative insights, including:
* How to tell a great manager from an average manager (illustrations included)
* When you should look past an awkward interview and hire someone anyway
* How to build trust with your reports through not being a boss
* Where to look when you lose faith and lack the answers
Whether you’re new to the job, a veteran leader, or looking to be promoted, this is the handbook you need to be the kind of manager you wish you had.
Book Review by Wayne – The Making of a Manager
This is hands-down the book I wished I’d had when I began managing 8 years ago. It definitely would have saved me from making countless & costly mistakes during my first few years of management, and I will benefit from it greatly as a manager even now!
What sets this book apart from other books about management is unlike other management books written by folks at the end of their careers, Julie still remembers her own ramp-up into management (due to her meteoric rise from intern to VP at Facebook in less than a decade). Julie’s complete honesty about all her fears, insecurities, and mistakes at the time (and how she continued to experience them throughout her career) makes her the reader’s relatable management confidant and her lessons far more potent.
Julie is a masterful storyteller and effective teacher, seamlessly weaving together her own management war stories to illustrate core principles, combined with practical & easy-to-remember frameworks for managers to use. Each chapter opens with an illustration cementing a key idea from the management topic to be discussed. While most of the book focuses on topics that will help first-time managers, later chapters touch upon topics that will help even seasoned managers, such as hiring and managing managers yourself and setting the culture of your organization.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is thinking about making the plunge into management, in their first few years of management, or even to experienced managers looking for a refreshing take on management. The Making of a Manager is the new gold standard for books on management.
Editorial Reviews – The Making of a Manager
Rated Amazon’s #1 Best Business Book of the Year So Far!
“I’ve seen so many people thrust into management in high-growth companies with so little guidance. From now on, I will hand them this book. Its practical wisdom is immediately useful for the newly minted manager—and us old ones.”
—Ev Williams, CEO of Medium and co-founder of Twitter
“Julie Zhuo had to learn to be a manager fast, as her role kept expanding in the hyper-growth environment of a successful Silicon Valley start-up. In The Making of a Manager, she shares what she learned—often, the hard way. She combines cutting-edge analysis of how organizations work with engaging and accessible examples of how theory plays out in real life, with stories of what she did right and wrong.”—Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project
“I wish I’d had this book when I started managing a team at Instagram. Julie covers the full range of becoming a manager, from your first meetings with your team to accomplishing huge goals together.”—Mike Krieger, co-founder of Instagram
“Every business book I read as a consultant and later a CEO was written by a man. Julie brings an entirely fresh perspective on leadership as a brilliant hacker, first-generation American, and young mother. This book is everything Silicon Valley appreciates in Julie: humble, inspiring, and whip-smart.”
—Leila Janah, CEO and founder of Samasource and LXMI and author of Give Work
“At startups, individuals asked to manage are rarely set-up for success. Julie Zhuo gives new managers the tools they need to help their people and company win.”
—Sam Altman, president of Y Combinator and co-chairman of OpenAI
“Are you a new manager? Are you a little scared? Fear not. Julie Zhuo is here to help. She took on a manager position at one of the biggest start-ups of our generation before she felt quite ready, but she grew into the job. And now she’s here to guide you as you grow into the job. This book will get you on the right track and keep you there.”
—Daniel H. Pink, author of When and Drive
“As an entrepreneur and CEO, I’ve read all of the business books, but this is one I’ll be turning to again and again as a reference for how to help my team thrive. It’s a leadership manifesto for a startup, global mega-company, or anything in between.”
—Brit Morin, founder and CEO of Brit + Co
“Julie is like that friend giving you some much-needed tips over coffee—her style cuts through industry jargon and gets at the heart of how to lead with confidence and help your team do their best work.”
—Nir Eyal, author of Hooked
“The Making of a Manager is an excellent, approachable and comprehensive guide for those making the transition into management. This is something we’d give out to new managers at Slack and it could very well set a new standard for new managers.”
—Stewart Butterfield, CEO and co-founder of Slack
“Julie does an incredible job simplifying the role of a manager. She pulls you in with all the awkward, funny and tough moments of being a first time manager, and then takes you on an engaging journey. She sets forth a crystal clear playbook of how to drive impact and get the most out of your teams. If you’re a first time manager, you’ll learn how to hit the ground running, and experienced managers will level-up their game!”
—Logan Green, CEO and co-founder of Lyft
Introduction – The Making of a Manager
Great Managers Are Made, Not Born
I remember the meeting when my manager asked me to become a manager.
It was unexpected, like going for your daily run and tripping over a pirate chest. Oh, I thought, how intriguing.
We were sitting in a ten-person conference room, kitty-corner from each other. “Our team is growing,” my manager explained. “We need another manager, and you get along with everyone. What do you think?”
I was twenty-five, working at a start-up. All that I knew of management could be neatly summarized into two words, meetings and PROMOTION. I mean, this was a promotion, wasn’t it? Everyone knows this conversation was the equivalent of Harry Potter getting a visit from Hagrid on a dark and stormy night, the first step in an adventurous and fulfilling career. I wasn’t about to turn down that kind of invitation. The Making of a Manager
So I said yes.
It was only later, walking out of the room, that I thought about the details of what she had said. I got along with everyone. Surely there was more to management than that. How much more? I was about to find out.
I remember my first meeting with a direct report.
I arrived five minutes past our scheduled time, in a rush and flustered by my lateness. This is a terrible start, I thought to myself. I could see him through the windowed door of the conference room—the same one I had met my manager in previously—eyes glued to his phone. Just a day earlier, we had both been designers on the same team, sitting in our adjacent pods, working on our respective projects while lobbing rapid-fire design feedback across the aisle. Then the announcement was made, and now I was his manager.
I’m not nervous, I told myself. We’re going to have a great conversation. About what, I wasn’t entirely sure. I just wanted this meeting to feel normal, like it had yesterday and the day before that. If he didn’t love the fact that I was his manager, then at the very least I wanted him to be cool with it.
I’m not nervous. – The Making of a Manager
I walked in. He glanced up from his phone, and I’ll never forget the expression on his face. It had all the surliness of a teenager forced to attend his ten-year-old cousin’s Pokémon-themed birthday party.
“Hi,” I said, trying to keep my voice level. “So, uh, what are you working on right now?”
His scowl only deepened, settling in like a bear for the winter. I could feel the sweat starting to form on my face, the hot rush of blood pounding in my ears.
I wasn’t a better designer than this guy. I wasn’t smarter or more experienced. The look on his face alone was enough to dispel me of any notion that he’d “be cool” with the fact that I was his manager. The message was as clear as if it had been written in giant black Sharpie:
You have no idea what you’re doing.
At that moment, I felt he was absolutely right.
Three years later, after that fateful conversation with my manager, my role shifted again. Our design team had almost doubled in size since I started. Having made it through my first few years at a hyper-growth start-up, I thought I was used to change. I was no stranger to dealing with the firsts or rolling with the punches. The Making of a Manager
Still, I was unprepared for just how much the new manager role would stretch me. For one thing, I was managing product designers, a discipline I didn’t even know existed before I arrived at the company. For another, the responsibilities of managing people and the way they worked together felt like an enormous leap from creating user interfaces or writing code. In those early months and years, everything felt new and uncomfortable.
I remember my first time interviewing someone for my team. Even though I was clearly the one with the upper hand—I asked the questions, I decided how the conversation should flow, I selected hire or no hire at the end of the day—my hands were shaking for the entire forty-five minutes. What if the candidate thought my questions were stupid? What if she saw me for the fraud I felt like? What if I accidentally made our team seem like a clown show?
I remember my first time delivering bad news. We were kicking off an exciting new project that had everyone passionately discussing the possibilities. Two of my reports asked me if they could be the lead. I had to say no to someone. I practiced the conversation in front of my bathroom mirror at home, imagining every terrible scenario—was this even the right decision? Was I a dream crusher? Would somebody quit on me right on the spot? The Making of a Manager
I remember my first time presenting in front of a large audience. I was showcasing design work at Facebook’s F8 conference amid a sea of fuzzy cushions and neon lights. We’d never done a public event at that scale before, so it was a big deal. In the weeks leading up to the event, I couldn’t stop fiddling with every detail of my presentation. I desperately wanted it to go well, but public speaking terrified me. Even practicing my talk in front of helpful colleagues felt like a nerve-racking ordeal.
I remember my three primary emotions navigating the choppy waters of my new role: fear, doubt, and am I crazy for feeling this way? Everyone else around me seemed to be doing just fine. Everyone else made it look easy.
I never thought managing was easy. I still don’t.
Today, nearly ten years after I started on that path, my team has grown by a few orders of magnitude. We design the experience that more than two billion people see when they tap the blue f icon on their phones. We think through the details of how people share what’s on their minds, keep up with their friends, interact through conversations and thumbs-ups, and create communities together. If we do our jobs well, then people all over the world—from Belgium to Kenya, from India to Argentina—will feel closer to one another. The Making of a Manager
Good design at its core is about understanding people and their needs in order to create the best possible tools for them. I’m drawn to design for a lot of the same reasons that I’m drawn to management—it feels like a deeply human endeavor to empower others.
I’m by no means a management expert. I’ve learned largely by doing, and despite my best intentions, I’ve made countless mistakes. But this is how anything in life goes: You try something. You figure out what worked and what didn’t. You file away lessons for the future. And then you get better. Rinse, repeat.
I’ve had plenty of help, too, in the form of some amazing leadership training courses (Crucial Conversations is my favorite), articles and books that I turn to again and again (like High Output Management and How to Win Friends and Influence People), and, most important of all, my colleagues. They have generously shared their wisdom with me and inspired me to strive for better. I feel lucky to have worked with Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, and a host of others past and present who have taught me so much. The Making of a Manager
Another tactic in my self-education started about four years ago, when I decided to write a blog. I thought that the act of sitting down every week and sorting through the jumble of thoughts ping-ponging around my head would help me make sense of them.
I called my blog The Year of the Looking Glass because, like Alice, “I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.” One day, far in the future, I imagined looking back on my collection of posts and recalling my journey. Here were all the things I struggled with. Here are all the ways I have learned.
Other people began to read my articles. They sent them to their friends and colleagues. Strangers started approaching me at events and conferences to discuss the things I had written. They told me how much they appreciated the way I had broken down the struggle. Many were new managers. Some were experienced but dealing with similar challenges of growth and scale. And others weren’t currently managers but wondered if it was something they wanted to do down the road.
“You should write a book,” some folks suggested. I’d laugh it off. They couldn’t be serious! I had so much left to learn. Maybe someday, in the twilight of my career, after I had discovered the true secret to great management, I could cozy up in a plaid armchair next to a roaring fire and jot down all the heaps of wisdom I had accumulated. The Making of a Manager
I told my friend this, and he rolled his eyes. “Yeah, but at that point, you won’t remember what it’s like at the beginning, when everything feels new and hard and crazy. You’ll be so far removed.” He had a point. There are plenty of management books out there written by top CEOs and leadership experts. Countless resources exist for executives who want to become even more effective through learning about the latest organizational research or business trends.
But most managers are not CEOs or senior executives. Most lead smaller teams, and sometimes not even directly. Most are not featured in the pages of Forbes or Fortune. But they are managers all the same, and they share a common purpose: helping a group of people achieve a common goal. These managers may be teachers or principals, captains or coaches, administrators or planners.
When I considered this, I thought, Maybe I can write this book, because it’s more relevant for a certain group of people now: new managers thrown into the deep end, overwhelmed managers wondering how to best help their reports, managers dealing with fast-growing teams, or those simply curious about management. I was one of them not so long ago.
Running a team is hard because it ultimately boils down to people, and all of us are multifaceted and complex beings. Just like how there is no one way to go about being a person, there is no one way to go about managing a group of people. The Making of a Manager
And yet, working together in teams is how the world moves forward. We can create things far grander and more ambitious than anything we could have done alone. This is how battles are won, how innovation moves forward, how organizations succeed. This is how any remarkable achievement happens.
I believe this as deeply as I believe anything: Great managers are made, not born. It doesn’t matter who you are. If you care enough to be reading this, then you care enough to be a great manager. Dear reader, I hope that this book gives you useful tips for your day-to-day. But more importantly, I hope this book helps you understand the whys of management, because only when you’ve bought into the whys can you truly be effective in the hows. Why do managers even exist? Why should you have one-on-one meetings with your reports? Why should you hire Candidate A over Candidate B? Why do so many managers make the same mistakes?
Some of the stories and perspectives I describe may be unique to the environment I work in, which is a tech start-up that became a Fortune 500 company. Maybe you will only need to hire someone new once in a blue moon. Maybe meetings won’t be a big part of your day. Still, much of the daily work of managers—giving feedback, creating a healthy culture, planning for the future—is universal. The Making of a Manager
Finally, I hope that this book can be a resource on your shelf, the kind of thing you can read in any order, flip back to at any time, and reread when you suddenly see a part of your role in a new light.
Though I’m a designer, this is not a book about how to build products. You won’t find deep reflections on what makes for great design or what I think of social media. I won’t sit here and tell you the story of Facebook.
This is a book about how someone with no formal training learned to become a confident manager. This is the book I wish I had in my first few years, with all my fears and doubts and am-I-crazies.
This is the book that’s here to tell you that your fears and doubts are normal, and, like me, you’re going to figure it out.
Ready? Let’s get started.
Excerpted from The Making of a Manager by Julie Zhuo. Copyright © 2019 by Julie Zhuo. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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About the Author – The Making of a Manager
Julie Zhuo is one of Silicon Valley’s top product design executives. She leads the teams behind some of the world’s most popular mobile and web services used by billions of people every day. She writes about technology, design, and leadership on her popular blog The Year of the Looking Glass and in publications like the New York Times and Fast Company. She graduated with a computer science degree from Stanford University and lives with her husband and two children in California.
Originally published: 2019