First-time managers are often unprepared for—even unaware of—the responsibilities and challenges of being a manager. This is particularly true at fledging startups that don’t have bonafide HR departments to guide their novice managers nor can afford management coaches. Besides, it takes a new boss a year or two to learn the basics and become comfortable in his/her new role.
When Facebook was small enough and “the entire company could fit into a backyard party,” 25-year old product designer Julie Zhuo was asked to become a manager. Zhuo had started at Facebook as its first intern and then gone full-time. Having no prior managerial experience, she acted how she thought managers were supposed to act and made many mistakes. In due course, she found joy in the role, expanded her skill set, and evolved to become Facebook’s VP of product design.
In The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You (2019,) Zhuo has chronicled her experiences from ramping-up into management and getting to know herself better. It’s the book she wishes had been there for the novice manager that she was.
Zhuo offers many hard-earned insights that only time in the trenches can reveal:
- Operate from first principles. “Your job, as a manager, is to get better outcomes from a group of people working together.”
- Not everyone is cut out for a managerial responsibility. “Being a manager is a highly personal journey, and if you don’t have a good handle on yourself, you won’t have a good handle on how to best support your team.”
- Let go of your old “individual contributor” role and make the shift to being the boss. Don’t spend time trying to do the work. Invest your time in coaching, supporting, and developing employees. Don’t run interference between them.
- Discover your decision-making proclivities. Map out your strengths and weaknesses. “Great management typically comes from playing to your strengths rather than from fixing your weaknesses.”
- Realize that the source of your power as a manager is everything but formal authority. Respect trumps popularity.
- Don’t manage everyone in the same way. Learn to appreciate how distinctive each individual is in what he/she wants from work and what animates him/her to work well.
- Trust is a critical ingredient in relationships. “Invest time and effort into creating and maintaining trusting relationships where people feel they can share their mistakes, challenges, and fears with you.”
Zhuo offers practical—if basic, but sufficient—advice for setting a vision, assessing the culture, delegating problems, giving feedback, aligning expectations, setting priorities, establishing a network of allies and confidants, hiring cleverly, and other responsibilities of leading a team. She delves into many difficult circumstances she’s encountered, e.g., handling previously-peers-now-employees whom she passed over for a promotion.
Recommendation: The Making of a Manager is an excellent primer for novice managers. It offers an insightful, practical, and relevant playbook for making the transition from being an outstanding individual contributor to becoming a good manager of others.
Complement with Andy Grove’s High Output Management (1983,) Loren Belker et al.’s The First-Time Manager (2012,) and Michael Watkins’s The First 90 Days (2013.)
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