📚️ Book Notes: The Making of a Manager
Your report should never be left wondering: What does my manager think of me? If you think she is the epitome of awesome, tell her. If you don’t think she is operating at the level you’d like to see, she should know that too, and precisely why you feel that way. This hit me hard because I felt restless wondering about the same question frequently a few years back. I'm now consciously bringing this up in my weekly 1:1s. Other learnings were around delegation and caring for your team. Your job as a manager isn’t to dole out advice or “save the day”—it’s to empower your report to find the answer herself.
Here are my notes from The Making of a Manager:
1. This is the crux of management: It is the belief that a team of people can achieve more than a single person going it alone. It is the realization that you don’t have to do everything yourself, be the best at everything yourself, or even know how to do everything yourself.
Your job, as a manager, is to get better outcomes from a group of people working together.
It’s from this simple definition that everything else flows.
2. Andy Grove, founder and CEO of Intel and a legendary manager of his time, wrote that when it comes to evaluations, one should look at “the output of the work unit and not simply the activity involved. Obviously, you measure a salesman by the orders he gets (output), not by the calls he makes (activity).”
You can be the smartest, most well-liked, most hardworking manager in the world, but if your team has a long-standing reputation for mediocre outcomes, then unfortunately you can’t objectively be considered a “great” manager.
That said, at any given point in time, it can be hard to accurately judge. A great manager might be asked to lead a new team, and because it takes her time to ramp up, her results might be unimpressive at the beginning. On the flip side, a bad manager might achieve a few quarters of amazing results because she inherited a talented team or set high-pressure ultimatums that had people burning the midnight oil.
Time, however, always reveals the truth. The best employees don’t tend to stick around for years and years under a boss who treats them poorly or whom they don’t respect. And talented managers can typically turn around poor-performing teams if they are empowered to make changes.
Six years ago, I switched my reporting to a different manager, Chris Cox, Facebook’s chief product officer. One of the earliest conversations I remember us having is when I asked him how he evaluates the job of a manager. He smiled and said, “My framework is quite simple.” Half of what he looked at was my team’s results—did we achieve our aspirations in creating valuable, easy-to-use, and well-crafted design work? The other half was based on the strength and satisfaction of my team—did I do a good job hiring and developing individuals, and was my team happy and working well together?
The first criterion looks at our team’s present outcomes; the second criterion asks whether we’re set up for great outcomes in the future.
I’ve gone on to adopt this framework for assessing managers on my own team. Being awesome at the job means playing the long game and building a reputation for excellence. Through thick or thin, in spite of the hundreds of things calling for your attention every day, never forget what you’re ultimately here to do: help your team achieve great outcomes.
3. I’ve come to think of the multitude of tasks that fill up a manager’s day as sorting neatly into three buckets: purpose, people, and process.
The purpose is the outcome your team is trying to accomplish, otherwise known as the why. Why do you wake up and choose to do this thing instead of the thousands of other things you could be doing? Why pour your time and energy into this particular goal with this particular group of people? What would be different about the world if your team were wildly successful? Everyone on the team should have a similar picture of why does our work matter? If this purpose is missing or unclear, then you may experience conflicts or mismatched expectations.
For example, let’s say your vision is to get a lemonade stand on every block, starting first in your city and then expanding throughout the country. However, your employee Henry is under the impression that your stand ought to be a popular hangout spot for the neighbors. He’ll start doing things that you think are unimportant or wasteful, like buying a bunch of lawn chairs or trying to serve pizza along with lemonade. To prevent these misalignments, you’ll need to get him and the other members of your team on board with what you truly care about.
At the same time, you can’t simply demand that everyone believe in your vision. If Henry thinks your grand plan of “a lemonade stand on every block” is stupid, he won’t be motivated to help you see it through. He might decide instead to join a venture he cares more about, like that pizza-and-pool parlor down the street.
The first big part of your job as a manager is to ensure that your team knows what success looks like and cares about achieving it. Getting everyone to understand and believe in your team’s purpose, whether it’s as specific as “make every customer who calls feel cared for” or as broad as “bring the world closer together,” requires understanding and believing in it yourself, and then sharing it at every opportunity—from writing emails to setting goals, from checking in with a single report to hosting large-scale meetings.
The next important bucket that managers think about is people, otherwise known as 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?
If you don’t have the right people for the job, or you don’t have an environment where they can thrive, then you’re going to have problems. For example, say Eliza doesn’t precisely measure the right amount of lemon juice, sugar, and water for your secret formula, or Henry can’t be bothered to greet customers politely, or you’re terrible at planning. Your lemonade stand will suffer. To manage people well, you must develop trusting relationships with them, understand their strengths and weaknesses (as well as your own), make good decisions about who should do what (including hiring and firing when necessary), and coach individuals to do their best.
Finally, the last bucket is process, which describes how your team works together. You might have a superbly talented team with a very clear understanding of what the end goal is, but if it’s not apparent how everyone’s supposed to work together or what the team’s values are, then even simple tasks can get enormously complicated. Who should do what by when? What principles should govern decision-making?
For example, say it’s Henry’s job to pick up lemonade ingredients from the store and it’s Eliza’s job to make the lemonade. How will Henry know when he needs to make a run? How will Eliza find the supplies? What should happen if lemons run out on a particularly hot day? If there isn’t a predictable plan, Henry and Eliza will waste time coordinating handoffs and dealing with the inevitable mistakes that arise.
Often, people have an allergic reaction to the word process. For me, it used to conjure up the feeling of glacial progress. I imagined myself flailing around in huge stacks of paperwork, my calendar filled with tedious meetings. In a processless world, I imagined myself free to do whatever was needed to make things happen quickly, with no red tape, no barriers, no overhead.
There’s some truth to this. We’ve already established that when you are working by yourself, you get to make all the decisions. You are limited only by how fast you can think and act.
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. As talented as we are, mind reading is not a core human competency. We need to establish common values within our team for how we make decisions and respond to problems. For managers, important processes to master include running effective meetings, future proofing against past mistakes, planning for tomorrow, and nurturing a healthy culture.
Purpose, people, process. The why, the who, and the how. A great manager constantly asks herself how she can influence these levers to improve her team’s outcomes. As the team grows in size, it matters less and less how good she is personally at doing the work herself. What matters more is how much of a multiplier effect she has on her team. So how does this work in practice?
Suppose I can personally sell twenty cups of lemonade per hour.
Suppose Henry and Eliza can each sell fifteen cups of lemonade per hour.
Suppose we all worked four hours a day. Because I’m the best among us at selling lemonade, it might seem like a good use of my time to man the stand. I’d sell eighty cups a day, and Henry and Eliza would each sell sixty cups. My contribution would be 40 percent of our total sales!
But what could I do instead with my time? Suppose I spent it teaching Henry and Eliza how to become better lemonade salespeople. (Tell lemon jokes! Portion out the ingredients ahead of time! Pour cups in bulk!) If all this training took me thirty hours, that’s the equivalent of six hundred cups of lemonade that I could have sold instead; that’s a lot to give up.
And yet, if that training helps Henry and Eliza sell sixteen cups per hour instead of fifteen, it would mean an extra eight cups a day sold between the two of them. It’s a small improvement, but in less than three months, they’ll have made up those six hundred cups I didn’t sell. If they end up working at the stand for a whole year, my thirty hours spent on training instead of personally selling lemonade will mean over two thousand extra cups sold!
Training isn’t the only thing I can do. What if I used those thirty hours to recruit my neighbor Toby? He’s so persuasive he could convince a leopard to buy spots. Suppose my “lemonade stand on every block” vision inspires him to join the team. He ends up selling thirty cups of lemonade an hour, putting all our skills to shame. In a year, that means our stand will see an additional 21,000-plus cups sold!
If I spend all my time personally selling lemonade, then I’m contributing an additive amount to my business, not a multiplicative one. My performance as a manager would be considered poor because I’m actually operating as an individual contributor.
When I decided to train Henry and Eliza, my efforts resulted in slightly more lemonade output, so I had a small multiplier effect. I’m on the right track, but it’s nothing to write home about. When I hired Toby, it resulted in a much bigger multiplier effect.
Of course, the example above is very simple. In real life, it’s not so easy to quantify what you might get out of doing one thing versus another, and we’ll talk more about best practices for prioritizing your time in later chapters. But no matter what you choose, the principles of success remain the same.
Your role as a manager is not to do the work yourself, even if you are the best at it, because that will only take you so far. Your role is to improve the purpose, people, and process of your team to get as high a multiplier effect on your collective outcome as you can.
4. As an apprentice, you rarely start out with a big team. It’s more likely that you begin with a handful of reports and welcome more people in over time. This means that, in the early days, most new apprentice managers are also handling individual contributor responsibilities. In addition to supporting others, you’re also still selling lemonade.
I thought this was a fine arrangement. I was afraid that if I stopped doing design work myself, I’d slowly lose my skills, which would make it harder for me to be an effective leader. Unfortunately, the mistake that I made—and that I see virtually every apprentice manager make—is continuing to do individual contributor work past the point at which it is sustainable.
When my team became six or so, I was still the lead designer for a complex project that demanded many hours of the week. Because my management responsibilities were also growing, every time something out of the ordinary happened—a report needed extra one-on-one attention or our team had multiple reviews to prepare for that week—I wouldn’t have enough time to devote to my own project. The quality of my work suffered, my peers got frustrated, and the balls I was desperately trying to juggle plopped to the ground.
I finally realized that I had to give up wanting to be both a design manager and a designer, because in attempting to do both, I was doing neither well. Don’t learn this the hard way—at the point in which your team becomes four or five people, you should have a plan for how to scale back your individual contributor responsibilities so that you can be the best manager for your people.
5. A few years ago, I attended a management workshop led by a senior executive who had an amazing track record as a manager: In his long tenure, nobody reporting to him had ever quit to take a competing offer. What was his secret? “If you take nothing else away from today,” he told us, “remember this: managing is caring.”
If you don’t truly respect or care about your report, there is no faking it. Trust me, they know. None of us are such brilliant actors that we can control the thousands of tiny signals we are subconsciously sending through our body language. If you don’t believe in your heart of hearts that someone can succeed, it will be impossible for you to convey your strong belief in them.
What caring means is doing your best to help your report be successful and fulfilled in her work. It means taking the time to learn what she cares about. It means understanding that we are not separate people at work and at home—sometimes the personal blends into the professional, and that’s okay.
Another nuance of respect is that it must be unconditional because it’s about the person as a whole rather than what she does for you. I’ve never encountered a manager who wasn’t a bastion of support for individuals they considered top performers. It’s easy to like and have a great relationship with someone who is kicking ass. The harder test is, what happens when she struggles?
If your report feels that your support and respect are based on her performance, then it will be hard for her to be honest with you when things are rocky. If, on the other hand, she feels that you care about her no matter what, and nothing can change that—not even failure—then you will get honesty in return.
I know people who have been let go by their managers and still make time to see them for lunch and catch up on life. We are more than the output of our work on a particular team at a particular moment in time, and true respect reflects that.
6. Your job as a manager isn’t to dole out advice or “save the day”—it’s to empower your report to find the answer herself. She has more context than you on the problems she’s dealing with, so she’s in the best position to uncover the solution. Let her lead the 1:1 while you listen and probe.
7. As a manager, your perspective on how your report is doing carries far more weight than his perspective on how you are doing. After all, you’re the one who determines what he works on and whether he should get a promotion or be fired.
This power imbalance means that the responsibility falls to you to be honest and transparent when it comes to how you are evaluating performance.
Your report should have a clear sense at all times of what your expectations are and where he stands. If he is often wondering, What does my manager think of me? then you need to dial up your level of feedback. Don’t assume he can read between the lines or that no news is good news. If you think he is the epitome of awesome, tell him. If you don’t think he is operating at the level you’d like to see, he should know that, too, and precisely why you feel that way.
8. What I think is brutal and ‘false kindness’ is keeping people around who aren’t going to grow and prosper. There’s no cruelty like waiting and telling people late in their careers that they don’t belong.
9. Just because your report didn’t work out on your team doesn’t mean it’s on him—in fact, I’m often reminded of the wise words of my friend Robyn Morris: “Perhaps it’s you who shouldn’t be his manager, not the other way around.” Perhaps you made the call to hire him when his skills weren’t what the team needed. Or perhaps you put him on projects that weren’t a good match. Caring about people means owning that your relationship is a two-way street.
10. EVERY MAJOR DISAPPOINTMENT IS A FAILURE TO SET EXPECTATIONS
11. If you are delivering bad news about a decision—you decided to pick someone else for a coveted position, you’re pulling your report off the project, you no longer have a role for this person on your team, etc.—the decision should be the first thing out of your mouth when you both sit down.
I’ve decided to go with somebody else to lead this initiative . . .
Own the decision. Be firm, and don’t open it up for discussion. I failed at this many times in the past because I hated being the bearer of bad news. So I’d try to position the decision as something we were making together. “I want to discuss the leadership role on Project Z,” I’d say. “I’m concerned that you won’t have the time for it. You’re already doing so much on X and Y. So I think it’d be good for somebody else to lead Z. What do you think?”
The problem was, if nothing my report said could convince me to change my mind, it’s insincere to act as if she had had a say. What if she responds, “Actually, I do have the time for it”? Or if she brings up a slew of other reasons why she’s the best candidate? I’d only be scrambling to give her another excuse, which would make her feel unheard.
When you give feedback or make a decision, your report may not agree with it. That’s okay. Keep in mind that some decisions are yours to make. You are the person ultimately held accountable for the output of your team, and you may have more information or a different perspective on the right path forward.
Ultimately, what I’ve learned about giving feedback—even the most difficult feedback—is that people are not fragile flowers. No report has ever said to me, “Please treat me with kid gloves.” Instead, they say: “I want your feedback to help me improve.” They tell me, “I’d like you to be honest and direct with me.” How many of us don’t want the same? Telling it straight is a sign of respect.
“It’s brutally hard to tell people when they are screwing up,” writes Kim Scott, a former Google manager and the author of Radical Candor. “You don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings; that’s because you’re not a sadist. You don’t want that person or the rest of the team to think you’re a jerk. Plus, you’ve been told since you learned to talk, ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.’ Now all of a sudden it’s your job to say it. You’ve got to undo a lifetime of training.”
12. Admitting your struggles and asking for help is the opposite of weakness—in fact, it shows courage and self-awareness. You are saying that you care more about getting yourself to a good place than you do about your ego.
13. As a manager, your time is precious and finite, so guard it like a dragon guards its treasure stash. If you trust that the right outcomes will happen without you, then you don’t need to be there.
14. As a manager, one of the smartest ways to multiply your team’s impact is to hire the best people and empower them to do more and more until you stretch the limits of their capabilities.
15. What I learned is that hiring is not dissimilar to tackling a design problem. When you start, you don’t know what the answer is or how long it will take. But you trust in the process. If you put in the time and energy—if you come up with ten different design options, say, or if you talk to ten candidates—eventually you will find the best solution. You always do.
16. Recruiting top talent is all about the relationships you build. Good, seasoned leaders aren’t short of options, because everybody wants to hire them. When they’re looking for their next role, they tend to choose opportunities that they already know to be great. Maybe a good friend works at and loves Company Y. Or maybe they’ve met some of the leaders of Company X before. If you could get a job anywhere, why would you join a team where you don’t know a soul?
That’s why attracting the best people is a long-term investment. Pay attention to the rising stars of your field and get to know them through conferences, mixers, and other events. Continuously build your network. And develop your team’s reputation as well, whether through participating in the community, contributing new learnings to your field, telling your story in the press, or simply through being known as a class act.
Even with the many, many declined offers I’ve gotten over the years, I’ve come to realize that they weren’t for nothing. Many of the leaders on my team today only joined after saying no once or twice before. Nowadays, I tell people who turn us down that I hope our paths cross again. Jobs may be short, but careers are long. Perhaps we didn’t have the right opportunity at the right moment or they weren’t ready to do something new yet. One day that could change, and when it does, I want them to think of us.
17. An inspiring vision is bold. It doesn’t hedge. You know instantly whether you’ve hit it or not because it’s measurable. And it’s easily repeated, from one person to the next to the next. It doesn’t describe the how—your team will figure that out—it simply describes what the outcome will be. I tell my team that I’ll know they did a good job describing their vision if I randomly ask five people who’ve heard it to repeat it to me and they all say the exact same thing.
18. The most brilliant plans in the world won’t help you succeed if you can’t bring them to life. Executing well means that you pick a reasonable direction, move quickly to learn what works and what doesn’t, and make adjustments to get to your desired outcome. Speed matters—a fast runner can take a few wrong turns and still beat a slow runner who knows the shortest path.
19. When I first started managing, I considered it bad form to repeat myself. I figured that my team would find it annoying, and perhaps even condescending, if I said the same thing over and over again.
Sheryl Sandberg was the one who taught me otherwise. Some years ago, Sheryl started talking to the company about the importance of hard conversations. Whenever we’re feeling tension with our coworkers—they have a habit that irritates us, we disagree about an important decision, or they do something that seems thoughtless—she encouraged us to sit down with the other person and discuss that tension openly. Because if you don’t, nothing will get better, and resentment will only grow.
I can’t recall exactly when Sheryl started talking about hard conversations, and that’s precisely the point. It could have been during one of our company-wide meetings, or during a Q&A, or during a dinner hosted at her house. She would ask people to raise their hands if they’d had a hard conversation in the past month. She’d then tell us a story about one of her recent hard conversations.
“Hard conversations” became part of the vernacular at Facebook because Sheryl believed so strongly that it was critical for a healthy company culture. To this day, whenever I feel tension knotting in my stomach—a misunderstanding that’s gone on for too long, a concern about a strategy, a sense that a coworker is upset with me—I think of Sheryl. Then I square my shoulders and invite that person for a heart-to-heart chat.
When you value something deeply, don’t shy away from talking about it. Instead, embrace telling people why it’s important to you. Assume that for the message to stick, it should be heard ten different times and said in ten different ways. The more you can enlist others to help spread your message, the more likely it is to have an impact.
If you liked the above content, I'd definitely recommend reading the whole book. 💯
Until We Meet Again...