Once in a blue moon, you might be lucky enough to come across a book that is not only well-written about a particular topic, but also delivers a handful of helpful anecdotes.
Even less frequently do you stumble upon a book that reads almost as if the author had painstakingly interviewed you for hours on end, inquiring about every last nuance that you might want to know about a specific subject. Taking as much time as necessary to ensure that the final product is authoritative, yet light and easy to read, it strikes the perfect balance between being comprehensive and approachable.
I’m pleased to report that “The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You“, by Julie Zhuo (VP of Product at Facebook), is one of these books.
So, you’re new to the wild and whacky world of management, huh?
As a matter of fact, I was. In March of 2018, I was incredibly fortunate to be hired on at The Home Depot as Manager, Digital Channels & Communications Technology. In this role, I became responsible for not only managing a corporate intranet used by the entire company’s nearly half-million employees, but I also became a people manager for the first time in my career, with four direct reports. Whoa.
Needless to say, while I was incredibly excited to get started in my new role, I was a bit apprehensive about taking on a team – especially one that was already established and working like a well-oiled machine. What would they think of me? How would they respond to my management style? What was my management style? Luckily, Zhuo provides plenty of practical advice and pitfalls to be aware of to those of us who find ourselves in these shoes. Her honest insights and empathetic tone instantly made me feel slightly more at ease and hopeful that I had a chance at figuring this whole “becoming a manager” thing out.
“A manager’s job is to get better outcomes from a group of people working together through influencing purpose, people, and process.”
After the first couple introductory chapters of defining what management actually entails and how you might want to think about transitioning into your new role during your first three months, Zhuo expounds on the following subjects:
- Leading a Small Team
- The Art of Feedback
- Managing Yourself
- Amazing Meetings
- Hiring Well
- Making Things Happen
- Leading a Growing Team
- Nurturing Culture
Through each of these chapters, Zhuo masterfully weaves in interesting anecdotes about situations that she’s been privy to during her carer at Facebook. From interns thoughtlessly overstepping their roles to how successful executives have shaped their careers, Zhuo shares plenty of personal stories to illustrate her points. For me, this brings a certain level of humanity to the inner workings of large tech companies like Facebook and instills confidence knowing that even VPs at $55B companies deal with many of the same issues and situations that I do.
If spending ten hours being trained helps you be even 1 percent more efficient at your job, then it’s a good return on investment (1 percent of time saved per year is about twenty hours).
While you may be quick to dismiss chapters such as “The Art of Feedback” and “Amazing Meetings”, I’d implore you to invest at least a few minutes in each, especially if you can’t easily articulate proven methods to inspire change among your employees or if you spend more than 25% of your time in meetings (what manager doesn’t)? Zhuo does a wonderful job clearly explaining how she’s been successful in bringing about positive change within her organization (without imparting any hard feelings) and how she’s taken back the reins in terms of her daily schedule. Her frequent mentioning of the need for self-reflection and her willingness to protect and block her calendar accordingly resonated with me strongly.
If there’s one standout chapter in this book, it’s chapter 8 – Making Things Happen. It’s this chapter that’s easily worth the price of the book alone, because it focuses on the two cornerstones of effective management that can easily strike fear into the hearts of those who might be new to managerial roles: vision and strategy. Zhuo clearly explains what it takes to develop a compelling vision and then how to best collaborate with your team and utilize their strengths to craft a feasible strategy.
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.
Lastly, Zhuo closes out the book with a thoughtful chapter on establishing and promoting the type of culture that you and your team would be proud to be part of. With so many initiatives and tasks on our plates as managers, it’s all but too easy to keep our heads buried in the day-to-day in an effort to move things forward (I’m as guilty as anyone), but Zhuo suggests that’s short-sighted if you stop there. She provides a number of exercises to determine what values are important to you and your team, how to determine if you can realistically align with those values, and clear tactics that can be used to positively transform your team’s culture, in accordance with those values, over time.
Whether you’re a new manager or you’ve been around the block for a few years now, I highly recommend Zhuo’s “The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You.” You’ll pick up plenty of practical management tips and strategies that can be easily and quickly implemented and also walk away knowing that your occasional feelings of trepidation and frustration are not unique.
While Zhuo freely admits that she’s far from a management guru (though I would argue she’s certainly an authority), this is exactly what makes the book relatable and is just one of the many reasons as to why I give it my highest recommendation. She’s honest, down-to-earth, and incredibly insightful and I have little doubt that I’ll be referring to it for years to come as I continue to navigate the ever-winding path that is management.