Performance Consultants

Book Review: The Making of a Manager by Julie Zhuo

Jul. 8th, 2019

It’s time for another installment of our Q4 Leadership Library, where our consultants review leadership books. This month, Vice President of Organizational Consulting Dr. Emily Ingalls reads The Making of a Manager by Julie Zhuo.

The Making of a Manager

Do you remember what it felt like to be a new manager? For some of you, this was 30 years ago. For others, maybe you’ve been recently promoted and are supervising others for the first time.

Regardless of where you are in your career today, you likely remember what it felt like to be at the “top of your game” in your area of expertise, but not totally certain of how to translate this to your leadership of others. Whether you’re leading a small team or a large one, management is a new and unique venture that requires a different set of skills that they rarely teach in school.

Do’s and Don’ts

The Making of a Manager digs into this unique experience. Julie Zhuo, top product design executive at Facebook, uses personal stories as well as relevant research to provide tangible do’s and don’ts that new and seasoned leaders alike can learn from.

From the very beginning, the author stresses that your role as a manager goes from doing everything you can to perform well in your own role to facilitating the success of others. Put another way, “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.”

Instead, your goal as a new manager is to help your team members understand and care about their purpose, make sure your people are set up to succeed, and facilitate a process for your team to work together.

As I read this book, I was struck by numerous synergies between what Zhuo has learned throughout her career and what Psychological Associates coaches, using tools like the Dimensional Model of Behavior and our Five-Step Format. From an emphasis on empathy and the “people side” of management to asking open-ended questions to gain insight in to how your team members think and operate, it is often the interpersonal side that needs to grow the most in the transition from individual contributor to manager. After all, we typically promote people for excellence in their roles rather than prior experience or interest in managing (but that is a conversation for another time).

Creating Trust for Your Team

Though the experiences of managing a team of new direct reports or becoming a manager of your former peers both bring their own challenges, it’s crucial to begin by building a sense of trust in you as their leader. Zhuo discusses the importance of transparency, support, and vulnerability, and doing each of these things even when it butts up against your comfort zone. She quotes Brené Brown, the author of another book in this series when she says, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.”

Providing Clear and Constructive Feedback

From there, Zhuo dedicates an entire chapter of her book to feedback. When you’re a manager, it’s hard to overstate the importance of providing clear and constructive feedback. At the same time, saying this is one of the things new managers struggle with can only be classified as an understatement.

As we transition to leading others, we face the challenge of setting expectations for others, trying to strike a balance between autonomy and clarity. We also find ourselves in situations where we are sharing negative and unexpected news that, when delivered poorly, can be incredibly disruptive. But just as we teach with Q4, often the worst option to choose is to give no feedback at all.

Staying Above the Line

In a section that resonated with me, Zhuo addresses a topic that you don’t always find in management books: the idea that you don’t always have to make it work.

Too often we let distracting and potentially toxic behaviors from team members slide by, excusing them for their interpersonal blunders as a result of their top-notch business performance or relationships. This is a mistake. Almost daily, I coach and interview leaders who let these situations persist too long, only to see a visible sigh of relief when the “brilliant asshole” (Zhuo’s term, not mine) finally leaves.

Put in the language of Q4, though we should try our best to coach individuals displaying Q1 or Q2 behaviors to be more effective, there is a point at which you must act. You need to make the Q4 decision — even when it is not the comfortable one or the easy one — that is in the best interest of everyone else and, ultimately, in the long-term interest of the organization. Rather than waiting for new managers to learn this lesson the hard way, Zhuo provides insight and tactics to mitigate proactively the consequences of these challenging situations.

Throughout the book, Zhuo explores other helpful topics like how to hire strategically for the needs of a growing team; defining a vision and process for large and small groups alike; and nurturing a team culture that aligns with your goals and values. By providing concrete tips, humorous anecdotes, and digestible bits of research, Zhuo’s book is a helpful companion to anyone making the journey from individual contributor to manager. I’ve added it to my list of recommended titles when coaching new managers moving forward.