How do you make a Manager?

Stepping into your first managerial role is exciting and challenging in equal measure. The good news is that someone has believed in you enough to give you this opportunity. However, the reality is that most new managers feel out of their depth and under pressure in their first months. So, how can you hit the ground running? Luckily, Julie Zhuo, vice president of design at Facebook, describes how in her book, The Making of a Manager.

Drawing on her own experience as a first-time manager, Zhuo explains how you can get those early days right and avoid the most common managerial pitfalls. At the age of just 25, Julie Zhuo was offered the job of a lifetime – managing Facebook’s design team. More amazingly still, this role was Zhuo’s first managerial role. Thrown in at the deep end, Zhuo soon asked herself, “What does a manager actually do?”

In her early days as a manager, Zhuo believed that her job consisted of holding meetings with team members, giving them feedback on how they’re doing and working out which subordinates to promote or to fire. However, she soon realized that her approach was short-sighted as it focused on basic daily tasks, rather than long-term goals.

After a few years of experience under her belt, Zhuo became more strategic. She realized that a manager’s role was actually to focus on wider issues. These include ensuring her team was working effectively together, helping team members achieve their career aims and developing processes to improve efficiency without any hiccups along the way.

But now, with nearly a decade of management experience behind her, Zhuo believes that the answer to what a manager does is far more concise than either of her previous lists capture. The job of a manager, as it turns out, is to achieve improved outcomes from your team. As you work toward this goal, you’ll begin to recognize the difference between a good manager and a mediocre one.

How? Well, many people assume a box-ticking attitude when considering whether a manager is a good one. For instance, you might assess whether they are hard-working, likable or good at giving presentations. If they check all three boxes, then they must be a good manager. Right?

Wrong. Actually, only the outcome of the team they manage can answer this question. In other words, the team of a good manager will achieve good results – consistently. So, ask yourself what outcome your team or business seeks. If, like Zhuo, the outcome you’re looking for is great design, then remember that an excellent manager’s team will consistently pitch you great designs, whereas a mediocre manager’s team will pitch you mediocre designs.

There are several possible paths to becoming a manager, and each route comes with its own potential opportunities and pitfalls during those early months.

First, there is the Apprentice path to management. The Apprentice path begins when your boss’s team grows and she asks you to manage part of it. This was the author’s route to management. As a young designer at Facebook, she was asked to manage part of her boss’s growing design team. One advantage of this route is that you’ll have plenty of guidance during your early months because your own manager will still be around to coach you and answer any questions you may have. However, establishing a good rapport with those working under you can be tricky for apprentice managers. Why? Because they’re used to seeing you as a peer, not as their boss.

Second is the Pioneer route to management. Pioneers start entirely new teams and are responsible for all aspects of that team’s growth. One key advantage of this route is that you get to build your team, rather than inherit it. Thus, you can select who you want to work with and engineer the team dynamics. On the downside, pioneer managers may not receive much support, as no one will understand your team better than you. Therefore, others may find it difficult to help with your particular challenges.

Finally, there is the New Boss path to management. In this scenario, you are brought in, either from a different team or even a different organization, to manage an established workgroup. One advantage of being a new boss is that people will typically cut you some slack during your first few months. Why? Because they’ll appreciate that you’re a newbie, and thus you’re allowed to make mistakes while you learn how everything works. Moreover, it’s important that you make use of this time to sit back and learn. One of the pitfalls of being a new boss is to rush in and change things without fully understanding the nuances of your new position.

Understanding your route to management and its unique challenges and advantages will help you hit the ground running. However, the truth is that many of us struggle to hit the right tone when giving others feedback. Either we worry about hurting someone’s feelings and refrain from all criticism, or, as in the above case, we aren’t sensitive enough.

Nonetheless, providing effective, insightful feedback to team members is an essential component of a manager’s job. So, how do you get better at holding these important, yet challenging, conversations?

Crucially, you should provide feedback that is specific to one particular task, optimally a task that someone has just completed. For instance, if a team member has just given a presentation, set aside time afterward to tell them what you think went well and how they might improve next time. Activity-specific feedback like this is the most straightforward. Why? Because it revolves around what someone has done, rather than who they are.

For this type of feedback to be most effective, it’s important to deliver it as soon as you can so that the task remains fresh in your minds. For instance, you could provide feedback in an email on the same day that a task is completed. Unless the task is particularly important, this written feedback will be just as effective as a face-to-face conversation. Lastly, by making activity-specific feedback a regular habit, your team members will receive little coaching sessions after every task they undertake.

Another way to give great feedback is to bring in a multitude of perspectives. You can accomplish this by conducting 360-degree feedback sessions. This type of feedback takes the opinions of many different people into account. For instance, if a member of your team just gave a presentation, rather than sending them just your thoughts on the performance, you might share what other people thought too. This type of feedback is valuable because it provides a well-rounded and objective view of how the team member is performing.

Check out my related post: Can you be friends with your boss?

Interesting reads:


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