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The Making of a Manager

The Making of a Manager is a well thought-out and easily digestible read. The book chronicles Julie Zhuo’s rise from Stanford graduate to her 14 year tenure at Facebook. During her time with the tech giant, Ms. Zhuo was recruited as an engineer, rose fast in the organization, and ultimately became the Vice-President of Design. She displayed great humility throughout the book, and openly discussed times when she was less than her best. She viewed these moments as opportunities for learning and growth, and shared these lessons throughout the book.

Great Managers Are Made, Not Born

The basic premise of the The Making of a Manager is summarized in the title of the introduction. Julie Zhuo spoke directly to budding mangers when she stated that, “Great Managers Are Made, Not Born.”  This book is about how someone with no formal training learned to become a confident manager.

I wish I’d had this book in my first few years in business, during all my fears, doubts, and “Am I Crazy?” moments. It was written for those of us who got promoted because we were strong individual contributors. Those who were expected to hit the ground running as managers, without any training or forewarning of what was to come. One of my favorite stories that Ms. Zhuo tells in the book is about going from peer to manager. She hoped the transition would be smooth, but knew that it would not be. This is one of the most difficult challenges facing all new managers, and was very relatable.

Transitioning from Manager to Leader

Julie Zhuo certainly gave quite a bit of advice about management duties. This included input on providing feedback, knowing when to trust your team, and knowing when to take on tasks yourself. She also covered how to hire well, and some advice on self-management.

However, much of the book is geared towards transitioning from managing people, to leading them. Ms. Zhuo wrote about what she thought management was going to be like, compared to the reality of what her role became. Her own Making of a Manger process took her from helping her people solve their immediate problems, to building a team that worked well together. From deciding who should be hired, promoted, and fired, to supporting her team so they could reach their career goals.

These are subtle differences, to be sure, and she does not negate the management portion of the job, which was getting the work done. Instead, Ms. Zhuo recognized that people want to do good work, and they want to be challenged with difficult assignments. Her role was to ensure they had the tools to become successful.

Inspiration and Motivation

My favorite quote in the book is, “The best outcomes come from inspiring people to action, not telling them what to do.” I believe she subtly makes the distinction between inspiration and motivation in that sentence. When inspiring people, one exposes the intrinsic benefits of the action, rather than the external rewards.

Julie Zhuo’s humility, which I previously mentioned, is highlighted in a story where she talks about giving advice to a young associate. That advice centered around having the junior associate request and accept feedback as part of her growth path. As the story goes on, Ms. Zhuo noticed that she did not see any positive changes with this associate. When she questioned her later, the associate mentioned that she has not seen her boss model the same behavior.

This encounter hit her like a ton of bricks, and altered the way she managed in the future. Stories like these bring the lessons in The Making of a Manger to life. Julie Zhuo is not shy about discussing the lessons she learned, or how she learned them, for the readers’ benefit.

Management Responsibilities

Ms. Zhuo’s chapters on Amazing Meetings and Hiring Well cover typical management topics. In my opinion, the chapter on meetings did not provide very much new information, or great insight. It did discuss the basics of any good meeting. These basics included who to invite, providing time so that participants could prepare in advance, and determining the intended outcomes. Most importantly, managers should create a safe space where people feel comfortable sharing their insights.

In her chapter on hiring, Ms. Zhuo did a very good job clarifying that hiring is your responsibility. She goes on to say that as the manager, you should be intimately involved in the hiring process. This is true even if your organization has a strong HR department. I also liked that she provided examples of some excellent interview processes, and even sample questions that you could adapt to your specific needs.

Leadership Concepts

Several chapters in the book are devoted to leadership concepts. These include Leading a Small Team, Leading a Growing Team, and Nurturing Culture. There are differences in managing a small team in a small company, and differences in the leadership roles as the company grows. Julie Zhuo used her experience at Facebook to highlight some of those differences.

I was pleased that Ms. Zhuo also included a full chapter on culture. She covered not only the culture of the organization as a whole, but also the culture of individual departments. There may be subtle differences between the two, but if they are complimentary, the organization will run better.

I do recommend this book for all new managers, or those who think they may want to go into management. It is not so much a playbook as it is a guide, one that provides insights into the new role of manager. The book will help new managers realize that we all go through the same stresses and feelings that we don’t belong. It also provides much-needed support during a time most people’s careers when they could use a friend.