Book summary: The Making of a Manager by Julie Zhuo

Dec 28, 2019 · Leadership, Management

In her book The Making of a Manager, Julie Zhuo (VP of Design for Facebook), reflects on her own story of becoming a manager. From the basics of what management really means to hiring and how to deal with a growing team, she provides advice and examples from her career. Especially the questions in the book are really useful. This book is a Swiss Army knife for people transitioning into management.

What is management?

„A manager’s job is to…

  • build a team that works well together,
  • support members in reaching their career goals, and
  • create processes to get work done smoothly and efficiently.“

„The management aspect has nothing to do with employment status and everything to do with the fact that you are no longer trying to get something done by yourself.“

„The crux of management: the belief that a team of people can achieve more than a single person going alone. You don’t have to do everything yourself or even know how to do everything.“

„Your job, as a manager, is to get better outcomes from a group of people working together.“

“The output of the work unit [matters] and not simply the activity involved.” Andy Grove, founder & CEO of Intel

„Never forget, what you’re ultimately here to do: Help your team achieve great outcomes.“

A manager’s main three areas of work:

  • Purpose (why): The team knows what success looks like and cares about achieving it.
  • People (who): Are the members of the team are set up for success? Do they have the right skills? Are they motivated to do great work?
  • Process (how): What should be done by when? What principles should govern decision making?

Constantly ask yourself how to influence these levers to improve the team’s outcome.

„Your role as a manager is not to do the work yourself, even if you are the best at it because it will only take you so far. Your role is to improve the purpose, people, and process of your team to get as a high a multiplier effect on your collective outcome as you can.“

„Context always matters.“

Three questions to determine, if management is for you:

  • „Do you find it more motivating to achieve a particular outcome or to play a specific role?“
  • „Do you like talking with people?“
  • „Can I provide stability for an emotionally challenging situation?“

„The best outcomes come from inspiring people to action, not telling them what to do.“

„What makes a good leader is that they eschew the spotlight in favor of spending time and energy to do what they need to do to support and protect their people.“ Simon Sinek

„A leader […] doesn’t have to be a manager.“

„Leadership is a quality rather than a job.“

„…[The] role of a manager can be given to someone (or taken away), leadership is not something that can be bestowed. It must be earned. People must want to follow you.“

Build trust with your reports to earn the credibility to help them achieve more together.

Leading a small team

„Managing a small team is about mastering a few basic fundamentals: developing a healthy manager-report relationship and creating an environment of support.“

What get’s in the way of good work:

  1. People don’t know how to do good work. („Do they have the right skills?“)
  2. People aren’t motivated. („Is it a matter of motivation or skill?“)

„You must trust people or live becomes impossible.“ Anton Chekhov

Three statements to know if you have a healthy manager-report relationship:

  • Reports bring their biggest challenges to your attention.
  • Reports and you regularly give each other candid feedback and it isn’t taken personally.
  • Reports would gladly work for/with you again.

„Strive to be human, not a boss.“

„Managing is caring.“

Establish weekly 1:1s with your reports (30 minutes each or more time if needed).

Four rules for stellar 1:1s:

  • Discuss top priorities
  • Calibrate what „great“ looks like
  • Share feedback
  • Reflect on how things are going

Questions for 1:1s:


    • „What’s top of mind for you right now?“
    • „What priorities are you thinking about this week?“
    • „What’s the best use of our time today?“


    • „What does your ideal outcome look like?“
    • „What’s hard for you in getting that outcome?“
    • „What do you really care about?“
    • „What do you think is the best course of action?“
    • „What’s the worst-case scenario you’re worried about?“


    • „How can I help you?“
    • „What can I do to make you more successful?“
    • „What was the most useful part of our conversation today?“

Admit your own mistakes:

  • „I don’t know the answer. What do you think?“
  • „I want to come clean and apologize for what I did/said the other day…“
  • „One of my personal growth areas this half is…“
  • „I’m afraid I don’t know enough to help you with that problem. Here’s someone you should talk to instead…“

„There is one quality that sets truly great managers apart from the rest: they discover what is unique about each person and then capitalize on it. […] The job of a manager […] is to turn one person’s particular talent into performance.“ Marcus Buckingham

On brilliant but lone wolves: „Instead of a multiplier effect, you get a divider effect: the presence of this person makes the rest of your team less effective.“

„If this person were not already at the organization, would I recommend that another team hire him or her knowing what I know?“


The best feedback inspires you to change your behavior and results in making your life better.

Set clear expectations at the beginning: „Here is what success looks like for the next meeting you run…“

Give as much task-specific feedback as you can (ideally right after an action was performed): „That research report you shared yesterday was really good. You summarized everything straight to the point and presented it in a way that was easy to digest. X was especially useful.“

Share behavioral feedback thoughtfully and regularly: „When people ask you questions about work, your tone is often defensive. E.g. in this particular situation last week…“

„Collect 360-degree-feedback for maximum objectivity.“

„The first step is simply to give feedback more often and remind yourself that you’re probably not doing it enough.“

Devote one 1:1 every month just to discuss behavioral feedback and career goals.

Feedback rules

  • „Make your feedback as specific as possible.“
  • „Clarify what success looks and feels like.“
  • „Suggest next steps.“

About delivering critical feedback or bad news: “Deliver it directly and dispassionately; plainly say what you perceive the issue to be, what made you feel that way and how you’d like to work together to resolve the concern.”

  • „When I [heard/observed/reflected on] your [action/behavior/output], I felt concerned because…“
  • „I’d like to understand your perspective and talk about how we can resolve this.“

If you are delivering bad news about a decision, […] the decision should be the first thing out of your mouth when you both sit down: „I’ve decided to give X the role for Y…“; Own the decision, be firm & don’t open it up for discussion.”

Managing yourself

„Look after yourself, because otherwise, you cannot support your team.“

„The first part is understanding yourself and get to know your strengths. Great management typically comes from playing to your strengths rather than from fixing your weaknesses.“ (StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath; StandOut by Marcus Buckingham)

  • „How do the people who know and like me best (family, significant other, close friends) describe me in three words?“
  • „What three qualities do I possess that I am the proudest of?“
  • „When I look back on something I did that was successful, what personal traits do I give credit to?“
  • „What are the top most common pieces of positive feedback that I’ve received from my manager or peers?“

Know your weaknesses and triggers:

  • „Whenever my worst inner critic sits on my shoulder, what does she yell at me for?“
  • „If a magical fairy were to come and bestow on me three gifts I don’t yet have, what would they be?“
  • „What are three things that trigger me?“
  • „What are the top three most common pieces of feedback from my manager or peers on how I could be more effective?“

„To develop your self-awareness and to calibrate your strengths and weaknesses, you must confront the truth by asking other people.“

Ask your manager for the following:

  • „What opportunities do you see for me to do more of what I do well? What do you think are the biggest things holding me back from having greater impact?“
  • „What skills do you think a hypothetical perfect person in my role would have? For each skill, how would you rate me against that ideal on a scale of one to five?“

Pick three to seven people and gather feedback:

  • „On our last project together, in what ways did you see me having impact? What do you think I could have done to have more impact?“
  • „With my team, what am I doing well that you’d like to see me do more of? What should I stop doing?“
  • „One of the things I’m working on is being more decisive. How do you think I’m doing on that? Any suggestions on how I can do better?“
  • Ask for task-specific feedback (e.g. „On our last project together, in what ways did you see me having impact?“

Develop a Growth Mindset (Mindset by Carol Dweck). Find an opportunity to grow in everything.

Define, what enables you to do your best work (e.g. min. 8 hours of sleep, deep work early in the morning, one long chat with a friend…) -> Define actions to do more of those productive behaviors.

Define your ideal environment:

  • „Which six-month period in my life I felt most productive? What gave me that energy?“
  • „In the past months, what stands out as highlights? What conditions enabled those moments to happen, and are they re-creatable?“
  • „In the past week, when was I in a state of deep focus? How did I get there?“

Define the situations, which trigger an intensely negative reaction:

  • „When was the last time someone said something that annoyed me more than it did others around me? Why did I feel so strongly about it?“
  • „What would my closest friends say my pet peeves are?“
  • „Who have I met that I’ve immediately been wary of? What made me feel that way?“
  • „What’s an example of a time when I’ve overreacted and later regretted it? What made me so worked up in that moment?“

Practice self-care by establishing boundaries: Reserve some time for yourself. You can only do your best work if you are physically & mentally fit.

Set aside some time to reflect on your goals & progress.

Being unsure if formal training would be useful: „One year from now, will I be happy I did this?“

„Learning how to be a great leader means learning about your superpowers and flaws, learning how to navigate the obstacles in your head, and learning how to learn.“

Hiring Well

„Hiring is not a problem to be solved but an opportunity to build the future of your organization.“

„One exercise I do every January is to map out where I hope my team will be by the end of the year.“

„You are the one who ultimately owns the team you build.“

„Describe your ideal candidate as precisely as you can.“

Questions to ask beforehand:

  • „How many people do I want to add to the team this year?“
  • „What mix of experience levels is required?“
  • „Which skills or strengths does the team already have?“
  • „How can I increase the diversity in the team?“

„Ask candidates if they can show you the applications they’ve developed, the articles they’ve written, the pitches they’ve given, etc., so you can assess the quality of their output.“

„Most managers overvalue the résumé and undervalue the reference check. References matter most.“

„Look for passionate advocates rather than consensus.“

Questions for interviews:

  • „What kind of challenges is a person interested in and why? Can you describe a favorite project?“
  • „What is your greatest strength? What would others say, are your areas which need improvement?“
  • „Imagine yourself in three years: What do you hope will be different about you then compared to now?“
  • „What was the hardest conflict you’ve had in the past year? How did it end, and what did you learn from the experience?“
  • „What’s something that’s inspired you in your work recently?“

Reasons to reject candidates:

  • Bad-mouthing past employers
  • Blaming failures they were associated with on others
  • Insulting other groups of people
  • Asking, what the company can do for them instead of the reverse
  • Coming across with high arrogance or low self-awareness

Build a team with diverse perspectives: „Prioritizing diversity isn’t just a poster or a slogan. It’s the belief that diversity in all aspects–from gender to race to work history to life experiences–leads to better ideas and better results.“

„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.“

„Recruiting top talent is all about the relationships you build.“

„Attracting the best people is a long-term investment.“

„Coach your leaders to treat team-building with the utmost care, and ensure that they dedicate enough time and attention to connecting with remarkable candidates.“

„Building the team isn’t just one person’s job, it’s everyone’s job.“

Making things happen

„As a manager, it is important to define and share a concrete vision for your team that describes what you’re collectively trying to achieve.“

Questions that might help you get started:

  • „What unique superpower(s) does your team have? When you’re at your best, how are you creating value? What would it look like for your team to be twice as good? Five times as good?“
  • „If you had to create a quick litmus test that anyone could use to assess whether your team was doing a poor job, a mediocre job, or a kick-ass job, what would that litmus test be?“

„A good strategy understands the crux of the problem it’s trying to solve. It focuses on a team’s unique strengths, resources, and energy on what matters the most in achieving its goal.“

„If you’re leading a smaller part of a larger organization, then your team’s plan should relate directly to the organization’s top-level strategy.“

„The plan that is the smartest for your team is the one that acknowledges your relative strengths and weaknesses.“

„Effort doesn’t count, results are what matter.“

Focus is more about saying no to a lot of stuff than about saying yes.

Ownership is key. Clearly define who you hold accountable for what results.

„Keep in mind the planning fallacy: our natural bias to predict that things will take less time and money than they actually do. Allot a buffer for dealing with unexpected issues.“

„Perfect execution over perfect strategy.“

„We can either spend the next few weeks debating which ideas are the best or we can try to learn as quickly as possible by doing.“

„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 into your desired direction.“

„Speed matters – a fast runner can take a few wrong turns and still beat a slow runner who knows the shortest path.“

How to tell that your team is executing well:

  • There is a clear prioritization.
  • There is an efficient process for decision-making that everyone understands.
  • „The team moves quickly especially with reversible decisions.“
  • „After a decision is made, everyone commits and moves speedily to make it happen.“
  • „When new information surfaces, there is an expedient process to examine if and how current plans should change as a result.“
  • Every task has a who and by when. Owners deliver reliably.
  • „The team is resilient and constantly seeking to learn.“

Leading a growing team

What I learned is that it didn’t matter how I saw myself. When people don’t know you well and see that you’re in a position of authority, they’re less likely to tell you the ugly truth or challenge you when they think you’re wrong, even if you’d like them to.”

„Success becomes more and more about mastering a few key skills: hiring exceptional leaders, building self-reliant teams, establishing a clear vision, and communicating well.“

„Giving people big problems is a sign of trust.“

Do not overestimate what you, the manager, are capable of: „The best work comes from those who have the time to live and breathe a problem fully, who can dedicate themselves to finding the best solution.“

Do not assume that nobody wants to take on hard problems: „In fact, the most talented employees aren’t looking for special treatment or „easy“ projects. They want to be challenged.“

„There is no greater sign of trust than handing your report an intricately tangled knot that you believe she can pull apart, even if you’re not sure how.“

„We control the world basically because we are the only animal that can cooperate flexibly in very large numbers.“ Yuval Noah Harari

„To create a shared vision of what’s important, ask yourself two things. The first is What are the biggest priorities right now for our team? Then, talk about those with your reports and discuss how they might play a role.“

„Once priorities are covered, ask your self the second question: Are we aligned in how we think about people, purpose, and process?“

Do we have the right people on the right problems?“

„If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.“ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

„A manager’s job is to be a positive multiplier for the team.“

The goal of management is to get better outcomes.

About evaluating if the current person is the right fit for a role: „Assume the role was open. Would you rather rehire your current leader or take a gamble on someone else?“

„What’s going to make the team more successful over the next few years?“

„Growing great teams means that you are constantly looking for ways to replace yourself in the job you are currently doing.“

„Nothing is somebody else’s problem.“

„Never stop talking about what’s important.“

Always walk the talk: „If you’re not willing to change your behavior for a stated value, then don’t bring it up in the first place.“

Incentive traps to avoid:

  • Rewarding individual performance above anything else
  • Rewarding short-term gains over long-term investments
  • Rewarding lack of perceived issues or conflicts
  • Rewarding the squeaky wheel (e.g. give someone a raise because they interviewed at another firm and were offered that amount)

„Pay attention to your own actions–the little things you say and do–as well as what behaviors you are rewarding and discouraging.“