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The Making of a Manager (Julie Zhuo)

Ali Abdaal
Ali Abdaal

🚀 The Book in 3 Sentences

  1. Being a good manager is hard, and scary, but a very learnable skill.
  2. Management is really a matter of purpose, people and process.
  3. This book is a must-read guide to being a good manager.

🎨 Impressions

Really good. One of my most highlighted books of all time. I learned so much about being a manager, and my management skills (and our team's effectiveness and happiness) immediately improved after I started to do some of the things that Julie recommends.

🔍 How I Discovered It

I hired my first full-time 'employee' around November 2019 - this was Cristian, our original Head of Content. Angus came on board around January 2020, first as a freelance writer, then later as a full-time contractor working on video scripts, blog posts and course logistics. Then around April 2020, Elizabeth came on, initially as my personal assistant, but she quickly took charge of a few other aspects of the business too.

Throughout 2020, I knew that my 'management skills' needed work. As a team, we were getting things done, and the business was growing in a reasonable fashion, but I knew there were lots of unknown unknowns that I could improve in. How often should we be having meetings? What should we be talking about in meetings anyway? Aren't meetings just a corporate-waste-of-time? What's the role of each team member? Do they need roles at all? What 'goals' are we working towards as a company? Should we have goals at all?

I'd dabbled with a few management-type books, but it was in a session with my performance coach (Chris Sparks) in November 2020 that I heard about The Making of a Manager. I immediately bought it on Kindle, and as soon as I started reading it, I knew that it was the book about management that I'd been looking for all along.

👤 Who Should Read It?

If you're a manager of people, you should definitely read this, especially if you're new to the job. If you're a very experienced manager, you should still read it because you might pick up some tips.

If you're not yet a manager of people, there's probably not much point in you reading this. If you like the idea of one day starting a business, don't read this book yet - wait until you've got a business already, and you're at the point where you're needing to hire people to help it grow.

☘️ How the Book Changed Me

How my life / behaviour / thoughts / ideas have changed as a result of reading the book.

  • I now do regular 1:1 meetings with each team member
  • We now regularly have a weekly team standup
  • We're aiming to have a weekly takeaway-and-brainstorm evening as well

✍️ My Top 3 Quotes

  • Your role as a manager is not to do the work yourself, even if you are the best at it, because that will only take you so far. Your role is to improve the purpose, people, and process of your team to get as high a multiplier effect on your collective outcome as you can.
  • The most precious resource you have is your own time and energy, and when you spend it on your team, it goes a long way toward building healthy relationships. This is why one-on-one meetings (“1:1s” for short) are such an important part of management. I recommend no less than a weekly 1:1 with every report for thirty minutes, and more time if needed.
  • My friend Mark Rabkin shared a tip with me that I love: strive for all your one-on-one meetings to feel a little awkward. Why? Because the most important and meaningful conversations have that characteristic. It isn’t easy to discuss mistakes, confront tensions, or talk about deep fears or secret hopes, but no strong relationship can be built on superficial pleasantries alone.

📒 Summary + Notes

  1. 📚 Management is fundamentally about 3 things - (1) purpose, (2) people, (3) process. "A great manager constantly asks herself how she can influence these levers to improve her team’s outcomes."
  2. 🎯 Purpose - Why are you doing the things you're doing? What's the team working towards? What's the point? Everyone on the team should have a similar picture.
  3. 👨‍👩‍👧‍👧 People - "Are the members of your team set up to succeed? Do they have the right skills? Are they motivated to do great work?"
  4. 👨‍👧‍👦 Process - How does your team work together? Who should do what by when? What principles should govern decision-making?
  5. 🤝 "Your role as a manager is not to do the work yourself, even if you are the best at it, because that will only take you so far. Your role is to improve the purpose, people, and process of your team to get as high a multiplier effect on your collective outcome as you can."
  6. 🏈 Play the role of coach. It might feel weird or uncomfortable at first. Here are some questions that you might want to ask - What do you want to be working toward in a year’s time? What do you consider your strengths? What are the ways in which you'd like to be supported?
  7. 🏅Other useful questions - How do you like to be recognized for great work? What kind of feedback is most useful for you? Imagine that you and I had an amazing relationship. What would that look like?
  8. 🚪What leads people to do great work? Flip this question around - what gets in the way of good work? Only 2 things - (1) people don't know how to do good work, or (2) they know how, but they're not motivated to do it.
  9. 🧐 Why would people not be motivated to do great work? Maybe they don't have a clear picture of what great looks like. Maybe the role doesn't speak to their aspirations. Maybe they think nothing will change if they put in more effort.
  10. 📅 You should be having weekly 1:1 meetings with all your direct reports (where possible). "The most precious resource you have is your own time and energy, and when you spend it on your team, it goes a long way toward building healthy relationships."
  11. 😅 Strive for all your 1:1 meetings to feel a bit awkward. Why? Because the most important and meaningful conversations are. It isn’t easy to discuss mistakes, confront tensions, or talk about deep fears or secret hopes.
  12. 🔍"Even if you sit next to someone and see him every day, 1:1s let you discuss topics that may never come up otherwise—for example, what motivates him, what his long-term career aspirations are, how he’s generally feeling about his work, and more."
  13. 🕵️‍♀️ "1:1s should be focused on your report and what would help him be more successful, not on you and what you need. If you’re looking for a status update, use another channel. Rare one-on-one face time is better spent on topics that are harder to discuss in a group or over email."
  14. 💎 "The ideal 1:1 leaves your report feeling that it was useful for her. If she thinks that the conversation was pleasant but largely unmemorable, then you can do better. "
  15. ⚙️ "Remember that your job is to be a multiplier for your people. If you can remove a barrier, provide a valuable new perspective, or increase their confidence, then you’re enabling them to be more successful."
  16. 📝 "How can you achieve stellar 1:1s? The answer is preparation. It’s rare that an amazing conversation springs forth when nobody has a plan for what to talk about. I tell my reports that I want our time together to be valuable, so we should focus on what’s most important for them."
  17. 🗃 "Here are some ideas to get started: Discuss top priorities: What are the one, two, or three most critical outcomes for your report and how can you help her tackle these challenges? Calibrate what “great” looks like: Do you have a shared vision of what you’re working toward?"
  18. 🏔 "Once in a while, it’s useful to zoom out and talk about your report’s general state of mind—how is he feeling on the whole? What’s making him satisfied or dissatisfied? Have any of his goals changed? What has he learned recently and what does he want to learn going forward?"
  19. 🗿"Your job as a manager isn’t to dole out advice —it’s to empower your report to find the answer herself. She has more context than you on the problems she’s dealing with, so she’s in the best position to uncover the solution. Let her lead the 1:1 while you listen and probe."
  20. 🧘‍♀️"Identify: These questions focus on what really matters for your report and what topics are worth spending more time on. 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?"
  21. 🧠 "Understand: What does your ideal outcome look like? What’s hard for you in getting to 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?"
  22. 👊 "Support: These questions zero in on how you can be of greatest service to your report. How can I help you? What can I do to make you more successful? What was the most useful part of our conversation today?"
  23. 🙊 You should always tell your team what your expectations are and where they stand. If they're often wondering 'what does my manager think of me' then you need to dial up your level of feedback. Don't assume they can read between the lines.
  24. ❤️ "When we are going through tough times, the thing that’s often the most helpful isn’t advice or answers but empathy. This wasn’t intuitive to me at first because I assumed that leaders always showed up with confidence and know-how."
  25. 🙌 Vulnerability with your team is good - “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 …”
  26. 👎 "Whenever I’m talking with my reports, it’s easy to spend all our time on the things that need improvement. And yet, all of us likely remember moments when a kind word about our unique strengths made us swell with pride and gave us more fuel to achieve our goals."
  27. 🧭 Set clear expectations at the beginning. Define what great looks like, compared to a mediocre / bad job. Give some advice for helping them get started on the right foot. Give task-specific feedback as frequently as you can.
  28. 🪞"Whenever you find yourself deeply disappointed, or disappointing someone else, ask yourself: Where did I miss out on setting clear expectations, and how might I do better in the future?"
  29. 🗣 "Am I Giving Feedback Often Enough? I’ve read thousands of reviews written by reports about their managers, and the most common response to the question “How could your manager better support you?” is simply “Give me more feedback.”
  30. 📈 "At the same time, watch out for only ever giving task-specific feedback. The second most common ask from reports is: “Give me more feedback related to my skills and my career trajectory.”
  31. 🤔 When you're sharing critical feedback, approach it with a sense of curiosity and an honest desire to understand their perspective. One way - state your point directly and follow up with "does this feedback resonate with yoy? Why or why not?"
  32. ⚖️ At the end of a conversation, consider asking "okay, let's make sure we're on the same page. What are your takeaways and next steps?" Consider summarising by email what you discussed. Writing helps clarify points, and you can reference them in future.
  33. 📨 As a manager, you should be actively asking your team for critical feedback. Ask for feedback from other people all the time.
  34. ⛅️ "The only hurdle you need to overcome is yourself—can you remember to ask frequently enough? Can you be humble and self-aware enough to hear it openly and then respond with real change?"
  35. ⭐️ What makes good meetings? They're simple and straightforward. You leave feeling that the meeting was a great use of your time. You learned something new that'll help you be more effective. You left with a clear sense of what to do next. Everyone was engaged. You felt welcome.
  36. 🌍 Some questions to ask yourself when you zoom out 1-2 times per year - How many new people will I add to our team this year? For each, what level of experience am I looking for? What specific skills or strengths do we need in our team? What would strengthen our diversity?
  37. 🧞‍♂️Use the Pareto Principle - If you have three goals for your team this half, force yourself to answer: “If I could only achieve one goal, which would it be?” If you have five open roles to hire for, pour your energy into filling the one that’s most critical.

Ali Abdaal

Junior doctor, YouTuber, web designer, aspiring musician. Trying out this blogging thing.