The Making of a Manager


  • Great Managers Are Made, Not Born.

  • Good design at its core is about understanding people and their needs in order to create the best possible tools for them.

  • A Manager’s job is to

    • Build a team that works well together

    • Support members in reaching their career goals

    • Create processes to get work done smoothly and efficiently

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

  • I’ve come to think of the multitude of tasks that fill up a manager’s day as sorting neatly into three buckets: purpose, people, and process.

  • The first big part of your job as a manager is to ensure that your team knows what success looks like and cares about achieving it.

  • To manage people well, you must develop trusting relationships with them, understand their strengths and weaknesses (as well as your own), make good decisions about who should do what (including hiring and firing when necessary), and coach individuals to do their best.

  • 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.

  • While 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.

  • If something is getting in the way of great work happening, you need to address it swiftly and directly. This may mean giving people difficult feedback or making some hard calls. The sooner you internalize that you own the outcomes of your team, the easier it becomes to have these conversations.

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

  • Trust is the most important ingredient

  • “You must trust people, or life becomes impossible,” the writer Anton Chekhov once said.

  • A hallmark of a trusting relationship is that people feel they can share their mistakes, challenges, and fears with you.

  • Managing is caring.

  • 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.

  • Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that because you’re the boss, you can’t admit your shortcomings or weaknesses. Instead, apologize. Admit that you screwed up, and take meaningful action to do better in the future.

  • People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

  • 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.

  • Stanford professor Robert I. Sutton described this phenomenon in his now famous book The No Asshole Rule. He defines an asshole as someone who makes other people feel worse about themselves or who specifically targets people less powerful than him or her.

  • If you don’t believe someone is set up to succeed in his current role, the kindest thing you can do is to be honest with him and support him in moving on.

  • For a leader, giving feedback—both when things are going well and when they aren’t—is one of the most fundamental aspects of the job.

  • Feedback, at its best, transforms people in ways they’re proud of.

  • Give Task-Specific Feedback as Frequently as You Can.

  • Your Feedback Only Counts if It Makes Things Better.

  • When feedback is given, Batista writes, the listener’s “heart rate and blood pressure are almost certain to increase, [accompanied by] a cascade of neurological and physiological events that impair the ability to process complex information and react thoughtfully. When people are in the grip of a threat response, they’re less capable of absorbing and applying your observations.”

  • The best way to make your feedback heard is to make the listener feel safe, and to show that you’re saying it because you care about her and want her to succeed.

  • When you do have critical feedback to share, approach it with a sense of curiosity and an honest desire to understand your report’s perspective. One simple way to do this is to state your point directly and then follow up with, “Does this feedback resonate with you? Why or why not?”

  • How do you ensure that your feedback can be acted upon? Remember these three tips.
    1. Make your feedback as specific as possible.
    2. Clarify what success looks and feels like.
    3. Suggest next steps.
  • Being a great manager is a highly personal journey, and if you don’t have a good handle on yourself, you won’t have a good handle on how to best support your team.

  • No matter what obstacles you face, you first need to get deep with knowing you—your strengths, your values, your comfort zones, your blind spots, and your biases. When you fully understand yourself, you’ll know where your true north lies.

  • The first part in understanding how you lead is to know your strengths—the things you’re talented at and love to do. This is crucial because great management typically comes from playing to your strengths rather than from fixing your weaknesses.

  • The perspective you have changes everything. With a fixed mindset, your actions are governed by fear—fear of failure, fear of judgment, fear of being found out as an imposter. With a growth mindset, you’re motivated to seek out the truth and ask for feedback because you know it’s the fastest path to get you where you want to go.

  • Understand Yourself at Your Best and Worst.

  • By knowing what triggers you, you can catch yourself in the moment and take a step back before responding like a hothead.

  • Conjuring up a public figure you admire, someone who seems to have the perfect life, and Googling “[person’s name] struggle.” There is always a story. It’s a good reminder that being in the Pit is universal.

  • Take out a Post-it note and write, “I am super stressed out about X.” That little act shifts my mindset from worrying about my worries to simply declaring them.

  • Not only can visualization improve your outcomes, it can also help you find confidence when you’re in the Pit.

  • The key to successful visualization is to make the scene as specific as possible.

  • Visualization is a powerful tool that doesn’t require much—only a few minutes and a quiet spot to relax. Develop the habit to give yourself a boost of self-assurance for whatever comes your way.

  • Celebrate the Little Wins.

  • If you write down five things you’re grateful for every night, you’ll feel happier in the long run. When you need to build your confidence, remember to do the same by focusing on all the things that you are doing well.

  • Practice Self-Care by Establishing Boundaries

  • You can’t do your best work unless you physically feel your best, so take care of yourself. It’s always worth it.

  • If there is a secret sauce to self-improvement, it’s to ask for feedback from other people all the time.

  • Always thank people for feedback. Even if you don’t agree with what’s said, receive it graciously and recognize that it took effort to give. If others find you defensive, you’ll get less feedback in the future, which will only hurt your growth.

  • Treat Your Manager as a Coach.

  • Practice clarity and ruthless efficiency with your meetings, and people will thank you for respecting the sanctity of their time.

  • As a manager, your time is precious and finite, so guard it like a dragon guards its treasure stash. If you trust that the right outcomes will happen without you, then you don’t need to be there.

  • The most important thing to remember about hiring is this: hiring is not a problem to be solved but an opportunity to build the future of your organization.

  • Hiring Is a Gamble, but Make Smart Bets.

  • Hiring someone new is always risky, but be smart about your approach and you’ll raise your chances of success.

  • The best—though still imperfect—predictor for how someone will do in the future is to understand how they’ve done in the past on similar projects in similar environments.

  • Having multiple interviewers can reduce bias and catch subtle red flags that any one person might have missed.

  • Prepare Your Interview Questions Ahead of Time.

  • The best interviews happen when you show up with a clear sense of what you want to learn about the person. This means that you should familiarize yourself with their background and have a list of questions prepared.

  • If you’re looking for a starting point on what to ask, these are my favorite all-purpose questions:

    • What kinds of challenges are interesting to you and why? Can you describe a favorite project? This tells me what a candidate is passionate about.

    • What do you consider your greatest strengths? What would your peers agree are your areas of growth? This question gets both at a candidate’s self-awareness and what his actual strengths and weaknesses might be.

    • Imagine yourself in three years. What do you hope will be different about you then compared to now? This lets me understand the candidate’s ambitions as well as how goal oriented and self-reflective she is.

    • What was the hardest conflict you’ve had in the past year? How did it end, and what did you learn from the experience? This gives me a sense of how the candidate works with other people and how he approaches conflict.

    • What’s something that’s inspired you in your work recently? This sheds light on what the candidate thinks is interesting or valuable.

  • When you make a great leadership hire, the impact on your team is enormous for years to come. Don’t approach it willy-nilly—it pays to do your research.

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

  • You keep your mind open and curious. You learn. Then you scrap what failed and double down on what’s working. You rinse and repeat, maybe over and over and over again. This process is what makes things happen.

  • Start with a Concrete Vision.

  • An inspiring vision is bold. It doesn’t hedge. You know instantly whether you’ve hit it or not because it’s measurable. And it’s easily repeated, from one person to the next to the next. It doesn’t describe the how—your team will figure that out—it simply describes what the outcome will be.

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

  • Craft a Plan Based on Your Team’s Strengths.

  • Focus on Doing a Few Things Well.

  • Break Down a Big Goal into Smaller Pieces.

  • Nothing worthwhile happens overnight. Every big dream is the culmination of thousands of tiny steps forward.

  • There is always a way to break down what seems like an impossible journey into a series of days, miles, and finally steps. By putting one foot in front of the other over and over again, eventually we’ll scale mountains.

  • Perfect execution over perfect strategy.

  • Throughout your career, you will make countless mistakes. The most frustrating will be the ones where you don’t learn anything because it’s not clear whether the issue is with strategy or execution.

  • If we can dream better, we can do better.

  • At the end of the day, a resilient organization isn’t one that never makes mistakes but rather one whose mistakes make it stronger over time.

  • One of the biggest challenges of managing at scale is finding the right balance between going deep on a problem and stepping back and trusting others to take care of it.

  • When the vision is clear, the right actions tend to follow.

  • Would you hire this person again if the role were open? If the answer is no, make the move.

  • The rule of thumb for delegation goes like this: spend your time and energy on the intersection of 1) what’s most important to the organization and 2) what you’re uniquely able to do better than anyone else.

  • Give someone a fish, and you feed them for a day. Teach someone to fish, and you feed them for a lifetime.

  • If you say “good enough” to the first thing that pops into your head, you’re probably leaving better options undiscovered.

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