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Notes from Zhuo’s The Making of a Manager


As I was combing through my Notes app on my iPhone, I came across these notes while reading Julia Zhuo’s The Making of a Manager.

I finished reading this book late last year. The contents of the book are more of “common sense”, but it is still an excellent reminder to everyone, whether you’re a people manager, project manager, or only a team of one.

So, for my future viewing, and for your easy reference, here are my takeaways and some notes from my reading, which I would like to share with you.

You can jump further:

Elements of a successful team
What to do in 1-to-1s
On Coaching
Giving Feedback
Conducting Meetings
Making Things Happen

Julie Zhuo’s The Making of a Manager

This is a light read. I’m a slow reader and I finished it in less than a week.

On What a TEAM should achieve

Great outcomes come from a group of people harmoniously working together.

  • As a result, the team will consistently achieve great outcomes
  • The team should be set up for great outcomes in the future

What are the elements of a successful team?

Element 1: Team with clear boundaries and stable membership
Element 2: Compelling direction
Element 3: Enabling structure
Element 4: Supportive organisational context
Element 4.1: Establish Purpose, People, Processes (Why, Who, How)
Element 5: Expert coaching

According to the author, these are the processes managers should master:

  • Running effective meetings
  • Future-proofing against past mistakes
  • Planning for tomorrow
  • Nurturing a healthy culture

My personal note: My main role as a manager is to improve the purpose, people, and processes of my team to achieve as high a multiplier effect on my collective outcome as I can.

Know if you’re a great manager if you:

  • Aim to Achieve the group’s outcome (not just become an individual contributor)
  • Listen and talk to people, and not only during meetings!
  • Show stability in an emotionally charged situation

For the managers, ask yourself: why do you want to be a manager?

  • Career progression
  • Freedom to call the shots
  • You were asked to, but do you want to?

A note that resonated: While the role of a manager can be given to someone (or taken away), the leadership is not something that can be bestowed. It must be earned. People must want to follow you. 

In the initial days, it’s essential to transition gracefully into the role and nailing the essentials. Only when you have built trust with your reports will you have the credibility to help them achieve more together.

  • As a manager, you are responsible for the outcome of your team, including all decisions made
  • As your team grows, have a plan for how to scale back your individual contributor responsibilities so that you can be the best manager for your people
  • Invest time to help your direct report; respect and care are essential.

What to do in 1-to-1s?

Explore what would make him more successful in his or her role.

  • Discuss the top three priorities
  • Define “good job” together
  • Give advice and recommendations
  • Reflection

A note that resonated: As a manager, you don’t dole out advice or “save the day”. Empower your team to find the answer; let them uncover the solution. All you need to do is ask and listen.

Some things to think about:

Identify

  • What’s top of mind for you right now?
  • What are your priorities this week?
  • What’s the best use of your time today?

Understand

  • Ideal outcome?
  • What’s the barrier in achieving that outcome?
  • What do you care about?
  • What do you think is the best course of action?
  • Worst-case scenario you’re worried about?

Support

  • How can I help?
  • What can I do to make you more successful?
  • What’s the most useful part of our conversation?

“Brene Brown: Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Honesty and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

One note that resonated: Recognition for hard work, valuable skills, helpful advice, or good values can be hugely motivating if it feels genuine and specific. 

This is also my personal preference, as a leader and as a member of a team: A bottom-up approach where all employees are expected to manage their own time effectively (operate independently)

Another note that resonated: Just because your report didn’t work out doesn’t mean it’s on him. “Perhaps it’s you who shouldn’t be his manager, not the other way around.” I accept that not everyone can work with me.

On Coaching

  • Great managers are excellent coaches, and the secret sauce to coaching is giving effective feedback. The right coaching can help your reports understand what to aspire to, how to overcome the habits that are holding them back, and how to grow their impact.
  • Giving feedback means making unclear expectations CLEAR and CORRECTING inadequate skills.

On Giving Feedback

How to deliver this to inspire a change in behaviour:

  • Set clear expectations from the start: what great job looks like; advice to help your report get started; common pitfalls your report should avoid
  • Always give Task-specific feedback and share it as soon as you can share behavioural feedback thoughtfully and regularly. In essence, this provides a level of personalization and depth that is missing from task-specific feedback. This helps people understand the reality of how others see them, which may differ from how they see themselves

More notes on giving and receiving feedback

  • Conduct 360-Feedback for maximum objectivity, so getting behavioural feedback from the handful of colleagues s/he works closest with will result in better insights.
  • Be proactive; don’t wait for tasks or jobs to just fall on your lap; you know your capabilities, push your self to do more.
  • Swoop and Poop
  • When you are deeply disappointed, ask yourself: where did I miss out on setting clear expectations, and how do I do better the future
  • The mark of a great coach is that others improve under your guidance.
  • Always ask yourself before giving feedback: does your feedback lead to the change you are hoping for?
  • Instead of focusing on “What am I not doing well?”, celebrate your little wins.
  • How can you be twice as good?
  • How you can be most effective will depend a lot on you: your strengths and growth areas, your personality and values.
  • Make a mentor out of everyone you admire.

On Conducting Awesome Meetings:  

  • Consider this: what does a great outcome look like? Who are necessary to make the result happen?
  • Part of working well together is placing trust in decision-makers and in a fair process.
  • Sometimes you have to “disagree and commit” for the sake of moving forward quickly.

A great decision-making meeting achieves the following:

  • Decision is made
  • People directly affected by the decision and designated decision-maker is present during the meeting
  • All credible options, background information, recommendations are presented objectively
  • Equal airtime is given to dissenting opinions. Everyone is heard.

On Using Meetings for Information and Knowledge Transfer 

Nowadays, meetings solely focused on the transfer of knowledge is less necessary and often less efficient. If you are conducting an informational or knowledge-transfer meeting, it should accomplish the following: A great informational meeting accomplishes the following:

  • Enables the group to feel like they learned something valuable
  • Conveys key messages clearly and memorably
  • Keeps audiences attention
  • Evokes intended emotion

On Using Meetings as Feedback Sessions

Meetings meant for feedback sessions should aim to achieve the best outcome on a project and not to pass or receive judgement. Therefore, a great feedback meeting:

  • Gets everyone on the same page on what success looks like
  • Honestly represents the status of the work
  • Frames open questions, critical decisions, or known concerns to get helpful feedback
  • Ends with next steps including next check-in

On Using Meetings as Brainstorm Sessions

A great brainstorm meeting:

  • Produces diverse, non-obvious solutions (quiet time to think is key)
  • Everyone’s ideas are considered
  • Ideas evolve and build off each other through meaningful discussions
  • Concludes with clear next steps

An excellent team-building session:

  • Creates better understanding and trust between the team members
  • Encourages people to be open and authentic
  • Makes people feel cared for

General notes on meetings

  • Practice clarity and ruthless efficiency with your meetings 
  • Send out any files or presentation one day before so everyone can process the information and be a better contributor in the meeting 
  • Not to self: My goal is to give everyone context on who’s doing what so there’s better collaboration and support across the team. However, is it efficient? Are we bogged down with too many details? 
  • As a manager, remember that some meetings don’t need you, and some don’t need to exist at all. If you trust that the right outcomes will happen without you, then you don’t need to be there.
  • Aim to make every single one meeting you are a part of useful, awesome, and energizing so you and your team can achieve more together. 

Making Things Happen

  • Ask yourself: What actions do we take to achieve our goals?
  • START WITH A CONCRETE VISION. Define and share a concrete vision for your team that describes what you’re collectively trying to achieve
  • Create a believable game plan or strategy
  • Keep in mind the planning fallacy, which is our natural bias to predict that things will take less time and money than they actually do.
  • Parkinson’s Law: Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.
  • Perfect execution over perfect strategy: the best plans don’t matter if you can’t achieve them accurately or quickly enough to make a difference.
  • Try to connect every task, project, decision, or goal with the organization’s higher-level purpose.

Some commentary

Delegating

One manager told me that I should be careful because I may be a good operator but I tend to take on too many things at one time and not delegate. According to this book, in order to effectively delegate, I should know when to dive in myself and when to step back and entrust others.

When you dive in too much, you’ve become a micromanager. Some evidence of being a micromanager: 

  • Asking your reports to run every decision by you.
  • Constantly checking in with people
  • Asking for status updates
  • Diving into the minutiae of tasks

On the flip side, when you step back too much, you’ve become an absentee manager.

To close: As a manager pay attention to your own actions. Notice the little things you say and do – as well as what behaviours you are rewarding or discouraging. All of it works together to tell the story of what you care about and how you believe a great team should work together. 

 

About IamJoyceee

I am a full time day dreamer and an eternal wonderer. A Bible-believing Christian, who is a big lover of the Big G, my G and my own little pug, Mr. Pies. I am passionate about being a home chef, solving pain points, as well as adopting tech for good. Twitter: @iamjoyceeee | Instagram: @iamjoyceee

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