Julie Zhuo of Facebook learned management at a small tech start-up and grew with it to become an executive who manages hundreds of employees. Her bestseller offers clear, engaging – if somewhat familiar – advice for managers at every career stage.
Zhuo runs product design teams that have created among the most utilized and admired web and mobile services worldwide. She writes a renowned blog, “The Year of the Looking Glass,” and contributes to The New York Times and Fast Company.
Logan Green, the CEO and co-founder of Lyft, explains, “Julie does an incredible job simplifying the role of a manager.” Brit Morgan, CEO and founder of Brit + Co, describes this book as, “a leadership manifesto for a startup, global mega-company or anything in between.”
Manifesto is right. Zhuo’s advice, though presented warmly and with illustrative anecdotes and illustrations, boils down to an accessible punch list that happily requires little explanation. You can open any page and find worthwhile advice.
The first three months
Zhuo begins with an overview. She believes you learn and earn your leadership position through identifying challenges and motivating others to work together. If you’re a “new boss,” she suggests that you ask every conceivable question and keep an open mind. Build relationships and earn trust. Don’t try to be like your former boss, Zhuo cautions. Instead, build on your own strengths.
She reminds you that supportive managers adapt, interact and have substantive conversations, so be sure you gather the right mix of people. Know their strengths and weaknesses.
When someone isn’t a great fit…there is a cost. Would you rather pay it by making a hard move or by passing it on to other team members and customers?Julie Zhuo
Your staff need to recognize good work and want to do it. Zhuo repeats throughout the book that they deserve compassion, respect and support. In the midst of her compassion, however, Zhuo can be hardboiled: remove toxic and disruptive people, she insists, no matter their brilliance.
Zhuo cites the Facebook motto: “Feedback is a gift.” As she attends to the nuances of interpersonal behavior and organizational values, she underscores – as per the current wave of leadership books – the importance of candid, constructive feedback in creating resilient employees and successful teams. She regards it as a crucial management tool that helps you change and grow, and lets you steer people in the right direction. Set and track expectations to avoid disappointments and, she stresses, build an atmosphere of emotional safety.
New managers, Zhuo reports, are likely to suffer from imposter syndrome. After all, they’re doing things they’ve never done. To counteract it, she recommends inventorying your capabilities and leading from your strengths. Returning to her theme of feedback, Zhuo urges you to ask your manager, peers and staff about your strengths and weaknesses.
Zhuo shows particular sensitivity when she instructs you not to berate yourself. Requesting help when you need it, she avows, is the brave choice of the self-aware.
If you don’t have a good handle on yourself, you won’t have a good handle on how to best support your team.Julie Zhuo
Zhuo provides a handy checklist for recognizing when you are self-managing well: rejoice in modest successes, pursue enjoyable activities outside of work, learn constantly, seek feedback and consider everyone a potential mentor.
Yes, a meeting can be great
Contrary to popular memes, there is such a thing as a great meeting, and Zhuo defines it. In a great meeting, she says, participants gain something valuable and learn what next steps are coming up. She prioritizes being efficient and inviting the right people. First, she advises, make sure that the meeting itself needs to happen and that you have to attend.
A single meeting is not an end unto itself; it is a stepping-stone in the much longer path of creating something valuable for the world.Julie Zhuo
Send out an agenda and materials ahead of time. Create a nonjudgmental environment and elicit contributions. Value openness and challenging questions. Follow up with a summary memo, including assignments and milestones. Solicit candid feedback after every meeting.
Hiring well creates a successful future. Zhuo recognizes that preparation is crucial. Define what your ideal candidate would bring, she proposes, and describe the job specifically. Make sure candidates have a great experience being interviewed. Returning to the human element, Zhuo contends that your prospect must be eager to join you.
Multiple interviews bring perspective. Ask each interviewer to provide an independent opinion. Reject any lukewarm consensus as a faulty hire. Diversity makes for a stronger, more creative and resilient team. Zhuo wants you to nurture a company-wide attitude that prioritizes attracting and retaining top talent.
Planning, executing and iterating
Managing requires creating and following effective processes. Develop a strategy, Zhuo says, to deploy unique team talents and skills. Execute a number of specific priorities. As Zhou explains in her May 2019 article, “How to Become a Strategic Leader,” in the MIT Sloan Management Review, to lead more strategically, you need to build your team’s alignment with goals, study the problems it faces and establish its priorities. And, she reiterates here, “Effort doesn’t count; results are what matters.”
Much of Zhuo’s advice in this section could come from any current management text. It’s useful, but perhaps familiar: emphasize accomplishment, not perfection. Learn what works and what doesn’t; revise and iterate. Adapt and change. Help the team learn from failures. Create a portfolio of best practices.
Taming the larger team
As your team grows, your skills will evolve into creating and sustaining its vision, effective communication, hiring and delegating. As you move up, Zhuo learned from experience, people will treat you differently. Accordingly, she underscores, develop and hire managers you trust, and the delegate responsibility to them.
Pay attention to your own actions – the little things you say and do – as well as what behaviors you are rewarding or discouraging. All of it works together to tell the story of what you care about and how a great team should work together.Julie Zhuo
Zhuo repeatedly stresses the importance of time management and priority setting. Empower staff members to lead by handing off responsibility and accountability. Some managers will struggle or fail. Zhuo doesn’t fear the hard questions: Ask yourself if you would hire these people again. If not, cut them loose, she says – something that, one might add, may work better in a hire-and-fire culture like America’s than in a more regulated environment like France’s or Germany’s.
Culture and values
Zhuo treasures team culture, through which she communicates values and norms. She encourages you to show what you care about passionately and to demonstrate how much you care through your actions. That is how, she points out, you make culture. Throughout, the author remains humble. She insists that great managers are “made, not born” – a helpful perspective for those whose recent promotion has them feeling overwhelmed, a reaction that Zhuo regards as only sensible.