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How To Manage Like A Boss…Because You Are One

Practical tips on managing and leading teams even if you feel as though you don’t know what you’re doing.

Are you a manager, or hoping to become one? Ever feel nervous that someone’s going to notice that you’re shooting from the hip and figuring it out as you go? Feeling lost or unprepared to help others succeed?

If so, you’re not alone. Julie Zhuo felt the same way when she was flung into management at age 25 because her skills as a top product designer were noticed. After years of trial and error, she became Silicon Valley’s go-to gal for management. For the rest of us who aren’t in The Valley, she authored The Making Of A Manager: What To Do When Everyone Looks To You.

Why? Because managing is hard and boils down to people, who are complex and multifaceted. And, because remarkable things progress via teams, so managers aren’t going away any time soon.

Julie Zhuo PHOTO CREDIT: JEFF SINGER

I sat down with Zhuo to get some actionable takeaways for all my managers out there:

The true definition of a manager

First, it’s important to get on the same page about who and what a manager truly is.

Zhuo believes, “A great manager, quite simply, is someone who gets great outcomes from her team. It doesn’t mean she has to be excellent at everything herself, but rather that she builds a capable team and enables them to do their best work in service of the team’s goals. Great managers believe that people can do more together than alone, and that their job is to be a multiplier for their team, which means playing whatever role is most critical at any given time to helping the team be successful–whether recruiter, coach, office housekeeper, operator, visionary–even if it’s unglamorous or hard.”

Managers are made, not born

You might be like Zhuo and be thrust into a position of management, or perhaps you started your own company and grew your team, suddenly becoming a manager. Don’t fret if you’ve never dreamed of being, or been trained to be a manager.

“The ability to manage is not something that’s bestowed upon you at birth. It’s a journey of everyday improvement, because you’re constantly being put into situations that you’ve never encountered before. How can you expect to be excellent at knowing whom to hire from a group, how to fire a poor performer, or what the best process is to execute efficiently across a team, without any past experience? It’s through the process of doing, making mistakes, reflecting, and learning about ourselves and others that we make ourselves into great managers.”

Is being a manager for you?

You can learn to be a great manager. But, in reality, do you actually want to be?

“There’s one caveat to my belief that great managers are made, not born, and that’s this: you have to want to do it, and enjoy (or at least not mind) the day-to-day of the job. If you are wondering whether you can be a great manager, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Do I find it more motivating to achieve a particular outcome, or to play a specific role? This question matters more than any of the others, and a strong yes can make up for pretty much anything else. As a manager, you must do what is best for your team. If your team is down four people, you’re going to have to focus on hiring, whether you like it or not. If you prefer to focus on a specific aspect of a job–seeing patients, writing code, architecting solutions–you may be happier as an individual contributor.
  2. Do I like talking with people? Being a manager means working through other people. If you prefer to spend long hours by yourself focused on solving problems, you may find the day-to-day exhausting.
  3. Can I provide stability for an emotionally-challenging situation? People are complex and multifaceted, and every team has its share of disagreements, disappointments, and human challenges. If listening to and helping others through difficulties is not your cup of tea, you may want to consider whether you’ll be satisfied as a manager.”
Julie Zhuo’s book, The Making Of A Manger IMAGE COURTESY OF PORTFOLIO BOOKS

You don’t need all the answers

Zhuo shares about her early mistakes: “The biggest mistake I made as a new manager was assuming that I should act as though I knew everything. I thought managers had to be authoritative and confident, so even when I didn’t know what I was doing, I pretended otherwise. This is a bad idea for two reasons: First, people can typically detect whether or not you’re being authentic, and it makes it harder for them to trust you. Second, you close yourself off from getting help or advice, which leads to worse decision-making. An important part of management is managing yourself. And, that comes with being brutally honest about your strengths and weaknesses.”

Every manager and team is unique

There is no paint-by-numbers approach to this because every leader and every person on your team is unique. So, Zhuo suggests, “We all start out with different strengths, interests, quirks, and blind spots. The context of the team being managed also factors into our success. Even if I am a seasoned and effective design manager, I likely wouldn’t get the same results right away if I had to manage a sales team.”

Set communication expectations

Communication is a critical factor for success, just as in any type of relationship. Zhuo shares these tips for how to make it effective: “For the work-related communication, it helps to set explicit, clear norms around how problem solving happens or how information gets distributed to prevent crossed wires and to give everyone time to work through things. For example, you might ask everyone to check in on Slack or email in the morning with their goals for the day, and to share what got done at the end of the day. Or, you may specify times during the day for online office hours where anyone can ask questions and get context.”

Managing remote teams

“Communication becomes twice as important when you’re not working out of the same physical location as other members of your team. The biggest thing that gets lost with remote teammates is the organic desk or hallway conversations that happen when you see someone. Sometimes these organic conversations are work-related (working through a question or a problem, sharing context, etc) and sometimes they are social and serve to form tighter bonds between coworkers. If different time zones are involved, establish clear expectations for when folks should be responsive and available. Make sure you’re also dedicating a block of time every week to chatting with your reports, ideally face-to-face over video conferencing. Set aside time dedicated to getting to know each other, as well. I know a company that has a video-conferencing meeting every week purely dedicated to the non-work stuff–telling personal stories, have a virtual drink, discussing water-cooler topics. Other companies plan quarterly trips to get the team together in person to create tighter bonds and relationships.”

Hire well

There is no team without people, and people get there by hiring them. Many of us dread this process, but Zhuo suggests that, “At a growing organization, hiring well is the single most important thing you can do. Even one great hire can make a big difference in your team’s outcomes. So don’t look at hiring as if it’s a problem to be solved and say yes to the first reasonable person who comes along. Approach hiring as though you’re building the future organization of your dreams. Ask yourself, ‘What skills and diverse perspectives does my team need to be more well-rounded and effective?’ and make sure each new hire fits into that aspiration. Reflect on ‘What kind of people would make me look forward to coming in to work each morning?’ and ensure that new hires contribute to the values you want your team to uphold. When talking to prospective candidates, don’t sell them on how great your team is right now, sell them on the impact you see them having, and what new heights your team will achieve with them on board. And make sure to have multiple team members interview a candidate and submit their hire or no hire assessments independently. You’ll get better signal if everyone gives his/her honest take.”

Give feedback often

Offering and receiving feedback can sound intimidating. But Zhuo believes that, “Frequent feedback is a gift. Aim to give feedback every time you see one of your reports in action, whether it’s giving a presentation, submitting an analysis, interacting with a client, etc. If you thought it was great, say so, and why exactly. If you thought it was okay but could be better, share some suggestions for next time.”

Offer monthly “career conversations”

Building on this on-the-fly approach, here’s a way to add some structure to your feedback.

“At least once a month, have a career conversation with your report to ensure you understand his or her goals. Think about the patterns of behavior you’ve seen from that person and share that with them to help them understand how well they’re tracking against their goals, and what you believe will help them have even greater impact. Don’t forget to discuss their strengths as well as their areas of growth–we often achieve more playing to our strengths than trying to correct our weaknesses.”

Share tough feedback with this trick

“If you have tough feedback to give, I recommend delivering it in person and directly versus in a “compliment sandwich” (praise, criticism, praise). Offering a few superficial words of praise to temper a hard message comes off as insincere, and the thing you actually want the person to pay attention to might be lost. Remind yourself that with all feedback–even hard feedback–the reason it matters to share constantly is that you want to help your report do her best work. Also, don’t forget to ask for feedback from her as well, to help you do your job better.”

Here’s to your managing your expectations and your teams!

Want more success and fulfillment in your life? Then check out this free masterclass with Deepak Chopra and me. In it, we share the 5 key things you need to know to create a more meaningful life!

This article was originally published on Forbes.

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