Anant Jain

The Making of a Manager

Book Review

For this week's Book Review, we have our first guest post on this blog! This review is written by my wife, Nupur, who recently became a manager herself. As she started thinking about transitioning to her new role, I couldn't think of a better book recommendation for her to start her journey into the world of people management. She was kind enough to write this book review for my blog after she was done. Nupur is a Senior Group Manager of Product Marketing at Twilio, and publishes a lot of Product Marketing wisdom on LinkedIn. You should follow her there.

The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You

I recently read the “Making of a Manager” by Julie Jhuo as a means to quickly read up and gain some confidence for myself before taking up my new role. What particularly stood out in this book that made it such an easy read was the book’s structure. Every chapter builds on the previous in a very natural manner, and yet can be read independently and referenced at any time — which I plan on doing a lot.

Here are some things from the book that stood out for me, that I’ve already started implementing in real life.

  1. The author notes that a manager’s job consists of three things:
  • Purpose — Ensuring that your team knows what success looks like.

  • People — Setting up your team to succeed.

  • Process — Principles that govern decision making.

    This three pronged structure now forms the three things I’m going to use to personally evaluate myself. If I have these three bases covered in my own line of work, I know I’m doing things mostly right.

  1. We’ve all heard time and again that when it comes to recruiting, find someone that could replace you. The author has provided some guidance to the recruiting process by noting the following questions that a manager should ask themselves:
  • What qualities do I want in a team member?

  • What skills does our team need to complement my own?

  • How should this team look and function in a year?

  • How will my own role and responsibilities evolve?

    I found the complementary skills question especially useful. Management is a two way street. By hiring people with skills you don’t have, you get the opportunity to learn and grow yourself.

  1. The chapter on “Leading a Small Team” describes how to conduct an effective 1:1, which was especially interesting to me, having been on the other side (the direct report side) for most of my career. The advice of using the 1:1 time to not get status reports, but rather use it as a way to learn and grow was known to me, but useful to read again, nonetheless. When I reflected a little on that point, I found that I myself use the 1:1 time as a means to update my manager on status reports. It actually feels a more valuable use of time for myself, and gives me the satisfaction that I’m keeping everyone updated on my work progress. Some excerpts that left a lasting impression on me were:

    • “Everything is fine” is an invitation to prod further.
    • If the convo was pleasant, but largely unmemorable, you can do better.
  2. They say that feedback is a gift. Giving feedback regularly is important so that reports aren’t caught off guard during evaluations. I especially liked the advice on getting rid of the “complement sandwich” as it comes across as insincere. The author also states that at least 50% of the feedback should be positive. I really like that because too often we assume that feedback is only about critiquing — I’m personally going to look out for all the positives and make it a point to call them out as I see them to reinforce what “great work” looks like. In the chapter on “The Art of Feedback”, the author also states the difference between task specific and behavioral feedback, as noted below:

    • To give task-specific feedback as frequently as possible - ideally immediately after the task when the action is fresh.
    • To give behaviorally feedback regularly, but perhaps after observing the task-specific feedback for themes.
  3. The “Managing Yourself” chapter was perhaps the most useful, and action-oriented chapter from the book for me. It probably warrants an entire book review dedicated to it. Here are some highlights from the chapter:

    • It is imperative to move from a “fixed mindset” to a “growth mindset” so that you are motivated to get feedback and don’t judge yourself when you get it and isn’t what you expected, because it is, after all, a gift.
    • It is important to understand yourself at your best and worst so you know how to be more effective. For example, a tip shared was to go for an exercise early in the morning to feel accomplished so you can anchor the rest of your day around that.
    • The author also advises us to visualize to improve outcomes. I have personally benefited from this practice previously. Before basketball games, I’d imagine myself taking perfect layups, and doing beautiful dribbling, and I found that it would very easily fall into place when I actually got on court.
  4. The start of the chapter on “Amazing Meetings” was hilarious as the author depicted what bad meetings look like — and it was only too relatable. Too often, every meeting feels like a meeting. This chapter gave clear actionable tips on how to approach every kind of meeting — and most importantly, why they’re different.

    • A decision meeting: should get a decision made by including the people most directly affected by the decision as well as the decision maker by presenting all options objectively along with the recommended one.
    • An informational meeting: enables the group to feel like they’ve learnt something valuable through rich storytelling.
    • A review meeting: keeps everyone updated on the status of projects and what success looks like and next milestones.
    • A brainstorming meeting: maximizes the quantity of ideas. Prep and facilitation is key to making it successful.

    Two tips that stood out for me were that: the meeting facilitator should always make it easy for everyone to participate, not just the loudest voices. And, that every meeting should end with clear actionable next steps that should be communicated soon after.

  5. In the “Hiring Well” chapter, the author tells you to design your team intentionally - by taking into account your future growth. The author illustrates the standard recruiting practices of asking for recommendations, sharing past examples of similar work, and getting multiple interviewers involved.

    • But the most striking advice is to look for passionate advocates of the candidate rather than consensus.
    • The author also advises you to ask each candidate the same thing to risk hiring based on bias.
  6. It is crucial to have a concrete vision for your team — one that is bold, measurable, inspires, and is repeatable from one person to the next. In the chapter on “Making things happen”, the author gives some great tips on planning:

    • Always create a believable game plan that has a realistic shot at winning.
    • Ownership should be clear - every conversation should have next steps.
    • Large goals should be broken down into small pieces with milestones.
    • Commitment should be made publicly for accountability.
    • Perfect execution is more important than the perfect strategy.
    • Debriefs and retros are critical and should be turned into playbooks.

    In the same chapter, the author suggests an approach to how to divide your team’s projects, and called it the “portfolio approach”, which is similar to a stock portfolio:

    • 1/3rd of the team works on projects that can be completed on the order of weeks.
    • 1/3rd of the team works on medium-term projects that may take months.
    • 1/3rd works on innovative, early-stage ideas whose impact will be after years.
  7. In the chapter on “Leading a growing team”, the author advises you to coach and develop your reports to become managers. Some takeaways to note here are:

    • To effectively context switch, have a robust note-taking and task management system.
    • Don’t assume that your reports don’t want hard problems. Give hard problems to your reports - it is a sign of trust.
    • Focus on what you are uniquely able to do better than everyone else.
  8. The book ends with a chapter on “Nurturing Culture”, which emphasizes on creating the best relationships with your direct reports as well as between the group. Here, the author advises you to:

    • Understand your current team and your aspirations for the team, and then note the difference.
    • Communicate what you care about repeatedly.
    • Walk the talk. Be the first to live your values.
    • Create incentives that help uphold your values.

All in all, the book was a great read. I walked away with many actionable tips and tricks that I’m going to personally use in my work.

This is #64 in a series of book reviews published weekly on this site.