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Book notes: The making of a manager

Book notes: The making of a manager


I don’t read book summaries. Neither should you. The following are mostly notes to myself, and are my interpretations.

I've always admired Julie Zhuo's popular blog, especially the fact that she consistently wrote for years in a go. When her book released, I was apprehensive about reading it because I don't like reading management books. After listening to her on Lenny's podcast recently, I thought of giving the book a chance.

I picked it up to see how does a popular design blogger write a book. It was exactly like reading through her blogs. You can pick any chapter, any section and start reading.

If you want to read just one book on the topic, I'd recommend Gung-ho instead. The core principles have not changed in most management books.

  • Good managers think their job is to have meetings with reports to help them solve problems, share feedback about what is or isn't going well, and take care of promotions and firings

  • Great managers build teams that work well together, support members in reaching their career goals, and create processes to get work done smoothly & efficiently

  • Three core responsibilities of a manager are people, purpose, and process (this is a simple, yet powerful takeaway. Now, I've started constantly focusing on either getting the right people for the right job, giving them the right purpose to do the job well and setting processes that enables them to do their best work)

  • Manager is a job, leadership is a quality

  • A manager's job is to get better outcomes from a group of people working together through influencing purpose, people, and process.

  • Simon Sinek, "What makes a good leader is that eschew the spotlight in favour of spending time and energy to do what they need to do to support and protect their people" and in return, "We offer our blood and sweat and tears and do everything we can to see our leader's vision come to life"

  • Give clarity from the beginning — What a great job looks like, What's the best way to get started, Common pitfalls to avoid (Gung Ho is the OG book)

  • Peer feedback format: a) What is X doing well that they should do more of? and b) What should X change or stop doing?

  • Facebook poster: Feedback is a gift. It costs time and effort to share, but when we have it, we're better off. So let's give it generously.


  • StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath

  • StandOut by Marcus Buckingham

  • How would the people who know and like me best describe me in three words?

  • What three qualities do I possess that I am the proudest of?

  • When I look back on something I did that was successful, what personal traits do I give credit to?

  • What are the top three most common pieces of positive feedback that I've received from my manager or peers

  • Whenever my worst inner critic sits on my shoulder, what does she yell at me for?

  • If a magical fairy were to come and bestow on me three gifts I don't yet have, what would they be?

  • What are three things that trigger me?

  • What are the top three most common pieces of feedback from my manager or peers on how I could be more effective?

  • Identify and write down under what condition, situations you perform at your best and worst (time of the day, duration of sleep, schedule for the personal and work day, little habits, etc.). Once you know this, you can make small changes. Very helpful tip!

Questions to ask your manager

  • What opportunities do you see for me to do more of what I do well? What do you think are the biggest things holding me back from having greater impact?

  • What skills do you think a hypothetical perfect person in my role would have? For each skill, how would you rate me against that ideal on a scale of one to five?


  • Practice hard & soft skills to be twice as good. E.g. practice coaching, wireframing, etc. to get better or you won't.

  • If you're not learning from your manager, work on changing your relationship with them.

  • Treat your manager as a coach, "I want to learn to become a better presenter, so I'd be grateful if you kept an eye out for opportunities where I can get in front of others." "I'm making a hiring call between two candidates with different strengths. Can I walk you through my thinking and get your advice?"

  • "How do you decide which meetings to attend?"

  • "How do you approach selling to a candidate?"


Added these on top of my existing list of hiring questions

  • What kinds of challenges are interesting to you and why? Can you describe a favourite project? (Tells you passion)

  • What do you consider your greatest strengths? What would your peers agree are your areas of growth? (Self-awareness)

  • Imagine yourself in three years. What do you hope will be different about you then compared to now? (Ambitions, goal oriented)

  • What was the hardest conflict you've had in the past year? How did it end, and what did you learn from the experience? (Collaboration skills)

  • What's something that's inspired you in your work recently? (Interest, taste)


  • Every task has a who and by when. Owners set and reliably deliver on commitments.

  • Use language that invites discussion. E.g., "I may be totally wrong here, so tell me if you disagree. My opinion is…" (I need to practice this more)

  • A manager's job is to be a positive multiplier for the team

  • A manager is constantly looking for ways to replace themselves for the job they're currently doing

  • Spend your time on the intersection of a) most important thing for the organisation and b) what you're uniquely able to do better than anyone else

Team culture survey idea

Current state

  • What are the first three adjectives that come to mind when describing the personality of your team?

  • What moments made you feel most proud to be a part of your team? Why?

  • If you picked five random members of your team and individually asked each person, "What does our team value?" what would you hear?

  • Imagine an outsider scrutinising your team. What would she say your team does well or not well?

  • When people ocmplain about how things work, what are the top three things that they bring up?

Aspiration state

  • Describe the top five adjectives you'd want an external observer to use to describe your team's culture. Why those?

  • Now imagine those five adjectives sitting on a double-eded sword. What do you imagine are the pitfalls that come from ruthless adherence to those qualities? Are those acceptable to you?

  • Make a list of the aspects of culture that you admire about other teams or organisations. Why do you admire them? Create the opposite list as well.


  • On a scale of 0 - 100 percent, how close is your current team from your aspirations?

  • Imagine how you want your team to work in a year's time. How would you describe to a report what you hope will be different than compared to now?

  • Different approaches to consistently communicate what I care about — 1:1s with my reports, emails, notes with top priorities, Q&A sessions

© Copyright 2023, I guess.

© Copyright 2024, I guess.