Reading review - The making of a manager | Marshall Shen

Reading review - The making of a manager

Reading review - The making of a manager

For early managers and leaders, this book is approachable and lays out foundational skill and mindsets for becoming successful leaders. Being a great leader is about setting clear vision, and building a great team that people want to be part of.

I will turn to this book again and again as a reference for how to help my team deliver and grow.

I treat this book as one of those I will go back to again and again.

Ask for specific feedback

Feedback is a gift and asking for feedback requires thougtfulness. Asking “can you give me feedback” is too abstract for the feedback giver, and if we a direct report for feedback, the bias of power dynamic comes to play making feedback less likely to be effective and actionable.

Instead, ask for specific feedback based on concrete interactions. Meanwhile, continuously set the safe environment for feedback by repeating the same message (i.e. explain why do we value feedback).

Pick three to seven people whom you work closely with and ask if they’d be willing to share some feedback to help you improve. Even if your company already has a process for 360-degree feedback, it helps to be specific about what you want to know and to provide reassurance that you’re looking for honesty, not just pats on the back. Take example below.

Hey, I value your feedback and I’d like to be a more effective team member. Would you be willing to answer the questions below? Please be as honest as you can because that’s what will help me the most – I promise nothing you say will offend me. Feedback is a gift, and I’m grateful for your taking the time.

Examples of specific asks: On our last project together, in what ways did you see me having impact? What do you think I could have done to have more impact?

Growth and Tenacity mindset

Growth mindset is crucial for anyone and important to keep it in mind as we grow as managers and leaders. Challanges always arise and it’s easy to form tunnel vision and feel stuck in a situation. With a growth mindset, we will take a step back and think about the long-term goal and vision. With the long-term goal and vision in mind, we can transform our point of view for the current challenge as an opportunity to grow, a test of our personal character, and approach it with best effort.

Tenacity mindset is the willingness to push forward even the challenge at hand seems overwhelming and our efforts seem futile. The tenacity mindset prompts to ask “is the situation moving towards right direction if we take action?”. One prime example of tenacity mindset shows in Obama’s memoir, when his administration was working on Affordable Care Act, he keeps pushing forward with the long-term goal of providing health care coverage for all americans.

Growth mindset says “grow from hardship”. Tenacity mindset says “try anyway to move the needle.”

If I approached challenges with the belief that I could get better at anything if I put in the effort, then the vicious cycle of anxious self-evaluation would be broken. No matter how good or bad I am at any particular skill, the notion that it’s within my power to improve has allowed me to approach learning with curiosity instead of apprehension.

Few things, done well

The biggest takeaway: People who achieve the most are selective as well as determined. Stay focused, and get few things done well.

Conventional wisdom says that success comes from working hard and perservering through difficulties. That’s sage advice, but it overlooks how important focus is. As Koch writes, “Few people takes objectives really seriously. They put average effort into too many things, rather than superior thought and effort into a few important things. People who achieve the most are selective as well as determined.

In the words of Apple visionary Steve Jobs, creator of the iPod, iPhone, and iPad: “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.

Execution over strategy

In building a great, resilient team, have a bias towards execution over strategy. A great team exhibits great execution, and strategy can be built on top of a solid foundation of execution.

I once heard a colleague say that she’d take perfect execution over perfect strategy any day. What’s the difference? Well, if your strategy is bad, then you’ll make a move on a chessboard that opens you up to attack. But if your execution is bad, then your intended “Rook to E5” somehow becomes “Bishop to D10” because you’re trying to play chess with your feet instead of your hands.


Doing something is different from owning something. Doing is about taking action, while owning is taking action AND being committed to and responsible for achieving the intended outcome.

To promot ownership culture, be explicit about ownership and credits to the owner.

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

You need to actually believe your report is capable of solving the problem. If that’s the case, give it to her and step back so she has the space to lead. Tell everyone else that she should now be considered the owner of the problem. Doing so creates accountability, but more important, then public declaration empowers the delegate.

Never stop talking about what’s important

Being a leader is about telling the same story over and over again.

I’ve found that the more frequently and passionately I talk about what’s important to me – including my missteps and what I’ve learned through to me – including my missteps and what I’ve learned through them – the more positively my team responds. I’ll get notes from people saying, “I care about that too. How can I help?” I’ll hear others reinforcing the same messages and supporting each other to change their behavior. And even when people disagree with me, the act of discussing it openly shed light on the topic for everyone.

As I’ve given greater voice to what I care about, nobody, not even once, has told me that it’s annoying or condescending. Instead, the feedback is the opposite – talking about your values makes you a more authentic and inspiring leader.

Always Day One

Being a leader is a journey, and it’s always day one.

In another ten years, I know I’ll look back and realize that the path I’m on today is still squiggly. There is much left to learn, and I am far from being the manager I aspire to be. The journey is 1% finsihed. It’s always Day One.