Ideas that can help every entrepreneur achieve more.
Most management books are self-help fluff by people who’ve never done what they’re preaching. So when a fellow founder recommended Julie Zhuo’s The Making of A Manager, I didn’t expect much.
Turns out I was wrong.
Zhuo’s book is a bible for entrepreneurs who want to help their team achieve better outcomes. I wish I’d read this book before founding my first company. Reading it would have helped me avoid many pitfalls.
What follows are the top four lessons from the book with actionable questions on how to use them.
Use these 3 pillars for stellar 1-on-1 meetings
These meetings are an essential lever to building healthy relationships with your team. Zhuo recommends doing a weekly 1-on-1 with every person that reports directly to you.
These 30-minutes should feel a bit awkward — because that’s how you realize you’re in the meaningful zone. Strong relationships don’t arise from superficial small talk. Instead, talk about mistakes, confront tensions, and share your fears and hope.
But meaningful conversations don’t arise naturally. You need to prepare, or as Zhuo writes:
“It’s rare that an amazing conversation springs forth when nobody has a plan for what to talk about. I tell my reports that I want our time together to be valuable, so we should focus on what’s most important for them.”
When you prepare, think about your report’s top priorities. How can you help? Moreover, list the feedback that will help your co-worker succeed. Lastly, sharpen your understanding of what ‘great’ looks like.
The main goal of these 1-on-1 meetings is to help your report. What would help them be more successful in what they’re doing? Don’t look for status updates but focus on topics that are hard to discuss in a larger group. Once you’re in the 1-on-1, three pillars will make them valuable.
- What’s top of mind for you right now?
- What priorities do you think about this week?
- What’s the best use of our time today?
- What does your ideal outcome look like?
- What’s hard for you in getting to that outcome?
- What do you really care about?
- What do you think is the best course of action?
- What’s the worst-case scenario you’re worried about?”
- How can I help you?
- What can I do to make you more successful?
- What was the most useful part of our conversation today?”
Appreciation can work as fuel. Make sure also to reinforce good behavior. Kind words about your co-worker’s unique strengths will help both of you achieve your goals. You know you’ve held a great 1-on-1 if your team member found it highly useful.
Transform average meetings into great ones
Even as an entrepreneur, most meetings suck. They’re part of any work culture, no matter how small or large your company might be. Yet, most meetings are highly unproductive.
“Meetings are a blight of big companies and almost always get worse over time. [..] walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it’s obvious you aren’t adding value. It is not rude to leave; it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time”
— Elon Musk in an email to his staff
While most of us can’t simply walk out of meetings, we can be more respectful of each other’s time. Zhuo’s tips transform average meetings into great ones.
Great meetings should be simple and straightforward. They have a clear purpose and lead to clear outcomes. But having a meeting agenda is not enough. Besides, you need a picture of the desired outcome.
If you schedule a meeting to make a joint decision, make sure every attendee can give their opinion (either through speaking, commenting, or voting). Focus on making the time valuable for everyone involved but don’t get lost in details.
In my team’s last meeting, I put “decide on communication tool for teamwork” on the list. I estimated 10 minutes for this discussion. Yet, two co-workers held strong opinions about the different tools, and it became clear that we wouldn’t reach an agreement. At the same time, the other four team members involved were indifferent.
Instead of letting this discussion take up the entire meeting time, I asked the two for a brief get-together after the meeting. By removing anything from the agenda that didn’t concern all of the attendees, your co-workers will know you respect their time.
Another way to make your meetings more valuable is by being vulnerable. A way to foster opposing opinions is by acknowledging that you don’t know everything, Zhuo writes.
Acknowledging your shortcomings with your team will foster a growth mindset. Dare to say when you don’t know an answer and ask for your team’s ideas. Apologize when you made a mistake. Share your learning goals with your team.
Lastly, think about which meetings can be replaced by a call, an email, or a shared document? When Zhuo realized her weekly stand-ups were repetitive, she replaced the meeting with a weekly e-mail.
Use reflection to manage yourself better
The key to managing yourself is understanding your strengths and weaknesses. And a great way to do this is by reflecting — the active decision to think about your past. Or, as researchers put it:
“Reflection is the intentional attempt to synthesize, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught by experience.”
We don’t have to be visibly active to learn. Progress starts with self-awareness. If we aren’t aware of a problem, we can’t improve.
I do a yearly reflection every December and another every month, but Zhuo’s input inspired me to do it more regularly. Here’s a checklist of questions you can ask (and my answer to them):
- How would the people who know and like you describe you in three words?
inspiring, thoughtful, empathetic
- Which three qualities are you really proud of?
open-minded, generous, mindful
- When you remember your last success, what were the traits that enabled you to succeed?
getting-things-done mentality, reflection, vision
- Which positive feedback have you received most commonly from your co-workers or chef?
growth mindset, motivating, efficient
- Whenever your worst inner critic sits on your shoulder, what does she yell at you for?
wanting to make it right for everybody, holding back my opinion, not trying hard enough
- If you could ask a fairy for three gifts you don’t have yet — what would you ask for?
persuasiveness, patience, courage
- What are the things that trigger you?
people with overconfidence and inflated egos, not being accountable, the ideas other people don’t appreciate my work
- What are the three most common pieces of advice from your team or boss on who you can improve?
dare to disagree with popular opinions, share achievements with others, be less direct
If you’re unsure about your strengths and weaknesses, ask the people around you for feedback. Once you have your answers, you can work best with the resources you have.
In the words of American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey:
“We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.”
As with all business advice, pick the lessons that best help you in your situation. Focus on the principles that make a difference in your company.
- Use the three pillars of identifying, understanding, and supporting to make every 1-on-1 meaningful.
- Transform average meetings into great ones by removing the ones you don’t need and welcoming contradicting opinions.
- Get better at managing yourself by using reflection as a learning tool.
Without application and action, the best advice is worthless. If you, however, apply one principle at a time, you’ll realize how these small decisions accumulate and lead to changes in your company.