4 unintuitive lessons on management from a product design director at Facebook

4 unintuitive lessons on management from a product design director at Facebook


Julie Zhuo, currently head of product design at Facebook, shares on Medium her experience as a manager as well as several lessons on management she’s learned in the process. She recalls that she first started managing people three years after she graduated and got her first job as a designer. “At the time, I was woefully unqualified”, she confesses. “I barely had any experienced being managed, let alone managing others. I remain grateful to my then-manager for her leap of faith in me. I don’t think I would have bet on myself in her situation”.

Seven years passed since then, and in the meantime, Zhuo has managed product designers, UI engineers and researchers and more recently, other design managers. She remembers having a few things working in her favor when she first started managing. “I was likable, I took my responsibilities seriously, and I always cared to know both sides of the story. But I also had my white whales: an Asian upbringing that taught hierarchy and going with the flow, a desire for perfection, a cavern of insecurities”, she says.

Here are four lessons she has collected over the years:

“You must like dealing with people to be great at management.

If the idea of talking to people for 8 hours straight sounds awful, then you will probably not enjoy the day-to-day of management. I don’t mean to imply that every day is back-to-back meetings, but you can’t gloss over the fact that the pulsing lifeblood of management is people. If listening to and talking with people is not your cup of tea, then management will probably be an uphill slog.

Having all the answers is not the goal. Motivating the team to find the answers is the goal.

It’s unrealistic to expect that a person leading a team is better in most skills than every other person on that team. As a manager, you don’t need to know it all. You don’t even need to pretend to know it all. The best coaches aren’t the best athletes. The best teachers aren’t the best executors. Your job is to get better work out of the team then they could have gotten without you, either because they are afraid of you, or because they are motivated by you.

To evaluate the strength of a manager, look at the strength of their team.

At the most basic level, it means all the day-to-day things that you   personally accomplish don’t matter much in of themselves. You can be the hardworkingest, smartest, most well-liked manager in the world, but if your team has 20 people and a reputation for mediocrity, then I’m sorry but there’s not a world where you can be considered a “great” manager.

The most significant advantage a senior manager has over a junior manager is an expanded perspective.

These days, if I’m to be totally honest, I don’t think a lot of management is learnable without actually experiencing it. That is to say, I believe that it takes at least 3 years (and in most cases longer than that) to become a truly confident senior manager. There is no shortcut where you can master this in a few months or even a year in by reading books, consuming articles, or asking other people for advice. This is because management isn’t some skill like drawing where you can just practice in isolation for hours and hours on end. You need to have the opportunity to be stretched in certain situations in order to learn and grow.”