remember my first time interviewing someone for my team. Even though I was clearly the one with the upper hand—I asked the questions, I decided how the conversation should flow, I selected hire or no hire at the end of the day—my hands were shaking for the entire forty-five minutes. What if the candidate thought my questions were stupid? What if she saw me for the fraud I felt like? What if I accidentally made our team seem like a clown show?
I remember my first time delivering bad news. We were kicking off an exciting new project that had everyone passionately discussing the possibilities. Two of my reports asked me if they could be the lead. I had to say no to someone. I practiced the conversation in front of my bathroom mirror at home, imagining every terrible scenario—was this even the right decision? Was I a dream crusher? Would somebody quit on me right on the spot?
I remember my first time presenting in front of a large audience. I was showcasing design work at Facebook's F8 conference amid a sea of fuzzy cushions and neon lights. We'd never done a public event at that scale before, so it was a big deal. In the weeks leading up to the event, I couldn't stop fiddling with every detail of my presentation. I desperately wanted it to go well, but public speaking terrified me. Even practicing my talk in front of helpful colleagues felt like a nerve-racking ordeal.
I remember my three primary emotions navigating the choppy waters of my new role: fear, doubt, and am I crazy for feeling this way? Everyone else around me seemed to be doing just fine. Everyone else made it look easy.
I never thought managing was easy. I still don't.
Today, nearly ten years after I started on that path, my team has grown by a few orders of magnitude. We design the experience that more than two billion people see when they tap the blue f icon on their phones. We think through the details of how people share what's on their minds, keep up with their friends, interact through conversations and thumbs-ups, and create communities together. If we do our jobs well, then people all over the world—from Belgium to Kenya, from India to Argentina—will feel closer to one another.
Good design at its core is about understanding people and their needs in order to create the best possible tools for them. I'm drawn to design for a lot of the same reasons that I'm drawn to management—it feels like a deeply human endeavor to empower others.
I'm by no means a management expert. I've learned largely by doing, and despite my best intentions, I've made countless mistakes. But this is how anything in life goes: You try something. You figure out what worked and what didn't. You file away lessons for the future. And then you get better. Rinse, repeat.
I've had plenty of help, too, in the form of some amazing leadership training courses (Crucial Conversations is my favorite), articles and books that I turn to again and again (like High Output Management and How to Win Friends and Influence People), and, most important of all, my colleagues. They have generously shared their wisdom with me and inspired me to strive for better. I feel lucky to have worked with Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, and a host of others past and present who have taught me so much.
Another tactic in my self-education started about four years ago, when I decided to write a blog. I thought that the act of sitting down every week and sorting through the jumble of thoughts ping-ponging around my head would help me make sense of them.
I called my blog The Year of the Looking Glass because, like Alice, "I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then." One day, far in the future, I imagined looking back on my collection of posts and recalling my journey. Here were all the things I struggled with. Here are all the ways I have learned.
Other people began to read my articles. They sent them to their friends and colleagues. Strangers started approaching me at events and conferences to discuss the things I had written. They told me how much they appreciated the way I had broken down the struggle. Many were new managers. Some were experienced but dealing with similar challenges of growth and scale. And others weren't currently managers but wondered if it was something they wanted to do down the road.
"You should write a book," some folks suggested. I'd laugh it off.
They couldn't be serious! I had so much left to learn. Maybe someday, in the twilight of my career, after I had discovered the true secret to great management, I could cozy up in a plaid armchair next to a roaring fire and jot down all the heaps of wisdom I had accumulated.
I told my friend this, and he rolled his eyes. "Yeah, but at that point, you won't remember what it's like at the beginning, when everything feels new and hard and crazy. You'll be so far removed." He had a point. There are plenty of management books out there written by top CEOs and leadership experts. Countless resources exist for executives who want to become even more effective through learning about the latest organizational research or business trends.
But most managers are not CEOs or senior executives. Most lead smaller teams, and sometimes not even directly. Most are not featured in the pages of Forbes or Fortune. But they are managers all the same, and they share a common purpose: helping a group of people achieve a common goal. These managers may be teachers or principals, captains or coaches, administrators or planners.