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You don’t have to manage people to be a great leader, featuring Julie Zhuo

4 min read
Eli Woolery
  •  Nov 13, 2019
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“You don’t have to manage people to be a great leader.” This is one of the key insights that we took away from our interview with Julie Zhuo—author and VP of Product Design at Facebook—on the Design Better Podcast.

Julie’s career arc paralleled the rocketship trajectory of the social media company, as she grew from an intern to manager of large teams over the course of just a few years. She recently collected much of what she learned over this period in her book, The Making of a Manager. We spoke with Julie about the book and her career at Facebook, and along the way, Julie shared her thoughts on the distinction between leadership and management.

Julie believes that the individual contributor (IC) track should be full of possibilities for leadership, even though the roles aren’t always structured to enable that. In her mind, that’s the difference between a manager and a leader.

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Management is a job, like being a teacher or police officer, and as Julie says, “It [management] can be given to you, and it can be taken away, whereas leadership is a quality that you have to earn.”

And while you can’t be an effective manager without also being a good leader, you don’t need to manage people to be a leader on your team. If you have a vision to share, Julie says you can “inspire a group of other people around you towards a common cause, or…rally around a particular initiative.”

Julie likes to coach ICs to understand their strengths and areas of passion, and help them be a multiplier on their teams. For example, Julie says, “If someone is a brilliant systems thinker and they really care about having a robust and well-designed system in place for the entirety of the design structure and the organization, then how can I help them play that role?”

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Julie also often coaches ICs on the art of delegation, which they may not be comfortable with if they’ve spent their whole career working on tasks that their manager assigns them.

Being a good delegator means giving very specific feedback on what’s working and what isn’t, clarifying expectations and rules, and being able to coach others and enable them to do their best work. And the great thing about learning this as an IC is, if you do transition to a management role, you’ll need these skills to manage people effectively.

Julie Zhuo.

These are a few of the many helpful insights Julie shared with us. Listen to the whole episode, where you can learn more from Julie’s personal stories that can help you advance your career and learn to lead.

If you want more great interviews with design leaders, subscribe to the Design Better Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your audio, so you never miss an episode.