GREAT MANAGERS ARE MADE, NOT BORN
I remember the meeting when my manager asked me to become a manager.
It was unexpected, like going for your daily run and tripping over a pirate chest. Oh, I thought, how intriguing.
We were sitting in a ten-person conference room, kitty-corner from each other. "Our team is growing," my manager explained. "We need another manager, and you get along with everyone. What do you think?"
I was twenty-five, working at a start-up. All that I knew of management could be neatly summarized into two words: meetings and PROMOTION. I mean, this was a promotion, wasn't it? Everyone knows this conversation is the equivalent of Harry Potter getting a visit from Hagrid on a dark and stormy night, the first step in an adventurous and fulfilling career. I wasn't about to turn down that kind of invitation.
So I said yes.
It was only later, walking out of the room, that I thought about the details of what she had said. I got along with everyone. Surely there was more to management than that. How much more? I was about to find out.
I remember my first meeting with a direct report.
I arrived five minutes past our scheduled time, in a rush and flustered by my lateness. This is a terrible start, I thought to myself. I could see him through the windowed door of the conference room—the same one I had met my manager in previously—eyes glued to his phone. Just a day earlier, we had both been designers on the same team, sitting in our adjacent pods, working on our respective projects while lobbing rapid-fire design feedback across the aisle. Then the announcement was made, and now I was his manager.
I'm not nervous, I told myself. We're going to have a great conversation. About what, I wasn't entirely sure. I just wanted this meeting to feel normal, like it had yesterday and the day before that. If he didn't 'love' the fact that I was his manager, then at the very least I wanted him to be cool with it.
I'm not nervous.
I walked in. He glanced up from his phone, and I'll never forget the expression on his face. It had all the surliness of a teenager forced to attend his ten-year-old cousin's Pokémon-themed birthday party.
"Hi," I said, trying to keep my voice level. "So, uh, what are you working on right now?"
His scowl only deepened, settling in like a bear for the winter. I could feel the sweat starting to form on my face, the hot rush of blood pounding in my ears.
I wasn't a better designer than this guy. I wasn't smarter or more experienced. The look on his face alone was enough to dispel me of any notion that he'd "be cool" with the fact that I was his manager. The message was as clear as if it had been written in giant black Sharpie:
You have no idea what you're doing.
At that moment, I felt he was absolutely right.
By all accounts, the path that led me to managing Facebook's design team was an unlikely one. I grew up in the dense streets of Shanghai and then the humid suburbs of Houston, an immigrant clueless about the significance of Star Wars, Michael Jackson, and E.T. Growing up, I'd heard the term Silicon Valley a few times but took it literally. I imagined that nestled between two mountain ranges were neat little rows of factories printing silicon chips like Hershey bars. If you had asked me what designers do, I would have said, "Make nice clothing."
I did know two things, though, even early on, and those were how much I loved drawing and building. There is a photo of me at eight years old on Christmas morning, a huge grin stretched across my face as I held up the present I'd been begging for all year: a new set of pirate LEGOS—complete with a monkey and a shark!