Creating and sharing a manager readme/operating manual is a great way to reflect on who you are as a leader, what your leadership philosophy is, and what folks can expect from you. I learned this from Lara Hogan’s wonderful management expectations.
If you’re a manager, you probably spend a lot of time trying to understand how your teammates work best and what they need from you. Naturally, this skews the relationship a little to one side. Opening up and sharing about myself was probably one of my scariest growth moments as a new manager. I wanted to bring my most professional “manager self” to every conversation.
As I began to relax into my role, I began to notice that the moments where I let myself authentically connect I could feel my relationships with my team deepen in a magical and surprising way. Turns out, “Manager Gameface!” is not super helpful when two humans are trying to figure each other out and build a working relationship.
The less that is implied or mysterious about you, the safer and more trusting others will feel
The great news is that this openness is absolutely something you can practice, and leap into, and that it’s never too late. For your direct reports to be confident working with you, it really helps that you share your own work style, preferences, and what they can expect reporting to you. The less that is implied or mysterious about you, the safer and more trusting others will feel working with you, relying on you, and being open with you about themselves.
Defining your leadership philosophy means your team has a way to hold you accountable
Defining what you value as a leader and what the shared expectations between you and your direct reports are achieves two things: 1) folks know who you are and what to expect from you, and 2) they’re much more able to give you feedback and hold you accountable. If they know what you believe and expect as manager, folks will feel more confident that any behaviour of yours that’s not aligned is likely unintended and something you’d be eager to hear about and fix.
The most common reason I’ve heard for not giving managers’ feedback is “I’m not sure whether my manager should be doing X”. If X is in your operating manual, and you’re not doing it, it’s much more likely you’ll hear about something important that you need to work on than if the expectations are left unstated.
This is quite a reflective exercise so I recommend a happy reflective place. For me, it’s a coffee shop with nice music — whatever makes you happy. I’d avoid rushing this in between meetings on a busy day, or working on it after an emotionally draining time. For example, if you have a tough 1:1, and then you write about your expectations, you might end up sounding far more heavy-handed with those expectations than you intended.
It’s also great to update it from time to time. When you get a new direct report can be a nice chance. Otherwise, it might be nice to revisit yearly as part of a yearly reflection, or if you realize that something has evolved for you.
But it’s super awkward to just share this Manual About Myself ™️…
So you’ve worked with a teammate for months or even years and now you’re imagining walking into your 1:1, and sharing this document of who you are and you’re imagining this eye-rolling and that kind of “uh… ok whatever that’s pretty weird” response and you’re thinking that’s never going to fly on your actual team.
It’s ok. Really, really it is. People appreciate growth, learning and sharing. Just share why you’re doing it, and do it. No-one has said to me “oh, your operating manual is super weird, why did you do that? Why would I care?”. People are usually honoured that you’d think so carefully about being their manager, and open up to them like this. Not even kidding.
You can use the “I want to try this cheesy thing that I heard can be helpful. I tried out an experiment and made an operating manual that I want to share with folks… I’d love to hear what you think?” Or, just give them this blog post!
Some people also might not really engage. For some folks this just isn’t their jam, and you’re not doing this for cookies and praises. That’s ok too! If you make just one person feel safer and closer to you, you’re winning.
Here’s my own Manager Readme . If you try this, I’d love to hear how it goes!