management style

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Build" by Tony Fadell. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you tend to micromanage people? How should the type of decision impact the way you make a decision? What’s the best way to win over your company’s leadership?

Entrepreneur Tony Fadell’s book Build is part career encyclopedia and part memoir. He draws on his years of entrepreneurial and corporate leadership to provide insights that can help you manage people and decisions more effectively.

Keep reading to learn Fadell’s advice on how to be a great manager, which can be valuable regardless of where you are on your career path.

How to Be a Great Manager

As you move further along in your career, you may be promoted to management. Fadell shares his advice on how to be a great manager, contending that you must learn to manage both people and decisions.

How to Manage People Well

Fadell argues that the key to managing people well is to find a balance between being hands-on and hanging back. As a manager, it’s your job to ensure that your team creates an amazing product—so be hands-on in service of that mission and push back if they’re not meeting your high expectations. But, it’s not your job to nitpick about exactly how the team produces results—if you do, you’ll veer rapidly into inefficient micromanagement. So, hang back and let your team do what they do best. This will be easiest if you decide together at the beginning of the project how the team will create the product and then check in regularly on their progress.

(Shortform note: Finding a balance between being hands-on and hanging back won’t just prevent you from inefficient micromanagement; it may also give your team the flexibility it needs to adapt to unexpected challenges when you’re not there—as it did in the German military. In Superforecasting, the authors describe how Germany successfully followed the principle of Auftragstaktik, or “mission command.” Just as a manager should tell people what to do but not how to do it, military leaders told soldiers the next step of the plan, who then carried that step out in whatever way the situation required. As a result, soldiers were able to adapt to unexpected changes without needing to wait for new orders.)

How to Manage Decisions

Fadell argues that managing decisions well depends on understanding what type of decision you’re making. You’ll make two types of decisions: informed (or “data-driven”) decisions and instinctive (or “opinion-driven”) decisions. Informed decisions rely primarily on hard data, so they’ll be relatively easy to make. But instinctive decisions rely primarily on your own intuition. As such, they’re inherently risky and difficult to make, and they may invite pushback from leadership—who often want hard data to confirm that you’re making the right decision. 

To deal with this pushback, Fadell recommends that you tell a good story. If you can convince leadership that you have all the data you could possibly get, that you’re a good decision-maker who knows the customer well, that you’re mindful of the risks involved, and that this decision could be good for the company, you’ll gain their approval.

How to Tell a Convincing Story

The authors of Made to Stick suggest that you inspire agreement by including one of three elements in your story: challenge (overcoming obstacles), connection (developing relationships across gaps), or creativity (solving problems and inspiring new ways of thinking).  

Such a story may help you convince leadership not just of your instinctive decisions but also of your informed decisions. In Smarter Faster Better, Charles Duhigg explains that people who receive too much data grow overwhelmed and stop taking any of it in. To counteract this phenomenon, you must actively engage with the data. So, if you’re explaining your informed decisions to leadership and see their eyes glazing over, tell a story that forces them to engage with that data—try asking them questions that encourage interaction, for example.
How to Be a Great Manager: Guiding People & Decisions Well

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Here's what you'll find in our full Build summary:

  • Entrepreneur Tony Fadell's memoir, from the iPhone to Nest
  • Advice for succeeding in every stage of your career, from beginners to CEOs
  • Tips for building a product-based business and a great team

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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