Learning Manager Skills Through the Lessons of Skincare

[ managering  ]

I woke up this morning with an odd train of thought running through my brain - skincare as a metaphor for being a new manager. It was too interesting to put off for later so I did a tweet thread while I was getting ready (yes, in between skincare steps!), but I wanted to expand some thoughts and write it up in a more shareable format.

Setting your skincare foundation

When you’re first getting started with a skincare routine, it’s important to think about your goals and your problem areas. Dry skin? Wrinkles? Acne? What are you hoping to achieve or change? What do you need to research and learn about?

Similarly, you should ask yourself these kinds of questions when you’re getting started as a manager. What are your goals? What outcomes are you aiming for? What are your current skills and what are your areas of growth? What are your opportunities for learning?

As you plan out your skincare routine, you don’t want to go from zero to a dozen products all at once - you won’t be able to tell what’s working for your skin and what’s not. Instead, start with a couple of base products to build on, like moisturizer and sunscreen. Those two products are great building blocks for anyone’s skincare routine, regardless of skin type or eventual skincare goals.

In the same vein, don’t try to adopt all new habits all at once as a new manager. Pick a couple of foundational skills to work on - maybe it’s learning how to manage up, or figuring out how to ramp up your product knowledge when you’re not hands-on anymore. As a new QE manager at The Zebra, one of my foundational focuses was getting my 1:1s and relationships off to a great start.

Building consistent habits

When it comes to your base products, consistency is key. For instance, sunscreen is important every day, not just when the sun is out. You need to use it consistently over time for the best protection and best results, and there can be negative consequences when you don’t. Some are short-term, like a painful sunburn; others may be long-term or long-lasting, like skin cancer.

And so it goes with being a manager. One of my “base products” for being a manager is building trust and safety with my direct reports. There’s no magic way to suddenly introduce psychological safety and a trusting relationship - it’s done through consistent actions and behavior over time. Listening, coaching without judgment, giving timely feedback, allowing space to learn from mistakes, remembering to share praise and celebrate wins.

Picking your products

After you’ve got your base products down, you can start expanding your skincare routine. Exfoliating is an important step to include - it removes dead skin cells and clears your pores, which helps brighten your skin and makes it easier to absorb the products that come after this step.

So what’s the connection between exfoliating and being a new manager?

Unlearning! It’s likely that you have some unlearning to do, whether it’s your own habits or preconceptions that you’ve picked up from your previous managers. Recognizing that you have things to unlearn and being open to discarding old practices is what allows you to make room for new ideas and perspectives.

Interviewing is a great example of this. Through my experience in tech as an IC, I saw interviews as many of us do - as a means of testing people to find the best candidate. As a manager and hiring manager, I had to unlearn this understanding. Interviews shouldn’t be a test to find good candidates; they should be used to try and assess which candidates would make good employees. I had to scrub off those old ways so I could prep my brain for something new!

How else can I expand my skincare routine? I’m moisturizing, using sunscreen, and exfoliating regularly - so what’s next for me? Well, I’m looking at retinols because I wore those clunky black platforms in the skincare meme and it’s calling me out. But once I add it into my skincare routine, how will I know it’s working?

I have to give it time! Retinol takes anywhere from several weeks to a few months to really make a difference in your skin. I can’t just try it out for a week and then give up because I’m not seeing the change I expected.

The same principle applies to learning and trying out approaches as a new manager - give it time! Think about change management, especially people change management. Give yourself and the people around you time to react and adjust. Giving it time means that you have enough data or feedback to assess whether it’s working, and to figure out why it may not be working so you have enough information to iterate meaningfully.

Learning and education

Even with brief introductions into exfoliants and retinols, it’s easy to see how much information is out there. There are a million articles and videos and influencers all telling you The Definitive Way to skincare!

Similarly, there are so many resources and sources of information on what it means to be a Good Manager! There are conference talks and articles and Twitter conversations - how do you figure out what actually is the best way to be a good manager?

The answer is the same for both: take what works, leave what doesn’t. There is no single skincare routine or set of products that will work for everyone. There is no Definitive Way to skincare! And as with skincare, so with managering. There is not a single path to being a good manager. Learn from a variety of people, think about different approaches and perspectives. Ask questions, participate in discussions, try things out! Use what works and discard what doesn’t.

And keep in mind that what works and what doesn’t can change over time! Pay attention to the continued effectiveness of your skincare products and manager techniques. Be aware of changing side effects, interactions, and impact from the industry, the company, your team, and people.


But how do you find the resources to educate yourself in the first place? The sheer amount of information and choices can be overwhelming!

It might be helpful to find a group or community where you can ask questions and learn from other people’s experiences with different products. At my last job, we had a Slack channel for skincare and a running spreadsheet where people would list products they’d tried, what type of skin they had (e.g. oily, sensitive), whether the product worked, any side effects, if it was worth the money, and so on. It was super helpful! Instead of having to pick something and commit to it immediately, I could learn from other people’s experiences first.

Being a new manager can have the same potential for overwhelm. Similar to that skincare Slack channel, I’ve found a really lovely community for managing and leadership in the Rand Leadership Slack. It’s a great place to ask questions, learn from other people, and explore different approaches. I can celebrate my successes and get support and advice for my failures.

And as always, I can listen to different perspectives, learn what folks have done, try some things out for myself - then take what works and leave what doesn’t 🙂

I hope you enjoyed this exploration of learning new manager skills through skincare! Feel free to join in and share your thoughts on it, either by commenting here or replying on Twitter!

Written on February 15, 2022