About Me—The Leader’s “User Manual” for Your Team

In preparation for my most recent transition to a new organization and managing a new team, I read about and reflected on the kind of leader and colleague I wanted to be. Around that same time, Adam Grant, an organizational leadership expert and Wharton professor, shared a post about Adam Bryant’s concept of a User Manual. It was a document to explain how to work with someone.  

This resonated with me, as I wanted to help my new team understand who I am and how I approach my work, so we could build trust faster and I could learn how to best support them. I spent time writing my own thoughts about my leadership style and values, and I sought input from others on what they wished they had known about me earlier on. From there, I developed what I called the About Me document, which I shared with my new team in a group meeting during my first week on the job. 

Here are six prompts to get you started in creating your own About Me document:  

  • My Style/Approach

How would you describe your working or leadership style? You may want to include your expectations of yourself and your team. 

These are a few of my personal notes:

I believe in being competitive with yourself and not with others.

I believe in the value of feedback, positive and constructive. I subscribe to the model of radical candor leadership.

I believe in celebrating progress.

I encourage others to “lead from where you are.”  

  • What I Value/My Philosophy/My Why

Tell your team what is important to you: Your values reflect who you are. Think about the experiences and aspirations that define you. If you have ever spent time crafting your why statement, your team will benefit from knowing yours, as it illustrates your motivation and purpose.   

My why: To encourage others to be the best version of themselves so they can accomplish something they never thought possible.  

  • You Get the Best of Me When…

Are you a morning person or do you need two cups of coffee before you start your workday? Do you prefer to make decisions in hallway conversations or formal meetings? Be clear on what works best for you, so your team can maximize their interactions and time with you.

People get the best of me when they don’t ask for two minutes and then take 10 minutes. I value my time and theirs, so it helps when someone says, “I would like to get your thoughts before I present at that meeting later this week” rather than asking for two minutes without a topic. This also allows me to get a sense of what is needed from me and prioritize as needed. 

  • How Best to Communicate With Me

Everyone has a preferred way of communicating. Clearly indicate what works best for you, so your team doesn’t have to guess. (Hint: they will probably guess incorrectly.)  

My team knows I prefer face-to-face over everything and texting is a close second. So, they will send a quick text “heads up” to keep me informed or to get a faster response in a time-sensitive situation.  

  • How to Help Me

Are you the kind of boss who needs data or relies on intuition? Are you someone who wants the full story or just the synopsis? Let your team know what you need to be successful.

I continually remind my team I’d prefer they overcommunicate where they are in the process—even if there’s no action needed on my part—than have to wonder where things are. Many team members have responded that they don’t want to “bother” me or flood my inbox with updates that have no progress. For me, it’s definitely not an inconvenience to get these kinds of emails, because it helps me support my team and take things off my mental checklist. 

  • What People Misunderstand About Me

Your authority amplifies your actions. Everything you do or say as a leader is being watched by your team. Furthermore, there may be something that worked for you as an individual contributor that doesn’t translate the same way now that you are a manager. For example: You may like to ask a lot of questions during a conversation, which helps you learn about a topic. However, your team members could interpret that you don’t trust their decisions—that’s the sort of information you’d share here.

For me, because I speak with passion and conviction, I can come across as if don’t want to hear feedback. In reality, I am open to other ideas and willing to change my mind. Telling my team upfront that my style can be misunderstood minimizes uncertainty about my intentions. It also clarifies that I want team members to offer their thinking and to be a partner in holding me accountable.

Just in case you’re the boss who often leaves it at “let’s discuss,” keep in mind that it’s almost always misunderstood. Add a second sentence about what the nature of the discussion will be.

When writing this document, share your values, communication style, preferences—and your quirks. Don’t be afraid to show your personality, too. You can include a favorite quote, your role models, or a visual. All of these prompts are only suggestions, so do whatever works best for you. This is your opportunity to help your new team thrive under your leadership by understanding who you are and how to work with you.

Of course, the most successful working relationships are built on mutual respect and understanding. So, it’s only the first step to share your About Me document; ask your team members to fill one out as well. You can provide them with the same template you used. Then, create a time for everyone to meet and discuss. (Bonus if you supply treats!) After all, great leaders share who they are and care who their employees are too.