My Manager Hack: Relentless Transparency

In my role at HotPads, I manage an ever-growing team of smart marketers. My job is to hire, train, and retain the best and smartest, with the goal of removing roadblocks that keep them from both working together and succeeding at their individual jobs.

I’ve had managerial positions before, but never this direct and I’ve never been able to build my own team. Building your own team is quite different from inheriting a team, which is a whole different topic I’ll explore at some other time.


We all learn to manage by watching our own managers and seeing how they go about managing their relationships with their team and their own peers. I’ve had five jobs in the last seven years since I graduated from university, so I’ve had the good fortune of working for many different types of bosses, some of which were better than others.

Each manager has their own style, and I think I’ve built mine from watching my bosses over the years and deciding which traits were and were not effective. I have sought to emulate those that I personally found to be effective and to discard those that were not while also carrying a heavy dose of self-reflection to learn which come naturally to me and those which do not and where I need to improve. Out of this has come a habit of reading about leadership and attempting to integrate many of the lessons learned by those before me as I build the HotPads marketing team.

I recently read a post on PopForms, run by former Mozzer Kate Matsaduira (who I greatly respect). One piece of advice she gives, in the context of being promoted and now managing people you were formerly peers with, is:

Don’t try to be a friends with the people on your team like you were before, if you are now their manager; even though you may still feel like you’re all the same people, dynamics naturally change when one person is in a leadership role. You can’t commiserate with your former peers like you used to or take sides in coworker arguments. Instead, you need to nurture relationships in a professional way.

I actually couldn’t disagree with this advice more. When I took over a team at Distilled, where I managed people who had previously been my peers, I made the mistake of trying to be “professional” instead of being their friend and ally. Basically I took everything I had seen my previous boss, Tom Critchlow, do well and then I unceremonially and without realization threw it out the window. Big mistake.

As I’ve been building the team at HotPads, my policy with my team could be characterized as “relentless transparency”. I have a policy of telling my team not only the decisions made, but also why they were made (h/t to Twitter CEO Dick Costolo for that one) and how I feel about the decision. The team knows when I disagree with something that is being done, but I also explain to them how I see it fitting into our overall vision and goal for not only our own goals of traffic to the site, but also those of the whole company.

Through this I have tried to communicate to my team that we are all in it together, and ultimately that they can trust me to make the right decisions for the team, that I will admit when I am wrong, and ultimately that I have their best interests in mind constantly.

In the sake of transparency here, I don’t know if this would have worked as well when taking over a team as building a new one. But, in hindsight, I think I’ll try this when I hopefully have that opportunity again in the future.

I would love your thoughts in the comments.

3 thoughts on “My Manager Hack: Relentless Transparency

  1. Hey John, I’m a new manager as the result of a promotion and I think that Kate Matsaduira is correct. The relationship dynamics change and it’s difficult to treat it as it was before. However, I don’t think you’re idea of “Relentless Transparency” is in contention with this. It seems very compatible, and I would think would help facilitate a professional demeanor without making your subordinates feel, well subordinate.

  2. “Basically I took everything I had seen my previous boss, Tom Critchlow, do well and then I unceremonially and without realization threw it out the window.” – ha, to be fair this isn’t always a mistake 🙂

  3. Hi John,

    I believe dynamics do change but they change over a long period of time.

    I think it is unnatural to be a “friend” today and then a “professional” next week because of a change in role/responsibilities and because it is unnatural it could cause a number of issues.

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