The Clarity of a Personal User Manual

This post was written by Round Rock ISD Executive Director of Teaching & Learning, Ryan Smith. Connect with Ryan on Twitter to and read more of his writing at his blog.

I was introduced to the idea of a professional User Manual in a workshop recently and it’s becoming a valuable addition to my work. The idea of creating and sharing your User Manual is to let those you work with on a daily basis know how to you tick – similar to stereo instructions. Adam Bryant popularized the idea a few years ago and highlighted the idea that a blueprint or user manual has been used by many successful leaders.

It’s an opportunity to provide clarity to those around regarding your values, as well as blind spots you may have, preferred communication protocols, and also briefly share your own influences. And it’s really only valuable if you actually share it, so here it is:


Cultivating a beginner’s mind is a daily personal aspiration and I expect those on my teams to embrace curiosity and a Unity of Purpose mindset. We need to seek every opportunity to work with other teams in the organization and worry more about outcomes for students and teachers than who gets the credit.

Others tell me I tend to not show too many emotions and have been told that I am hard to read. So please just ask me if you are unsure as to how I feel about your work. I’m working on getting better at delivering clear feedback and will accept any and all assistance.

I trust those on my teams to make decisions and create solutions with the experience of students and teachers as the driving factors. That trust means I don’t need to sign-off on every decision or be cc’d on emails and if I pop into one of your meetings or presentations, I’m there to give feedback and just listen so please don’t interrupt the flow and introduce me. If I feel the need to chime in I will.

Make sure I know the big ideas/goals around your projects. I believe in the mantra, “Dream big, start small, move fast,” and will continuously push my teams to question their ideas, projects, and programs.

If you make a mistake, let me know early and we will figure it out. If something does not go as planned, let me know about it before I hear about it from someone else.

I have two young boys and do my best to be present with my family or present with myself outside the workday. If for some reason I email you outside of work hours – and I rarely will – do not feel like you need to respond until the next workday. If for some rare reason I need to get in touch right then, I’ll text or call. Please follow this same system with your teams.

If you need to get in touch with me I prefer either in-person, call, chat/text, email – in that order. I’m pretty good at staying current with my email, but if you need a response in the next 24 hours, please say that in the message or subject. I often batch respond and may “snooze” your email for up to 24 hours if you don’t communicate a need for a quick response.

The one area of your work in which I expect to be heavily involved is in hiring. Inviting someone to join our team is the most important decision any of us make as leaders. So, while I will do my best to stay out of the weeds of your daily work, I expect to be involved in decision-making processes around hiring/interviewing.

Finally, a few recent books that may help you understand how I think regarding work are:

I’m also pretty transparent about my thinking on my blog at ryansmith.blog.


Writing and sharing your own is highly encouraged – even if you don’t necessarily lead a team. The more we know about each other’s inclinations and influences, the better our work will become and we can spend less time making assumptions and putting on fronts.

I would love to hear your thoughts and stories about the use of User Manuals or Personal Blueprints. Please share them in the comments or with me on Twitter at @ryanRRISD.

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