Top 10 Learnings from Startups to a $100M+ ARR General Manager, Linda Tong
Recently, we welcomed Linda Tong, GM of AppDynamics to Redpoint Office Hours. This is a summary of what we learned from that conversation.
Linda’s professional journey has taken her across businesses of all sizes — from startups in hypergrowth mode to mature, multi-hundred million-dollar businesses. She started off in product marketing at Google, helping launch Google Chrome and Android.
It was there that she felt inspired about the impact she could have on a startup, and from there she became a founding member at Tapjoy, and then, Nextbit. As an avid sports fanatic, she was lured to the NFL by Tom Brady (a story for another day!), and then held multiple roles at AppDynamics, where she was recently promoted to General Manager. Naturally, these disparate companies and approaches have also given her opportunities to work with lots of different people in a range of different organizational structures and teams.
Through it all, she came to a realization that can be uncommon for many folks in the Bay Area: She actually prefers the challenge — and impact — she can have at a bigger company.
In our recent conversation, Linda reminded us about the importance of management, the pros and cons of different cultures, and how one can manage and thrive in each. Below are the top 10 things that we learned from someone who has seen it all.
1. Managing teams allows you to do something bigger than yourself. You’re not just at a company to build products or move the business forward; instead, you’re there to do something bigger than yourself. When you get to a certain level of growth, you’re part of a business that has a product, but you’re no longer just building that product, you’re building teams. You have an opportunity to have a massive impact, not just on the business, but all the individuals within your organization. You can make an impact on their lives, the community around you, and the business that you’re a part of.
2. Unblocking, supporting, and empathizing are three key actions you should take to be a successful manager. Management is less about being really good at something and just passing down those skills. It is easy to be a micromanager, but instead what really helps is service-level leadership where the people under you don’t need you to tell them how to do their job. Instead, they need you to empower them, by unblocking their work, supporting them, and building an ecosystem around them so they can grow.
3. To empower a team, you have to trust them. Part of trusting the team is not getting in their business and asking them for an update every few seconds. You have to work with them, set expectations around what success looks like, and then step back when it comes to the approach. If you start to talk about the how, then you completely undermine any of the empowerment that you’re trying to do.
4. Create a learning culture. You won’t regret it. Linda’s favorite question to ask people when they bring her a solution is to ask them for another solution. When you start to ask questions like that, you challenge people to think outside of the box — and it’s amazing what they come up with! But remember to give space for it. People need time to learn which can be done through courses, coaching, conferences, etc. Whether that is via a “no meeting day” or through hack weeks, it’s important to give teams the space to grow. It’s an investment and an important way of shifting people’s mindset.
5. The key to a successful individual hire is curiosity and growth mindset. As long as you continuously find great people to surround yourself with, you will learn from them and put yourself in a position of growth. You can check capabilities and skill sets through resumes and high-level conversations, which will allow you to ensure that someone meets a minimum bar of being able to do the job. However, curiosity and a growth mindset allows one’s potential to be limitless.
6. Good managers recognize that their success comes from their team being successful. One of the best things a manager can do is hire someone who is better than themselves. You don’t need to be the utmost expert in all functions — hire people that are. Remember that teams should be dynamic, and you should fill the needs of a team — not just individual roles. And, ask for help; a good HR Partner and/or executive coach can be invaluable.
7. Evolution is key. If anything has reminded us of the need to adapt and evolve, it’s COVID-19. For example, what worked in the beginning of quarantine has become stale and we have needed to adjust and re-evaluate the way we approach things. You should apply this to process management as well. When you find that the effort to execute a process suddenly outweighs the value that you get, sit down and rethink how you might change it to solve the same problem.
8. Goal setting is more about alignment than tools or systems. Everyone should be pointing to the same North Star, with the same mission and top level goals, before diving into the execution of it and tools.
9. A company is only as good as the sum of its parts. When you have one functional area that is your strength (for example product or engineering), it is easy for a startup to make that the company’s North Star. However, you need to understand how every different function plays a key role in how you succeed. Being able to build empathy between different teams and understand how each team plays their part is important. Learning how to leverage them effectively and how to build understanding so people can partner will make an extraordinary impact.
10. When joining a new team, observe first — and then act. When you inherit a team, you shouldn’t just wipe it out, and reset. Sit down with the leaders and their direct reports, get to know the organization and the landscape, baseline it, and then figure out a meaningful goal of what they could achieve and a reasonable time period to do it. Hope you found as much value from these learnings as we did! We also gathered a few reading recommendations from Linda:
- The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter, Updated and Expanded by Michael D. Watkins
- Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace
- Think Big, Act Small: How America’s Best Performing Companies Keep the Start-up Spirit Alive by Jason Jennings
- Winning Now, Winning Later: How Companies Can Succeed in the Short Term While Investing for the Long Term by David Cote
- Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior by Phil Jackson and Hugh Delehanty (really hits home the point Linda made in the session around the power of we over me)
- Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin
- Harvard Business Review: The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Culture: How to manage the eight critical elements of organizational life by Boris Groysberg, Jeremiah Lee, Jesse Price, and J. Yo-Jud Cheng
- Forbes: What Great Leaders Have The Good Leaders Don’t by Brent Gleeson
- Harvard Business Review: What Great Managers Do by Marcus Buckingham
Enjoy, and hope to see you at the next Office Hours on December 16th!