‘Whats on your Mind?’ by dandingeroz

Tom’s Leadership & Manager Handbook

Some insights into how I think and work, to share with my team

Tom Sommer
Published in
7 min readApr 26, 2018


Personal readme’s have become a thing. Long-time managers and leaders like Lara Hogan, Michael Lopp (rands) and Oren Ellenbogen, have all written one to share with their team.

The idea is simple: If you can clearly state how you approach work and leadership, it helps everyone you work with. It removes the trial and error phase when someone joins the team. The day-to-day is easier for the team because your values are clear. Life gets that little bit simpler.

Inspired by others, and doing a leadership workshop, I have too reflected on my style and created a readme. The original document — the one I share with my team and regularly update — is a presentation. This (wordier) article is meant to complement it with some extra context and examples.

What This Readme Is All About

Welcome to the team!

The two of us will be spending quite a bit of time together, so I have written up this readme to give you a head start. What kind of head start? The kind where you get a glimpse into my brain — how I think and work — so you do not have to guess quite as much.

It covers three main areas:

  1. My beliefs and rituals — what you can expect from me
  2. What I value in others — what I expect from you
  3. A bit about my personality—what makes Tom, Tom

While you can (and maybe should) read it by yourself, I will walk you through in person at least once.

The original presentation is a living document and will change over time. Please let me know if you have any feedback, so I can make it more useful for you and the next person.

What You Can Expect From Me

I have, over time, build up my own leadership style and developed a set of values and rituals that work for me. By sharing these, I hope I make it easier for you to understand why I do the things I do.

Values & Ideals

  • People & Personal Growth. My main objective is to make sure you have a great experience at Redbubble. You should enjoy coming to work every day. A big focus is to give you the opportunity and support to grow professionally.
  • Autonomy. I believe everybody here is able to make their own decisions. My default tendency is to be hands-off. I try hard to never interfere with your work in detail. I will, however, share my opinion and try to support you as much as I can.
  • Trust & Safety. I am a big believer in having great team dynamics. It does not matter how talented people on a team are, it matters how well they work together. This involves creating an environment with shared trust and safety. I try my hardest to make sure our team has this trust.

Leadership Style

The leadership framework I identify with the most is a version of situational leadership.

Nine leadership styles (from leadership.org.au)

The concept assumes that no single style is superior. It is about finding the best approach depending on the situation.

My default style is Guiding, but I use other styles when they suit better. For example, Delegating is a great tool for personal development. Or I can be Co-ordinating, when the team is a bit stuck and needs a friendly push.

I will pick the wrong approach at times, so please give let me know if I could have handled a situation better.


Being able to give and receive feedback is the only way to get better at what we are doing. In my opinion, it is the most useful tool to enable personal growth, but also to establish trust in a team.

I have subscribed to the radical candor approach, which is based on the idea of giving constructive feedback in the moment. I will pull you aside after a meeting or any other interaction which warrants either positive or constructive feedback. 1:1’s are not a time I use for giving feedback, as it is often old news by then.

Catch Ups & 1:1's

I will always make time for you if I have to, no matter how crazy my schedule might look. Do not hesitate to reach out on slack, or find me in person. Please do not wait until the next planned catch up if something is urgent.

The two of us will have a couple of recurring, regular meetings, both of which are extremely important to me.

1:1’s are your time with me. The only thing I ask for is to meet at least fortnightly. Day of the week, time and length are completely up to you. I never dictate the agenda, so our time will be most productive if you bring topics, concerns or just thoughts.

Every quarter we review your goals. Our standard check-in covers two things. A review of the previous objectives — what you did or did not achieve and why. And creating a new or refreshed set of goals for the upcoming three months. These are your goals. I will not be setting them on your behalf, but I will do everything I can to help you reach them.

What I Expect From You

A big part of how impactful we are as a team depends on how well we work together. And understanding what is expected of you is an integral part of it.

Ownership & Responsibility

My preferred approach is to be hands-off and supportive, as mentioned before. This only works if everybody on the team is willing to take on their fair share of ownership and responsibility.

  • I expect you to own your work and the quality of it.
  • I expect you to improve how we work.
  • I expect you to drive discussions and whiteboarding sessions.
  • I expect you to think and optimise for the mid to long-term.

With great power comes great responsibility. I am dead keen to give you the power of Autonomy. To receive it, you have to take responsibility for yours and the team’s output.

Respect & Honesty

The foundation of great teams is a huge amount of trust and respect between each other. It creates an environment of safety, where discussions are constructive, as well as being inclusive.

Feedback is one of the key building blocks for trust and safety. More specifically, the willingness to give and receive feedback on a regular basis. Not just towards me, but everybody else on the team.

  • I expect you to be willing to give feedback to your teammates when necessary.
  • I expect you to receive and process feedback in a constructive way.

This is not easy, so here are a few rules around how to give and receive feedback:

  1. Assume good intent. We are all in this together and committed to the cause.
  2. Use SBI (Situation, Behaviour, Impact). When you did/say ____________, I felt ______________ because ___________.
  3. Thanks for the feedback. Receiving feedback is not about automatically agreeing and changing what you do. All you have to do is to acknowledge and consider it.

Sharing & Collaborating

A safe environment is one indicator for an outstanding team, and the ability to share and collaborate is another. All of us are here to help Redbubble become the biggest marketplace for independent artists. And we cannot get there if we are not willing to share ideas and collaborate as much as possible.

  • I expect you to share lots, especially with your immediate team.
  • I expect you to share the decision making.
  • I expect you to seek feedback regarding your work.
  • I expect you to help others with a problem.

This is not about over-sharing and collaborating on the mundane things. I do not expect you to show a timesheet with 100% pairing on it ;)

The First 90 Days

Starting with a new company is always tricky, and with it come a lot of different emotions. But it is also a great opportunity to look at everything from an outsider’s perspective.

  • I expect you to observe what is happening and ask lots of questions. Use the benefit of looking at things without having Redbubble brain.
  • I expect you to be curious about how Redbubble functions, and look beyond your immediate team.

Most importantly though, try and enjoy the ride. I do not expect you to move mountains in your first months. But I expect you to learn as much as possible so you can be awesome as soon as possible.

What Makes Tom, Tom

We all have our little quirks. Those are the things that make us unique. Sometimes they work to our advantage, sometimes they do not. This section covers a few of the things that define who I am.

Be A Little Better Every Day

I have not mastered any of the practices mentioned in this document. And I have only been in a role this for about 3 years.

But I am always reading, learning and looking for things to improve how I work, and what we as a team can do better. Standing still is something that drives me nuts. Expect me to introduce new things here or there to challenge the status quo.

Resistance Towards New Ideas

I am pretty bad at quickly processing new ideas or information that challenge my worldview. You can ask my wife about it! I might react negatively or blocking in these situations. I might just be silent for a while.

Do not take this as judgement. It does not mean I am disinterested or disapproving of your idea. I just need some time to process and connect things in my head before I can speak to it.

Personal Quirks

  • I do not like confrontation. I am hurting, when I think someone else is upset because of me.
  • I get anxious about changes that affect me / my team, but that I am not involved in making. That is not necessarily your problem, but if you want to help me, just give me a heads up.
  • I am absolutely delighted when something goes according to plan. It gives (the German in) me a huge amount of satisfaction.
  • I am an optimist at heart but trained myself to be pragmatic.



Tom Sommer

Writing about Leadership and Personal Development. Director of Engineering @ Redbubble.