Libby Leffler Hoaglin
"We should not be afraid to be who we are. Diversity of opinion is invaluable. Be well-prepared, be fearless, bring unique ideas, and set yourself apart by putting in the extra effort."
California native Libby Leffler Hoaglin caught the tech bug as an undergrad at UC Berkeley, leading her to a role at Google and, later, Facebook. At Facebook, Hoaglin held several different roles, acting as business lead to Facebook’s COO from 2009 to 2012 and managing partnerships with world leaders and nonprofits from 2012 to 2015. Her work at Facebook caught attention in the industry: she was named one of “America’s 50 Most Influential Women” by Marie Claire Magazine, has been on FORTUNE’s Most Powerful Women: Next Gen list, and is one of Forbes Magazine’s “30 Under 30” alum. While at Harvard Business School, she left an indelible mark on campus serving as student body co-president. Today, Hoaglin is Vice President, Membership at SoFi.
We sat down with her for a discussion on building teams, mentoring others, and driving meaningful change.
So Libby, tell us about your beginnings at Facebook. What was your path to joining?
Facebook launched during my sophomore year at UC Berkeley and it spread like wildfire across campus. Graduating from Cal two years later, I knew I wanted to work in a high-growth industry – like technology – and I set my sights on a role at Google. I didn’t know anybody who worked there at the time, so I took my chances and submitted my resume on Google’s careers website.
After eighteen months working at Google, I joined Facebook’s inside sales team. I had no professional sales experience to speak of but so much of what we all do every day relates to selling – no matter what job you have – that I felt I was up for the challenge. I knew that if I could dive into how the ad products worked and how they drove business for clients, I would hit my goals. Working in sales is an incredible learning experience: you are responsible for meeting or exceeding your revenue targets while serving the needs of your clients and partners. When holding a quota, you either hit it or you don’t – so there is a clear way to measure and remain accountable for your own impact.
What about the culture of Facebook has enabled it to become so successful?
Facebook is structured in a way that enables it to remain innovative. There are brilliant people at Facebook tackling important problems; I learned the most while working alongside awesome colleagues on tough projects. While there was a strong focus on collaboration, there was also plenty of autonomy. Culture felt bottoms-up. There was a sense that the culture was owned by everyone, enabling teams to be ambitious, move fast, and regularly test new ideas.
Let’s talk about internal mobility. You started on the sales team, but held a few different roles at Facebook. Tell us more.
A traditional career path looks like a ladder, and success in that context means you are always reaching for the next rung. In my previous work experience, the discussion was more often focused on the idea of a career “jungle gym.” You might not only move up; in fact, you could switch teams to take on an interesting lateral role.
It is all about how you jump into things you are excited about and use new opportunities to develop skills you may not have known you had.
At Facebook, I had the opportunity to take on plenty of responsibility through different experiences, from holding a quota on a sales team to managing global partnerships.
How have these experiences informed your perspective on career growth?
You need to have an appetite for something. Youngme Moon, one of my second-year professors at HBS, told us to “find the thing you’re passionate about – and then consider the size and shape of your ambition.” I love that framing. She told us, “passion is just caring more,” and asked us what we cared about. I saw this in action while working in VC between my first and second years at HBS, meeting with investors and entrepreneurs who felt strongly about their vision for the world. They cared more.
If you can find something that deeply motivates you, it will be a critical driver for success.
Throughout this journey did you have any mentors? And how do you view mentorship in your career?
Without the support and encouragement from people who believed in me along the way, my life would be different.
It is our individual duty to help support those around us. In my view, the most authentic – and helpful – mentoring relationships begin organically, through shared experiences.
Mentorship, sponsorship, and encouraging others’ ambition is our collective responsibility. A lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School, Victoria A. Budson, has said: “We need to hold our female friends accountable for their talent.” I love the idea that we should hold each other accountable for all the good things we can do and impact we can have.
Switching gears a bit, this past year you served as Co-President of the Student Body at Harvard Business School. What’s your leadership philosophy?
Empathy is so important. Leadership is all about figuring out how to inspire and motivate people. The most effective leaders I have worked with regularly express genuine empathy toward their teams.
Leadership style is also shaped by our willingness to give and receive feedback. The more open we are to receiving feedback, the better we will be at developing our strengths and identifying opportunities for personal growth. I challenge the idea that some people are simply born great leaders – in my view, leadership skills are honed over time. We can all do our part by asking for valuable feedback to get better. The more we engage and the more curious we are, the more we can learn about how to help other people thrive.
How can leaders help to foster inclusive workplaces?
Greater diversity of all kinds, across every industry, is better for everyone. It’s important to be able to encourage other people, our colleagues, classmates, and friends into new roles where they might be uncertain.
And, we should hold those around us accountable for their talents. When you see evidence of passion, or when you can tell someone cares just a little bit more about something in particular, nudge them in that direction – and offer support. Support makes all the difference.
So, how can women make their mark?
We need more women in every industry. I’d like to see all of us dream big and be as ambitious as possible.
Figure out a way for your work to shine, by sharing an original idea or offering to take the lead on a new project – even one you feel you are not completely ready to tackle – and be curious about work that excites you which also aligns with the priorities of your company.
Finally, celebrate your uniqueness. Some of the best advice I received at HBS was to “figure out where to zig when everyone else is zagging.” We should not be afraid to be who we are. Diversity of opinion is invaluable. Be well-prepared, bring unique ideas, and set yourself apart by putting in the extra effort.
Trend most excited about
Anything in digital lending
One of your favorite / most interesting articles from 2017
Kim Scott on “radical candor” via Recode.
“Scott said that 85 percent of management mistakes happen because the manager is being ‘ruinously empathetic.’”
Female entrepreneur / investor would most like to meet and chat
I would love to spend time with Kirsten Green at Forerunner Ventures. She has an obvious talent for identifying truly innovative brands, from Warby Parker to Glossier.
What about a spirit insect? The bumble bee. Bees symbolize community, brightness, hard work, and diligence.
Best piece of advice you have ever received
Lean in – and take my seat at the table.