I always say the single best quality of a good leader is someone who stands behind their employees – supporting and promoting their work, pushing them to do their best, and enabling their career growth.
Tom DelMonte became my manager about 4 years ago when he brought me on to his marketing team. Throughout our 3 year journey together, Tom always lived up to this quality. He had my back when I was on a crisis-prone project, he recognized my work and nominated me for awards, he provided me learning and growth opportunities, and he even helped pave the way for my current role leading a team.
Tom always set a good example when it came to work-life balance and how to achieve a model that works for you. He is vigilant about putting family first and doesn’t apologize for that. This really helped the rest of the team to feel empowered to do the same.
Please take the time to read Tom’s interview below – so many good pieces of advice and information – I highlighted some of my favorites:
1. Career influences?
At the time, I never would have thought this guy as an influence, but after looking back I’m surprised just how much I learned from him. I had this laser focused sales manager – Roy, early in my career, and our personalities couldn’t have been more different. We had intense discussions and good-natured arguments all the time on “having a plan.” For example, his plan was to have $1M in the bank by the time he was 40, and he had a plan how to do that. At 25, long-term planning just wasn’t in my top 3. Roy was all about routine and the process you had to have engrained in you to get up for a day of selling – listen to Stephen Covey on your morning commute, make 16 cold calls before lunch, don’t mix selling time with administrative time, etc.
What I learned from Roy was an appreciation for different approaches. Looking back on that relationship and our differences I now feel I can better appreciate that people who work for you approach their job from a different perspective, and as a leader maybe one set style or approach doesn’t work for everyone.
Another influencer was an early manager here at my current company. We had a small team that developed our sales pipeline tool for account executives for which I conducted the trainings. We were all about the same age, and man did we have fun in our work. We asked each other all the time “wouldn’t it be cool if we did this, or that?”. It was the stars aligning really – the right people, supportive upper management, company growing like crazy. I look back on that time and ask myself, “How can I create that environment for my teams?” To have that much fun at work seemed illegal.
Formally, I enjoy reading Dr. John Maxwell. He writes on leadership topics and his approach to the topic resonates with me.
2. Biggest career success?
I was the first American to work as an assistant to our company’s Executive Board (we’re a German company). The exposure to that level of leading a 10 billion Euro global company was unbelievable. Plus it allowed my family and I to experience another country of over 2 years. We came back in 2005 and still have friends in Germany we speak with, including our 70 year old landlords. Just a great experience which then led to so many opportunities when I returned to the US.
3. Biggest lesson learned?
It may be cliché, but really understanding and living the difference between managing people and leading people. I think most, if not all, of your readers fundamentally understand that managing is making sure the tasks get done, and leading is finding ways to inspire people to do their best. I was pretty good at managing people, but honestly I had to focus on and work at how to inspire people.
It was really a matter of me acquiring enough experience to have a point of view that I felt was worth sharing with others, setting a vision for a new team for example. And I do mean that you need to “live” it, because we are so over booked we can easily slide back into just managing tasks, checking boxes, getting through the day without your Inbox crashing. And most high-performing teams don’t need a task-master. They need someone that they can trust, has a vision, and helps connect their daily work to that larger vision.
4. Biggest regret?
Maybe a disappointing answer, but I cannot think of a regret. To regret something, at least in my mind, means you think back on a decision that was made, or not made, and you wish you could do it over. Presumably you wish you could do it over because you are not happy with the result at that time, or where that decision has brought you today. I’ve got a funny way of thinking that tells me every action I’ve taken in my past has led me to where I am today, and I LOVE where I am today. If I changed one thing in the past, that regret, I wouldn’t be here today talking to you.
5. Share a leadership story.
There is a quote that is sometimes attributed to Harry S Truman, and it says “It is amazing what you can accomplish when you don’t care who gets the credit.” I have it tacked to my wall and look at it every day. I honestly try to live my working life by this quote, because at its heart it is about stripping away personal or hidden agendas and focusing on what the company has determined is “the vision.” Just work as a team for the greater good. You will experience such a bonding with your team and that leads to engaged and passionate employees, and that can only mean good things will happen.
6. Your “big 3”?
- Don’t treat everyone the same, but do treat everyone fairly. Everyone is motivated differently, so you need to adapt accordingly.
- Undivided and intense focus when you are having 1:1 conversations with your employees. They don’t care about your problems as a manager. They care about you helping them with their problems. This gets to the art of listening, and we all know we can do better here.
- Champion your team / employees and find ways for them to grow professionally, even if that means there are better opportunities outside of your team. Yes, it may mean that you personally have some temporary pain because you’re losing a good person, but you are a steward of the company and I believe you ultimately have the responsibility to grow those that work for you. And sometimes the best growth is outside of your team. I’d rather look across the company and see people that I’ve managed or mentored doing great things, than having my own fiefdom with uninspired people.
About Tom DelMonte
Tom DelMonte is currently the Head of Operations for the SAP Marketing Communications organization. Tom is an SAP veteran with over 14 years at the company spanning various functional areas including sales, development, maintenance and support, and marketing. Tom and his wife are active in their local civic association and enjoy volunteering for and coaching their two children’s various teams and organizations.
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=path&l=4&page=3