Tom Giberson established the Tom Giberson PhD Leadership Institute in 2020 to help develop emerging leaders become the best that they can be through a thorough and engaging leadership development program done in an online coaching style.
Since 2002, while he was still an Associate Professor of Organizational Leadership at Oakland University, Tom Giberson has been teaching developing leaders about how to be effective leaders, how to work with teams, develop organizations, and manage human resources at all levels of tertiary education. He has taught at the bachelors, masters, doctoral, and executive MBA levels. As a researcher, he focuses mainly on leadership, “and the fit among leaders, teams, and organizational culture.”
Through his online institute, Tom Giberson delivers “unique & powerful expert leadership development solutions” for the leaders of the next generation. He hosts The Aspiring Leader Coaching Series, which is designed to “empower emerging leaders to Own their Leader Impact, learn immediately useful leadership skills & tools, and to take responsibility for their own leadership growth & development.”
Tom Giberson has also founded Lead.Grow.Change, an organization which connects Tom and leaders and their leadership teams in order to “strategically grow the mindset, skills, & behavior to lead, grow, and change themselves, their teams, and their organizations.”
Throughout his career, Tom Giberson has shown and fulfilled his passion to help leaders come into their own and realize their own potentials, for the good of their organizations.
Check out more interviews with passionate leadership coaches here.
Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Tom Giberson: Sure! I started coaching and consulting in 1995 as a management consultant with a boutique firm in metro Detroit. At the time I was also working toward my doctorate in Industrial/Organizational Psychology with a focus on leadership and organizational culture. Simultaneously working a challenging job and doctoral studies is not something I recommend to anyone, by the way!
Over the next 6 years, I primarily worked on large-scale change projects with my two mentors — organization re-designs, culture change, and so forth. I was truly fortunate to be in front of “C-Suite” executives from the start of my career as a 25-year-old. After finishing my PhD in 2001, I accepted a position as a leadership professor at a state university in metro Detroit. I have taught, researched, and published on leadership and culture ever since, while also working with a few thousand individual leaders and top leadership teams as a coach, consultant, and strategic advisor.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Tom Giberson: Hm. Well, this relates to why I don’t recommend working a job and completing doctoral studies at the same time. The first time I knew I wanted to be a psychologist was about 13 years old. I came across a copy of Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams and for whatever reason, read the whole thing. Twice.
My understanding of psychology at the time was of the clinical/counseling variety. After discovering economics in high school, I ended up dual majoring in psychology and economics at Adrian College in Michigan. I knew I wanted to go on to graduate school, but what kind of psychology? One of my professor/mentors turned me toward Industrial/Organizational Psychology — which is the study of people at work and the application of psychological science to work. It’s an applied yet non-clinical field of psychology. It seemed to bring together some of the things I loved about economics, and all of what I love about psychology. So fast forward a few years and I had completed my masters in I/O Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and was beginning work on my PhD at Wayne State University in Detroit. I was married and had a son on the way. How to do this on $9500 per year teaching assistantship?
Quitting school was not an option and neither was not supporting my family. Fortunately, my wife at the time was nannying for a family, the mother of which was the general manager of that boutique consulting firm. She offered me an internship and hired me a few months later. Financial problems mostly solved!
Once my academic advisor at Wayne State University got wind of me working, I was summoned to his office. He made it clear that “doctoral study is full time work … and you have an assistantship to help.” He put quite a bit of pressure on me to either quit my job or the program. After some begging and pleading, we agreed that we would focus on my performance and not on the schedule I keep. Turned out to be a bit of a preview of how leaders today need to manage in a virtual environment.
Now as a professor myself, I don’t fully disagree with his perspective. But here I was, working around the clock to learn how to be an effective consultant, while also learning to become an I/O Psychologist, father, and husband.
Where did my drive come from to finish my studies? It circles back to 13-year-old me: psychology and being a psychologist had been part of my self-identity for so long that I simply went about my life taking steps each day toward that goal. It was difficult physically, emotionally, and mentally, but when you have a vision of and for yourself that you’re fully committed to, it makes the process of becoming a bit easier. It always felt like I had already finished my degree, I just had to go through the steps.
As it turned out, my performance at university wasn’t so bad. My dissertation won the Center for Creative Leadership’s Kenneth E Clark award for outstanding leadership research in 2001, along with a cash award and a trip to CCL to present to about 75 people. I couldn’t help but laugh — with no small amount of satisfaction — reflecting on that difficult discussion with my advisor.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Tom Giberson: Well … common to people developing some technical expertise, when I first started consulting, I viewed the world entirely through the lens of what I was learning in school. I hadn’t yet learned how to take that knowledge and skill and do something of value for others with it.
One of my mentors and I were in a meeting with a new client, and I kind of overtook the conversation and, as I reflect on it, was trying to show how much I knew and how valuable I was to the project. My mentor kicked me under the table at one point and shot me a quick look. I got the message. Listen more. Talking it through later, she helped me to understand that the fact that I was in the room suggested I was competent and capable. What matters is not that a person is competent and capable, but rather whether they are able to effectively deploy that competence. That takes building a relationship, trust, and putting others first.
What I tell my students — and anyone — interested in consulting as a career is that competence in your area of expertise must be a given and not worth talking about much. What matters is your ability to connect with people and build the kind of relationships that allow you to effectively deploy your skills for the benefit of others. The same holds true in most any profession — the best engineer on the planet would be entirely useless in an organization if she is not able to effectively communicate, connect with, and influence others.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you please share your “Five Things You Need To Know To Delegate Effectively and Be Completely Satisfied With the Results?” Please share a story or an example for each.
Tom Giberson: Sure. Let’s flip around a few things we discussed.
- Accept that you have no idea what people think about you, and you can’t do a whole lot about it anyway. And some day, you’ll stop letting that thought pattern hold you back. Leaders who worry too much about what others think about themselves — and therefore avoid delegating, difficult conversations and so forth — are self-imprisoned. This is a quite common phenomenon for all of us, not just leaders. We’re wired to get along with the tribe so-to-speak, and people who don’t get along are cast out. Projecting the impact of our behavior on others and their response is an important survival skill. However, as a leader, you’re in a position of power, so do your job! Think about how much time you spend each day making negative judgements about your boss, peers, direct reports. Hopefully, that doesn’t consume much of your time. The same is true of people toward you. They spend little time thinking about you. They’re just as wrapped up in their own heads as you are, worrying what others might be thinking about themselves. “She’s just doing her job,” is what they say to themselves when you do something they don’t like, such as delegate a tough or undesirable responsibility.
- Frame your success as your team’s success, not as your involvement with the content of the work. Work the people, not the problems your people are solving.
- Trust others to do the right thing until proven otherwise. If you don’t, then you’re hiring and leading incorrectly. If you simply can’t learn to trust others, you belong in an individual contributor role — and there’s nothing wrong with that.
- Role model and reinforce leading through vision, anticipating what’s next, and planning, rather than simply executing. This requires that you hold people accountable for and reward “preventing fires” rather than putting out the ones they failed to prevent.
And to be totally honest, I think that it is not possible to be completely happy with the results. We’re all human and are fallible. So, no different than anything else performance-related, results will vary! What’s important is to focus on the process and creating a context and culture of ownership and empowerment.
Jerome Knyszewski: One of the obstacles to proper delegating is the oft quoted cliche “If you want something done right do it yourself.” Is this saying true? Is it false? Is there a way to reconcile it with the importance of delegating?
Tom Giberson: Clearly not true. What is true, is, “If you want something done your way, exactly as you want it done, do it yourself.” There are situations where ‘how you do it’ is prescribed for good reason, think safety & quality processes. In most other situations, what needs to be accomplished can be agreed upon, allowing how to get it done to be determined by the performer through delegation and empowerment. In fact, my first coaching call this morning was with a CTO of a startup in India. Part of the discussion was about avoiding micromanaging and instead managing to outcomes — which requires delegating and empowering. He said, “I recognize that I get into the details, not just on the quality of the final product, but on the actual steps people take to get there. I drive myself and others crazy from that level of controlling the process.” He also recognized that some people on his team delegate up to him — taking advantage of his desire for things to be done in a very particular way. This is demotivating for members of his team.
He’s working on delegating & empowering others to achieve outcomes, and managing to those outcomes, rather than micromanaging the literal ‘how it gets done.’
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Tom Giberson: My blog is www.leadershipisapractice.blog and my primary business page is www.leadgrowchange.com.
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!