September 2015

Six Questions for Tom Deierlein

Nine years ago today, Captain Tom Deierlein was shot by a sniper in a Baghdad slum. His life since that day has been a remarkable story of service, leadership and transformation. Tom will speak at next month's Seller Forum about creating your own personal leadership philosophy.

  1. You think it's important not just to believe in a leadership philosophy but to actually write it down. Why?

    People have in their heads how they want to lead but articulating this is tricky. When you write it down on a page or two, it causes you to really, really think through how you want to lead…to think through values, priorities, and expectations. It immediately leads to a healthy discussion about how best to work together and — critically — in times of crisis it will guide your actions.

  2. You've been in leadership positions in both the internet ad/tech world and the military. Is there a common thread for great leadership?

    I think that leadership is leadership. I find myself guided by the 11 principles I was taught 30 years ago when I was a 17-year-old cadet. It might be a high school student athlete who is captain of her soccer team, a Marine leading a team in combat, or a first time manager at an ad agency. The principles are the same. I feel it breaks down into three major areas:

    1. Values and character: People want a leader they trust and who makes the right choices regardless of consequences.
    2. Concern for your people: Genuine concern and desire to help them be their absolute best personally and professionally.
    3. Decisions: Willingness to make decisions — including the hard ones — and be held accountable for them.
    Technically there is a fourth: Results. Without success the other three don't matter.

  3. Can you give a short statement that tells us the difference between leadership and management?

    I guess I'm one of those people who believe management is about things (process, operations, technology) and leadership is about people.

  4. They say that adversity doesn't build character, but rather reveals it. You were shot by a sniper in Sadr City, Iraq in 2006 and spent most of a year recovering and rebuilding at Walter Reed. What did that experience reveal to you about Tom Deierlein?

    I spent 8 months in the hospital first in recovery and then rehab. That gave me a lot of time for reflection and self-analysis. Not that I was an ogre before, but I decided to be a better person. I decided to be more selfless and help others. To slow down and enjoy life more — let fewer things bother me. As a joke, I call this 'Tom 2.0.' Whenever I slip back into undesired behaviors or attitudes I call it 'Tom 1.0 creeping back in.'

  5. Through the TD Foundation, you've made your story about more than your own struggles and successes. You've tapped into something bigger and more important. That seems like a good leadership lesson right there, doesn't it?

    Whenever you talk to anyone about charity and helping others I think you find they get as much out of it as those they help. It is like fuel for the soul. People that help others are actually happier in general.

  6. Someone reading this post is struggling to unite their team and get them to perform at a whole new level. What one piece of advice do you offer?

    I just finished a great book on this topic called The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. But if I were to give one piece of advice it would be to set shared goals, communicate those goals, and then publicly reward behaviors that demonstrate teamwork and cooperation to get these goals accomplished.

This article originally appeared in "The Drift", a digital marketing blog from Upstream Group. Reprinted with permission.