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Executive Leadership Coaching

5 minute read

The Spinnaker Sit-Down: Q&A with Executive Coach Tommy Thompson

Nov 19, 2018

Written by: Shawn Sweeney

With our Spinnaker Sit-Down interview, we give you VIP access to industry influencers, thought leaders, and movers-and-shakers who share their unique insights and perspectives on industry issues, trends, and questions. This month we sat down with executive coach Tommy Thompson.

Thompson has built a career around his passion for teaching and mentoring. As an executive coach, he is focused on helping others find the balance to make their business and personal lives work together. He shares practical wisdom for intentional living, leveraging his own experiences in life and in business to help others achieve their personal and professional goals.

After starting his career as a private school chaplain and football/lacrosse coach, Thompson became an entrepreneur, and spent 30 years leading multiple ventures in manufacturing, service, and retail as owner, CEO, CFO, and COO. As a business leader, he always enjoyed and valued the opportunity to mentor others and help them grow, and expanded that interest in volunteering outside the office as well. Today he combines those experiences with his own personal desire to find whole life balance to help others achieve the same. In addition to coaching clients, he is working on launching a coaching podcast and is writing a book titled “Breathe Again: Finding Life Through Less,” which he hopes will come out in 2019.


SPINNAKER: What are leaders’ biggest challenges today?

THOMPSON: I think the challenge for leaders today is to maintain focus and clarity. There is so much noise that comes in the form of distractions, and sometimes opportunities, that it becomes a struggle to stay on mission and not try to be everything to everyone.

SPINNAKER: What is your advice to leaders about how to do that?

THOMPSON: Leaders need to have the discipline to create space in their lives to make that happen. Our natural inclination is to race and stay busy. We don't allow ourselves the space to reflect, think, and focus. Your day starts early with 100 emails and 15 meetings—you can fill every day that way. Instead, leaders need discipline to pare down to the few essentials that have to be done, and then create space to be able to get clarity and focus. It’s a discipline with time, shutting down your phone and email, and disconnecting. That ability to shut out distractions and noise is one of the things that sets great leaders apart. Too often, the excuse is “I’m too busy to do it.” But I think it’s too important not to do. Great leaders find the strength, courage, and discipline to make the space—it’s not easy, but it is doable. And it’s absolutely vital.

SPINNAKER: You talk about leaders “creating space”—what do you mean by that?

THOMPSON: Leaders need to create space to allow reflection to happen. It requires discipline and time. You have to make it a priority. I believe reflection is a lost art today, because we’ve become a distracted people. Reflection is where joy and peace in life comes from. It’s also how growth happens.

SPINNAKER: Please tell us more about the idea of creating an inventory of your life, which you discuss in your blog.

THOMPSON: Creating an inventory of your life means beginning with a breadth of questions about your whole life—relationships, experiences, business, finances, family, health, everything. Be creative in asking a lot of questions. Then systematically look at the questions to discover areas of need or reflection. Is my career fulfilling? Where do I want to be in 5 years? What 10 things do I need to do to grow as a parent? The questions allow you to go deep, to identify areas we have neglected and find helpful new directions. It’s important that this isn’t always a negative exercise. It’s not a process of beating yourself up. There are two sides to the coin. In what areas are you strong? What are you doing right? What resonates with you? Where do you need to pay more attention, so you don’t neglect something critical—like your health? The inventory process is all about creating focus and clarity—for your whole life.

SPINNAKER: What do you think makes a good leader?

THOMPSON: Leaders come in many shapes and sizes. If I were to pick one trait that I think makes a good leader, it would be listening. A good leader needs to listen to his team, to his clients, to the “signs of the times.” If a leader is not a listener, then all sorts of traps become threats.

SPINNAKER: What are your biggest opportunities as a leader?

THOMPSON: I absolutely love the executive coaching and consulting I am doing now. It is the culmination of many years of running my own businesses. Now I have the opportunity to share what I have learned personally and professionally with others. My opportunity today is to discern the best ways I can collaborate with others, both in my field and around it, to have an exponential impact versus what I could accomplish by myself.

SPINNAKER: What’s one thing people should know about building great teams and businesses?

THOMPSON: I have always loved the quote from Zig Ziglar: “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.” I think great teams and businesses come when people genuinely care about helping others, both inside the team and outside the team. If you care deeply, you are well on your way to creating a great team.

SPINNAKER: What about your work is most rewarding?

THOMPSON: I love that moment when I help someone see something they didn’t see before, whether it is about their business or their personal life. To help someone gain clarity where there was fuzziness previously is extremely rewarding.

SPINNAKER: Why should leaders consider coaching?

THOMPSON: Whether it’s a professional coach or a close, trusted friend, we need people in our lives to be able to see well. We can’t usually see our own lives objectively, and others can help us do that. Typically your spouse is too close to you to fulfill that role. We need people to speak to us, and to speak into us, to give us perspective and wisdom. We need those people, and too few people have someone like that—so a coach fits the bill. A coach is someone who helps guide you in specific areas, who is a good listener and reflects back to you with insight. Skill and experience in personal goal setting and accountability are extra levels a coach will bring to the table.

SPINNAKER: What do you most enjoy about coaching?

THOMPSON: It’s incredible to have as my profession the singular task of trying to help people and organizations find their absolute best, both personally and professionally. I find that so many people struggle to figure out how to integrate work and the rest of life. I love helping people find that place where both can thrive.

SPINNAKER: What is your greatest professional achievement?

THOMPSON: I feel my greatest professional achievement is not sacrificing my family at the altar of success. It’s always a tremendous challenge, but I have been able to achieve the things I have wanted to achieve professionally while still being devoted to my family and giving them the time they deserve, and also investing myself in my church and community. It’s a dance, but well worth dancing.


More About Tommy Thompson:

Special skill: love to play and teach golf
Secret to success: being faithful to doing the right thing—this doesn’t guarantee success, but it at least guarantees a clear conscience
Idea hot spot: my idea hot spot is actually not a where, but a when—my best ideas come very early in the morning when it is utterly quiet all around me
Brand crush: I would have to say Apple, although it would really be the Apple of a decade ago that innovated in a way that was genius to me
My superpower is: reading—reading tons of books over decades has shaped me in profound ways
Reading right now: Multipliers
If I had an extra hour each day, I’d: read more
Must-listen podcast: Impact Theory
Must-use app: Things 3, a great task management app
I’m “Most Likely To”: have a Diet Coke in my hand

Learn more about Tommy Thompson on his website.