In this accomplished episode, Thom Dennis, CEO of Serenity in Leadership, shares how he applies his 30 years of experience as an executive coach in creating safe, harmonious, productive and inclusive workplaces where leaders and their teams live and breathe the shared values of the business.
You will discover:
– How culture has shifted and the specific pressure that creates for leaders today
– Why so many companies destroy the value of what they’re acquiring
– How to know when and why your culture must change
Hello Hello and welcome welcome once again to the secrets of the high demand coach podcast and I am here with yet another high demand coach and that is the one and only Thom Dennis. Now Thom served as a Royal Marines Officer for 17 years, and since his retirement has brought their discipline and leadership ethos to all his projects, he’s worked with a wide range of clients, including Citi Group, RBS, Pfizer, AstraZeneca GSK, Altana, BP, Shell, Centrica, subsea seven, Conoco Phillips, and trans ocean just to name a few and frequently facilitates multinational meetings in the UK and mainland Europe, in the US, and even in Africa and across the Far East. Now, his expertise lies in executive coaching for personal and organizational change. And Thom is passionate about building safe environments by making equity inclusion and diversity central to helping both the business and its people thrive. Well, I’m so excited to have you here on the show. I told you as we were kind of opening up ahead of time, I love having people from your side of the pond, because they’ve been amazing guests. And I have no less expectation for this, just what I’ve seen so far, and doing some research for the episode. I’m really, really excited to be here. So Thom, welcome to the show. Before we dive into some of this work that you’re doing, I’d love for you to just share. What were you doing before getting into coaching and consulting? And how did that lead you to make the leap?
Well, Scott, thank you for that introduction. I’ve, I’ve had a number of careers, I guess. I started as a lifeguard and then went into a brief sojourn, learning how to fly commercially, which ended when they I scared my instructor too much. And then went into industry for a few years, then I joined the Marines. And it wasn’t the name of mine. But I did end up doing a lot of teaching around leadership in the Corps. And so when I, well, retired, resigned bit of both, I, I looked for an organization that could sort of help me move on from, from what I would had been doing. And I saw this, this coaching thing. And there was just one organization in the UK at that time that was offering coaching. And so I talked to them. And it sounded very much like what I’d already been doing in teaching in one of the military colleges, although we hadn’t called it coaching at that stage. So I joined up and they gave me some training on coaching, which was mostly how to go to the Yellow Pages and phone people. And it was it was all a bit basic in those days. And a few years after that, I went on a master’s degree, which was actually probably one of the best courses I’ve ever done, which really looked at the psychology of change, and looking at individual group and organizational levels. And that was where the coaching really took a much deeper route, if you like. And so I took that model individual group and organizational into the work that I was doing. And really, in many ways, it hasn’t changed. The topics have changed a bit. And the approach is a little bit more eclectic than they were at the beginning. But yeah, I waited to coaching. I mean, if I’m honest, I applied for an awful lot of jobs when I left the Marines, but nobody even replied to one of my letters. So I thought, Well, I’m gonna have to go out and do this myself. And, you know, I’d had some experience of life already. But I learned a lot just by talking with CEOs about the issues and challenges they were having.
And I want to dive in on to the NASA on your website, and it’s this idea of helping transform cultures and the the question that that jumped to my mind is why is it that so, many cultures need to be transformed? Is that is that a function of something going wrong? Is it a function of something going right why do we need to change culture? So for me, why is that such a prevalent neat?
Well, cultures are created that they are initially formed by the founder. And then depending on who they recruit the kind of people but essentially the leadership. Well, what they do and how they behave is what cascades through an organization now the driving forces in young organizations are very A powerful because it’s about survival, largely, and getting money and, and so on. So that driving force can sometimes create a culture, which is pretty dysfunctional. And it’s interesting that small organizations tend not to have HR functions, but when they get to a certain size, they feel the need to have an HR function. And by that time, very often, there are things that are quite well embedded, which makes HR a very difficult function to to have. So on the other side, organizations used to drive society. It’s the other way around now, and a lot of leaders in organizations are finding that really quite hard. It’s society that’s making demands on them, you know, we want you to think about like Black Lives Matter, we want us to make space for disabled people, we want you to make space for people that you don’t necessarily think will fit with your culture, because it’s a very limited one. So as things grow, society is pushing on them to to open up in different ways. And that can be really hard, particularly when the leaders resist it. That’s a very short answer to a very big question.
That’s such a great answer and leads me to kind of a next question here is like, what do you see that? Is there a trend to the type of change that leaders are having to make? Are there common shifts that are happening? Or is it is it case by case is it different in every organization?
I don’t think it’s very good to try and put people or organizations or cultures in boxes. I do think, though, that the demands that have been made from the outside are creating stresses which didn’t used to exist, and particularly the states, you know, when you can hire and fire, it’s really easy. In Europe, it’s very difficult. People have much more protection. So I think that’s one challenge is when an organization spreads outside the US or tries to set up as sub units, if you like, in, in other countries, and they try and impose their culture on that country, they often run into a lot of problems very quickly. So as I said, the social changes are creating stresses, and you’re getting a lot more suicides, for instance, of young men in particular. And there are lots of reasons for that. But I think one of the things that society is doing is saying, We want you to be responsible our employer for the well being of your people. And in the old days, they didn’t have to worry about that, frankly. So I suppose from the social point of view, yeah, that there are typical changes. I think another thing is, is mergers and acquisitions. In the way I see the world, there aren’t many mergers, they’re mostly acquisitions. And depending on the care that the acquirer takes, they can actually destroy the value of what it is that they’re acquiring by not looking at the difference in their cultures. And frankly, that needs an expert to come in and talk to them about because I have seen the same mistake made over and over and over again, where organizations say, Oh, well, we’re taking them they’re in the same business as us is no problem. But actually, the way that things are done in the different organizations can be very different. And the the irony of of most most acquisitions is the people who set up the deal, make the money on the deal, and then they they push off to the Bahamas, and the people left holding the baby. I find it really difficult that the losses occur afterwards, after the initial money’s been made. So I think people need to pay attention to that one.
Right. Right. So that’s something that I’ve heard in a number of your, a number of your responses here, kind of the need to kind of re envision expand our culture to make a bigger, if you will, how do you know as a leader, you know, if you don’t, if you’re open to everything, then you’re standing on nothing to write. So you still have to have an identity as an organization. So how do you strike the balance between expand wanting it to be big enough to include all those that that are part of that culture that you need to be in that culture, but not making it so open that we lose our identity as an organization?
Yes, I’ve worked with some some CEOs and you go in you say, well, what’s the culture like, there’s Oh, we don’t have a culture here. And that’s, that’s just plain wrong. There’s always a culture. And I think that leaders have to be sensitive to their growth, very often entrepreneurs is set up an organization, it takes it to a certain level, and after that, it needs a different type of person to take it on from there. And one of the great challenges for startup entrepreneurs is to know when to let go. That’s the last thing your question. But I think it’s a very important aspect of this. So if you if you hire people, for their their values, and their sort of ethos more than you hire them, just because they’ve got a skill that you think that they need, that you need, you will tend to grow an organization. And by the way, your transplant, I think that’s really important. You, you, you, it’s like sowing seeds. And as they grow, you water them, you nurture them, you look after them. And what that have, what that does is by osmosis, it brings that that healthy sense of growth into the organization now that the leaders will always hold a responsibility and Anna, the identity, but if an organization has been set up by some entrepreneurs, that they have a passion, they want to do something, they want to create something that’s not going to, that’s not going to change. But in order for them to grow underneath them, they need healthy interchange, they need people who will communicate cross function, all this kind of thing, which is great, as long as the leaders allow that to grow, once you’ve essentially is that the fundamental of delegation, you know, it’s so easy for people to say, Oh, I would delegate but it’s, it’s say takes too long, and it’s much much, much simpler if I just do it. Well, yes, it is. But nobody’s going to grow underneath you. And they’re going to, all you’re going to do is grow a resistance in the cynicism. And so you’ve got to help people grow. And then what, you know, I say, organizations thrive when people thrive. So you can still hold on to the identity of what you wanted to set up. But allow people to help that grow.
Yeah, yeah. It’s such an interesting challenge. And I think, you know, there’s this, there’s, there is no one simple solution, right? I think it’s being willing to step into it, and really deal with each of those challenges as they come up to really be and I think the point you’re making is being open to, hey, how do we need to change? How do we need to grow? How do we need to develop? That’s really good. So it brings me to a question, I won’t actually go back to the mergers and acquisitions point that you made earlier, and I saw something on your site, you said you can’t impose a new vision and values on people, they need to see the new behaviors being lived everyday by senior management. And when that happens, the vision and particularly the VAT values can cascade all the way down the organization. Tell me what you mean by that.
The amount of money that so many organizations have have spent on a new identity, you know, they get all these, these identity consultants and PR and everything else and they produce they that firstly, the leaders go off, and they do this workshop and they come back and they’re all rah rah rah, and they’ve got all these new ideas and new values and maybe even a new purpose and left to their own devices. They they produce these really good Grodd glossy brochures and big posters, and this is what we believe in and and you know, people come in in the morning and they look at this stuff and they say, Oh, is that my values? I didn’t know that. And what you do is you create a natural resistance to so what I always say to organize well to the to the C suite leaders is if You want to create all that stuff then fantastic, but don’t talk about it, live it. Yeah, be it. And what people in the organization notice is a slight change. But on the whole, if they’ve done their homework, well, it’s a good change. And they like it. So that six months later, the organization says, We’d like to roll out these values. How does that sound? So they don’t say, these are your values, they say, how about this? And what it does is it falls on very well watered and fertilized ground because they’ve been living those, and people have been seeing it. And so what it does is producer congruency. It’s a it’s a consistency of being and doing, which really resonates. And therefore it’s much easier for people then to engage with it. Yeah, yeah, they don’t do these things overnight.
Yeah, that’s so true. I forget what the study was, I want to include the metrics with the idea of what we say versus what we do, if they don’t align folks will follow what you do far more frequently than what you say. And, and I think you’ve captured that so well of, if you go out and your role changes, even as leaders, we’ve got some modifications that we need to make to our behavior, we have to shift how we’re engaging to align with that. And so you’re right, you walk out and say, This is what it is now, you know, it’s like, there, there’s a skepticism just from change, and just natural resistance to change. And then that skepticism was confirmed when we see even little things that are out of alignment with the words on the wall or in the glossy brochure, and, and the whole thing is for naught. So I’ve got a question for you. And I’m fascinated to see what you have to say here. But what would you say in all of this is the biggest secret that you wish wasn’t a secret at all? What’s that one thing, if you were to kind of bottle it up to the one thing that you wish everybody listening or watching today knew? What would it be?
The greatest gift you can give to a fellow human being is your presence. You know, when you’re on the phone, or when you’re in your office, somebody comes in or they’re shown you. They can tell if you’re not entirely with them. And actually, unconsciously, it’s a huge slap. So there are enormous returns to be had, if you invest in giving that moment to that person. Entirely.
Yeah, it’s in as you’re saying, this, kind of reminded of the seat Steve Jobs, you know, saying yes, is 1000 no’s. And I think what’s so precious about when we give ourselves in the moment to another person is you never get it back. Right. And, and, and we’re saying no to 1000 other things, whether that set or not, whether it’s the appreciation is spoken or not, that is a special gift. And it’s something that’s it’s very helpful for all of us to understand and remember, and commit to, I appreciate that. So, one more question here, I’m actually going to shift gears a little bit on you. And I’m gonna have you take off your coach hat, we’ve talked a lot about how entrepreneurs can, can succeed and build better, bigger cultures. But want to dive in and hear from you take, again, take the hat off, jump down into the ring with us, put on your CEO hat and talk to us what’s the next stage of growth look like for you as a leader? And what challenges will you have to overcome to get there?
Well the one thing that I’m very keen on doing and I’m working on it at the moment is to create a new leadership program. I’m not adept at doing these things online and creating all the the back end of of an online program. But that that is something that I’m very keen to do, because I think the skills of leadership that have gotten us to where we are today, are not the ones that are going to take us forward. And you’ll see here being played out in so many ways in the world right now. So I think there are new leadership skills, and I really want to help to equip the people to to be able to handle the huge challenges that are coming. Someone said to me the other day the speed of change that you are experiencing now is the slowest speed of change that you will experience in the rest of your life. Yeah. Well, you know, that could speak scare the pants off you very it’s like how do we? How do we resource ourselves in order to do to manage that. So that’s one thing, leadership. And I’ve, I’ve, I used to do a lot of facilitation, as you mentioned in your intro of various C suite off sites and the pandemic sort of killed a lot of that everything, everybody went online, but now people are sort of venturing out and and meeting in person again. And so I’m ramping up that as an offering, because I think I think a lot of leaders don’t realize how how releasing it can be to be part of the meeting, as opposed to having to run it 100 That’s what a good facilitator can do. So yeah, those are two things that I’m really looking for, for growth.
And that’s fantastic. That’s fantastic. Well, I know some folks are listening, and what you’re saying is resonating, you’re hitting them right where they’re at right now. And so how can they how can they get in touch with you? How can they find more out about the work that you do?
Well, there’s the website, which is serenityinleadership.com. You can look for me on LinkedIn, LinkedIn, Thom with an h, Thom Dennis. And you you know you can you can email me [email protected]. You know, the company Serenity Leadership, we’re on Instagram and Twitter and LinkedIn and you know, all the not Tiktok not yet. Anyway.
I want to see Thom Dennis dancing on tick tock. That’s my one request coming on. Oh, my goodness. Well, I had a chance to go through the Serenity in Leadership website and it’s phenomenal. I’d highly encourage you to go there. We’ll drop the links in the show notes so that you can get straight to it. Thom, thank you so much for being on the show. It’s an absolute privilege and for those of you listening and watching you know that your time and attention in the world to us. I hope you got as much out of this conversation as I know I did, and I cannot wait to see you next time. Take care.
Contact Thom Dennis
Thom served as a Royal Marines officer for 17 years and since his retirement has brought their discipline and leadership ethos to all his projects. He has worked with a wide range of clients, including Citigroup, RBS, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, GSK, Altana, BP, Shell, Centrica, Subsea 7, ConocoPhillips and Transocean. He frequently facilitates multinational meetings in the UK, mainland Europe, the US, Africa and the Far East. Thom’s expertise lies in executive coaching for personal and organizational change. Thom is passionate about building safe environments by making equity, inclusion and diversity central to helping both the business and its people thrive.
Want to learn more about Thom Dennis’s work at Serenity in Leadership? Check out his website at https://www.serenityinleadership.com/ and connect with him on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/company/serenityinleadership/.
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