Same Ol’ Tom? . . .


Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” – John F. Kennedy 

Highly motivated business executives and managers tend to work hard as they climb the corporate ladder, accepting more and more responsibility as the progress.  They learn everything they can about their current job, and the next job, assimilating new information, adapting their management skills to fit new situations, changing how they lead and manage in anticipation for the next big job.  They attend advanced management classes at the best universities, they devour books on leadership, time management, team building, culture, train to become lean sigma black belts, visit other companies for innovative ideas.  It’s constant learning in order to perform and be in line for the next promotion.

That is, until they reach the top, then something strange happens.  Many tend to stop the quest to learn, to develop themselves, to be better tomorrow than they are today. For a few, the job of CEO is so all-consuming that they just don’t have time for learning new things.  Their day is packed with meetings, internally and externally, and they have to manage the press, the Board of Directors, the regulators, shareholders, analyst meetings.  And of course there are regular board meetings to prepare for and the Annual General Meeting and Year-End Results to work on.

I empathise with such a hectic schedule, but what bothers me is that for them, the learning stops and the treadmill begins.  And for others who reach the top, a few even adopt the attitude of: “I made it to the top, what more do I have to prove or learn?”

A little study will show that while they may be staying the same, the business world around them is rapidly changing. Technology shifts, regulatory shifts, economic disruption and competitive advances.  Everything around the is in a state of transformation.  Maybe that’s why the average tenure in years of a CEO is falling.  They aren’t changing enough to keep up and after several years, they have lost touch with the “new” realities of business.

Thomas D Willhite

My first mentor was also my first real boss in business and from him I learned a great deal about people, and about myself.  His name was Thomas D. Willhite and he was a charismatic, motivational genius who built several large training companies in the 1970s. One of which is still going today, PSI World, Inc.

Tom had a saying and I will share it with you, because it serves as a constant reminder for me to keep learning and growing.

 I guarantee you that the next time you see me you won’t say, “Here comes the same old Tom”.  I will be constantly changing, constantly learning new things, trying out new ideas, doing things differently.  Not for the sake of being different, but for the opportunity to grow, learn and be a better leader tomorrow than I am today.

A good mantra to live by.

John R. Childress

Author of LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture, and FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution, available from Amazon in paperback and eBook formats.

See the review of LEVERAGE in The Economist (January 9, 2014.

John also writes thriller novels:



About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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1 Response to Same Ol’ Tom? . . .

  1. Great post, John.


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