Executive Leadership’s Dual Role

Evolving the Future + Honoring the Past: An interview with Tom Roth, COO, Wilson Learning Worldwide

By Tom Roth

You have over 40 years in the field of leadership development and are well into your second decade as an executive leader responsible for strategic direction and business performance of a global training organization. What insight for success can you share with the emerging generation of C-suite leaders?

Gain clarity. Understand what your role is. All levels of leaders, and especially executive leaders, are expected to promote change and continually renew the organization. And, they are equally expected to protect and hold onto the constants—those enduring tenets like organizational values, mission, and culture that do not change. It’s a balancing act, recognizing the dynamic tension of evolving the future and honoring the past.

It may seem contradictory, because change by its very nature looks to a future direction while constancy digs its roots in the past. But, in fact, both “Pathfinding” (blazing new trails and taking people where they would not go without being led) and “Stewardship” (never forgetting and protecting who the organization is and why it exists) must coexist.

Successful leaders balance both the Pathfinder and Steward roles.

All levels of leaders, and especially executive leaders, are expected to promote change and continually renew the organization.

A few years ago, Wilson Learning celebrated 50 years as an industry leader. You quoted Thomas Jefferson from the early 1800s: “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.” How does that translate for today’s executive leadership?

Leading organizations that are trying to create and sustain strategic advantage in today’s rapidly changing environment require executive leaders to constantly make decisions about what to grow, what to innovate, and what new technologies and possibilities to act on—matters of style.

For example, matters of “style” for Wilson Learning are new applications for delivering training or adjusting how we interface with a customer organization’s LMS.

In matters of principle, we’ve always been unwavering in our humanistic stand to deliver performance with fulfillment. Our value of “win-win problem-solving” is at our core and must be evident in every customer relationship and among employee daily interactions. As COO, I stand firm on matters of principle—matters of substance that define and differentiate us.

So, while it’s critical to understand the conditions in the marketplace or with customers that demand decisions to swim with the current, we stand like a rock on the foundation of organizational DNA—values, mission, vision, and culture.

Every organization has a culture. It either has a culture by design or a culture by default.

You’ve mentioned culture a couple of times. What do executive leaders have to do with culture? Aren’t they too busy with other high-level affairs of the organization?

The good news is that at the executive level, C-suite leaders typically have a strong team of leaders responsible for managing people on a day-to-day basis. Executive leadership is needed to ensure there are systems, processes, and a culture in place to sustain the organization’s performance over time.

As I travel around the world, I collect anecdotal “research” on culture—personal research, not the formal kind Wilson Learning researches and publishes. Do you ever notice how people behave in elevators, all around the world? A colleague and I were walking up to an elevator, laughing and talking like we always do. The elevator doors open and reveal a few people already on the elevator. What do we immediately do? We step inside, turn to the front, and stop talking. And then we stare: at the elevator buttons, the floor, or our cell phones. Here’s what is really interesting: Where did you learn that behavior? Who taught you to do that? You didn’t learn that behavior from just one person; instead, you observed other people exhibiting this behavior and you learned this as acceptable elevator behavior. It’s as simple as that. Leaders, are you willing to let the culture of your organization emerge in a manner as serendipitous as elevator behavior, or is your leadership willing to take responsibility for creating and supporting the kind of culture that creates engagement and high performance?

— Tom Roth

Tom Roth

Tom Roth是Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc.(美国)的首席运营官和Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc.(日本)的总裁,他拥有40多年的人力绩效提升解决方案开发和实施的经验,负责Wilson Learnin全球集团的战略方向和业务绩效。此外,他还领导全球营销服务和解决方案研发部门,负责所有解决方案和价值主张白皮书的研发。他在员工敬业度、领导力发展、战略调整和业务转型相关领域,为全球的领导团队提供协助。在担任现任职务之前,他曾担任全球研发和解决方案研发部门总裁,也曾担任Wilson Learning Corporation的总裁。

Tom Roth在开发和实施人力绩效提升解决方案领域拥有丰富的经验。他合著了《如何使企业重新找回活力》(英文原文),《创建高性能团队》(英文)的,并在众多商业出版物上发表过文章。他是一位在国内、国际会议和客户活动上活跃的演讲者,涉及内容广泛,其中包括:领导力、员工参与度、变革和战略实施。