Mentoring And Shaping Effective Business Leaders with Tom Donohoe

TWS 13 | Mentoring Business Leaders


When asked to open a new law firm office in a different market, business leader, problem-solver, and health care attorney Tom Donohoe shares how he was able to apply basic entrepreneurial principles to establish their business. As someone who’s not averse to doing the leg work, he was able to build a client base in a new market and entice other lawyers to join the firm by running around forming relationships and connections. Together with his brother, host Patrick Donohoe, they discuss the role of mentorship in business progression. They also talk about the qualities that effective business leaders possess and how they affect positive work culture, morale, and the overall rhythm in the workplace.

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Mentoring And Shaping Effective Business Leaders with Tom Donohoe

I am with my little brother, Tom. I wanted to have Tom on because we’re going to talk a little bit about mentorship. We’re also going to talk about business rhythm and also ways in which you can identify friction in business rhythm to capitalize on opportunities. I’m going to give you an idea about why I chose this topic for the week, especially as we’re talking about entrepreneurs. First the book, we still have our free website up. It’s FreeBook.HeadsOrTailsIWin.com. You can get a free copy. All you have to do is pay for the shipping. Also if you’ve enjoyed this season, then go head over to iTunes. They’ve changed up a bunch of stuff with the podcast. Go ahead over there and give us a review. We would appreciate that. We are in Yarmouth, Massachusetts on Cape Cod. This is where my brother and I grew up during the summers. It’s been many years that we’ve been out here with our kids. It’s an amazing place. It’s going to be important for Tom to be on this episode. He is in a different industry and not necessarily the entrepreneur type of role but definitely entrepreneurial based on what he’s done with his career in law. Why don’t you introduce yourself to the audience and tell them about your background?

I’m an attorney by trade. That’s my professional path. I was in private practice for about ten years with a couple of the country’s largest health law firms. That’s where I focused. My practice has always been representing hospitals and health systems for the most part on transactional regulatory matters. A few years ago, I went in-house to a mid-size regional health system headquartered in Denver, Colorado but it has operations in Denver, Kansas and Montana. It sounds like this is an audience of entrepreneurs. I may not make sense to be speaking to that crowd given I’ve taken a little bit more of a traditional route in my career. I would say that some of the principles that I’ve applied in the entrepreneurial space, you can also apply and be equally successful in the legal space as well and some of the more traditional settings.

On that note, I did start in the traditional law firm setting. For one of the firms that I worked for the longest, I opened their Denver office. In some cases, it’s a startup, a new market, new client base, new potential for people to come in, both to join me to practice but also to receive services in that area. In that setting as part of a larger law firm, we had to act like entrepreneurs in the way that we were trying to develop a business, bringing people along and then also refine our craft. It was a great experience in doing that. I can certainly talk a little bit about that and some of the different principles we applied in doing that.

I’ve looked at the conversations we’ve had over the years and with what you see typically in the corporate world. I would say the legal world is business that is essentially in a chokehold because of clinging to old habits, ideas, ways of doing things. I remember when you started up the Denver office, it was interesting because you hit the ground running. You did things that other attorneys weren’t willing to do. You went out and do business development and establish new relationships. What was cool is even though you were in Denver, you were in Salt Lake quite a bit. You were able to establish relationships with big hospital networks out there that already had representation. You were able to go out and sponsor dinners, go to golf tournaments and network.

Ultimately, most business, especially when you’re doing business to business transactions, there tends to be frustration at times, whether it’s lack of experience, whether it’s timeliness, whether it’s focus, whether it’s organization. You’re able to capitalize on relationship opportunities because you had done a lot of that networking. When those frustrating things happened, they remembered you and remembered your firm and subsequently started to do more business with you. Talk about where did that come from. As you opened the Denver office, was it your idea to do the business development or was it something that the hierarchy up the chain was insistent on?

There’s a fundamental perception, particularly of lawyers, that there’s this body of legal work that sits out there waiting for some lawyer to do it. You go to a firm and there’s a pile of work on your desk and you are there for hour after hour doing it. That’s not the case. In some cases, it may be but in mine, it never was. It was, “Here’s an opportunity to develop a new office, a new service. We’ve got some work for you but you’re going to have to find that on your own.” It’s similar to any startup or any entrepreneur’s situation where you’ve got a new product or new service and you’re trying to find buyers and you’re trying to sell that to them, grow your business and all of that. That’s exactly what this was.

In my case, I had some foundational clients I developed relationships that I had some work, but it was going into those markets. I was in Denver for the most part but in that market, developing the relationships, pitching the service that we provided, why we do it differently, how we do it differently and why we could do it better and then expanding to new markets and doing that too. To your point, sometimes I drop into Salt Lake. I have a handful of lunches or dinners scheduled and no real prospects, but you have to grind and make those contacts time after time with people. When you’re given that opportunity, you can knock it out of the park.

It seems like a simple recipe, but I feel like that’s a recipe for success in any industry. It’s having a relationship. It’s building that relationship. It’s once you get a bite based on that relationship, being responsive and doing a good job. It’s not rocket science in a lot of cases. It’s astounding to me in any industry how unresponsiveness, lack of communication, apathy or something like that can be pervasive. For people that are willing to put in the work and to develop those relationships and to focus on those simple things, how much success you can yield by doing that.

TWS 13 | Mentoring Business Leaders

Mentoring Business Leaders: Building relationships with the people in your market and other individuals working in the same field is essential in the growth of a business.


Let’s segue into a few topics. I wanted to do this podcast with my brother because as I was thinking about what to speak, we had a couple of guests and we had some travel conflict and so we’re doing this episode on the fly. Some interesting things happened to me. I had an old business coach of mine reach out and he is an incredibly successful entrepreneur. He started several businesses. He ran over a 1,000-person publishing company. He and another individual coached me for a few years. That coaching helped me understand the importance of business rhythm and organization. This business coach reached out because he’s starting a podcast and wanted to know a couple of the ways in which his coaching impacts my business, some of the things that we’re using. It caused me to reflect on a few things.

I wanted to talk about that, but I also felt it would be appropriate to run what I had learned as some of the friction points, the inefficiencies, the blind spots of my business. I wanted to know from a corporate standpoint if there were some similarities. I didn’t brief my brother in any of this stuff. It might backfire. We will see but one of the things that’s connected with me in regard to this idea of growth as well as business progression is the whole plus-minus-equal idea. I don’t know if you know about this but plus-minus-equal is essentially where you stand. There’s always somebody that you can look to as a mentor. Someone that’s doing more than you. Someone that has more experience than you. Also, you have minus, which is someone that is coming up the ranks that you can mentor and teach.

The equal is essentially having somebody that is in a very similar situation as you so that you remain competitive. You have that type of edge. I consider the mentors that I’ve had, this individual in particular, as someone that has gone down the path that I was going. Someone that could help me see some of the pitfalls, some of the things that I would be approaching and how to essentially set up my business, set up my structure in a way where I don’t necessarily avoid them. When they’re presented, I can essentially identify the opportunity and be able to proactively respond as to impulsively react. Tom, talk about the importance of mentors to you and then also your ability to mentor others. I know that you’ve had mentees and mentors throughout your career.

The whole mentorship thing, unless you’re intentional and you seek out one that fits what you’re looking forward, is a product of chance. My first partner that supervised me was very old school. It was a sink or swim. I had very little interaction with him. At the time, I didn’t think that’s what I needed. In some case, I felt I wasn’t getting what I needed. I had expressed that and I can always remember where he would be in meetings all day and would have sent me a couple of things that he needed help with or questions he needed to be answered. He gets back to his office at the end of the hall. I slowly popped my head out of my door in my office and I gave him one look. I could tell he did not want to talk to me. I go right back to my office and hold my questions until the next day.

Making connections and strengthening relationships is the foundation of success that encompasses all industries. Click To Tweet

There were also times when it was late in the day, he was in a good mood and we could talk through some things. It was a very sink or swim type of relationship as you explained it to me a few years ago when I ultimately transitioned from that firm. I came back eventually but as I was departing, he said, “That was my style and my style was to give you as much as you could handle and then see if you can survive or if you thrive.” Fortunately, I did okay. I don’t know if thrive is the right word but I certainly didn’t sink. At that moment I resented it a little bit but as I look back, it did prepare me in my career to deal with harder personalities but not the people that coddled you or protected you.

It helped me navigate some more difficult personalities both internally at the other firms or companies I worked with but also externally as I negotiated with other parties with difficult personalities. It helped me manage those. I was very grateful in the end for that mentorship. That’s a little bit of non-traditional path. I think those are important. You can do two things by chance. You can have the mentors that you get or assigned to you and make do what you can and try to find the best benefit that you can in those relationships. You’ve got to understand the parameters of those mentors and how they operate and try to leverage what benefit you can get from those relationships.

The other way to approach it is to seek mentors not just in your companies or in your businesses but around you or the one that Patrick suggests as these plus ones that are in the industry. They’ve been successful and that’s a path that I want to follow. You get in touch with them and establish that more informal mentorship path. That’s a little bit of a roll the dice because they may have been successful, but they don’t want to teach anyone. They don’t have the patience. That’s not their personality but that’s certainly something worth exploring. As far as the minus one, my experiences with mentors or lack thereof however you characterize it has driven me to want to go above and beyond in terms of the people that report to me and that I work with on a daily basis. I’ve done that in my current role, part of the task that I was brought in to do, I was to build an in-house department. I did it in what I would characterize as a vertical way. I’m the number two attorney in my company and I developed layers beneath me.

That’s not necessarily to have a hierarchy for having a hierarchy sake but it’s so that the people with certain skill levels could have access to people that have the higher levels, with additional skills or experience that they can leverage or go to when they have challenges. It also creates a path for those people to progress. I have a particular attorney who she worked with me at the firm and then we worked a little bit together there and she ultimately left to take in-house role. I stole her back from that role and I came in and I’ve had the opportunity to try to push her as hard as I can but also be a mentor to her. We meet on a weekly basis and go through her projects, any questions, the concerns that she has. I try to push her as much as she can and I feel like she’s progressed. She’s given the feedback to me that she’s certainly stretched the most that she can but not to a point where she’s put in a position that’s going to compromise her success or make it difficult for her to be successful in her job.

TWS 13 | Mentoring Business Leaders

Mentoring Business Leaders: Mentorship can be very beneficial in determining the path you want to take in your career and in establishing your foothold in your chosen industry.


It’s interesting when you look at growth in general, just the principle of growth. You have an environment in which growth is taking place. The environment has to be conducive to certain variables. One of them is pressure because if you don’t have the pressure to perform, then you’re not going to be pushed. We also have this notion of a team where you can push the limits but yet the fear of failure, it’s not like you’ve burned all boats and you’re forced to do it, even though that could be a viable strategy. You still have team members. One of the things we didn’t talk about with regards to your background is you’ve been part of several hundred-million-dollar mergers, acquisitions, buy-outs.

These are big transactions, whether it’s hospitals merging, buying private practices, merging of private practices. These are very important transactions especially in the healthcare and the medical world because there’s so much regulation. The pressure is almost baked into the process. The idea of having a vertical is intriguing to me because you have an environment where you can’t make many mistakes. The mistakes have pretty big consequences and opportunity costs. You’re essentially entrusting someone to do work and be in that environment. You have parameters built-in so that they can fail but the failure is going to get caught so that there aren’t these dire consequences of not dotting the I’s and crossing the t’s and what that would do to the specific transaction details.

I have a couple of thoughts on that. First to your point, they’re trying to create failsafe within your structure so that people can be pushed and can go to a limit, yet they’re not too far out there that they’re exceeding their bounds. You’re right. In the legal industry, if you provide the wrong legal advice, it could potentially end up with pretty significant consequences. We don’t have a lot of room for error in most cases. That is certainly one. You also mentioned the concept of team and culture. Those can be buzzwords and clichés for different companies or if you’re reading inspirational books and all of that but they matter. I think about the department I came in and as we developed structure, one of the things we had to do was develop a culture where people were empowered to collaborate with each other. Where there were good communication and some people were good at it and some weren’t.

As you develop that culture, you lead in that respect and that’s how you act, people tend to fall in a lot of cases. To your point on a transaction, on a heart issue on something, if people are aligned and communicating, your ability to resolve any given issue or get through a transaction is increased significantly as opposed to if you’ve got internal dynamics or cultural barriers. The transaction itself could be hard and now you’re making it even harder because of the way that you are operating internally. That’s an incredibly important thing and sometimes very difficult based on the personalities that you have. They emphasize within an organization in order for it to be a success. It doesn’t matter how good the product is or the service or what you’re doing. If your culture isn’t good, you may have short-term success in some respects, but it certainly leads to the disadvantage to your long-term prospects.

There’s always someone you can look to as a mentor. Find one with a lot of experience and who can introduce you to different perspectives. Click To Tweet

Unconsciously, human beings make judgments about who they want to do business with. They don’t sit down and say, “Here’s how I want to do business.” The unconscious side of them is looking for what culture is, looking for what the relationship will be especially at those levels. At smaller levels, you can probably get away with it. At the same time, when you’re talking about big transactions, the big corporate world. In some cases, small business where you’re merging or doing joint ventures, understanding that there is that unconscious side that’s looking for, “What is this relationship going to be like?”

I know that it’s not necessarily with one person. It’s not with Tom but it’s with his offices and with his team. I remember the conversations we’ve had over the years is you’ve been at a couple of two different firms before you went to the in-house at this healthcare network or hospital network. Talk about where you saw in these big organizations some of the unintended consequences of not necessarily bad culture but let’s say maybe mediocre or stagnant culture. If you’re not growing, you’re dying. There’s not this neutral place that you can stay in. The Law of Nature compels you to grow. Talk about that briefly.

It does have consequences. The most apparent consequence is always in good people leaving. You lose good people. The firms that I’ve been, in some cases it’s to another firm. In other cases, it’s to a client. They go in-house. That’s what I did. Some of the attorneys in the firm choke that up too, that’s good. He or she went to a client and now we will get business from them. In a lot of cases, those employees are disgruntled. They don’t look at the fact that “If that person was a good person and a good asset to the firm and they left, did we do something wrong?” There’s definitely a consequence in that. That means something. If a smaller or large company has put resources and time into developing an individual and they’d become a good asset, you lose that. That’s tangible capital to the company. Maybe not in terms of dollars but that’s capital.

That’s time that’s been invested and put into that person. You now lost it and now you’re going to have to invest in someone new. The more you see movement in any industry, the more people realize that that’s certainly not a good thing all around when a person leaves. I’d say the other effect that I’ve seen or consequences of some poor cultures or some idiosyncrasies that weren’t necessarily productive in a firm or a corporation is the morale. You want people showing up. You want them making an effort. You want them engaged. You want them invested in the business. When they’re not getting the mentorship or when the culture of the department, the company or the corporation is not good, their ability to be positive and to work hard is significantly diminished. You need those people, particularly at the leadership level, to show up and influence others and to set a good tone that they can’t do that. You’re going to see some of the foundations of a company crumble because the people aren’t the foundation in a lot of cases.

TWS 13 | Mentoring Business Leaders

Mentoring Business Leaders: Individuals in the leadership level should want their people to show up, make an effort, and be engaged and invested. This can only happen if you set the tone for them as their leader.


From the business coaches that I brought on, I have two business coaches. Both happened to be women and I did that intentionally because it has provided a different perspective for me. All my business coaches of the past had been male. I’m not going to get into that right now, but I wanted to get into some of the things I thought about when it came to this particular business coach. He’s reaching out to me and me going through our notes, going through our sessions over the last several years. I stopped coaching with him a few years ago. It caused me to reflect on some of the main things that impacted my business.

This is where we will go back to this narrative that we’ve been on with culture and team. One of the biggest things that I learned from them, it was one of the first things they told me, which is the objective of the leader is to do nothing. What that means is when he was coaching me, what he was trying to say, at least that’s how I interpreted it and thought about it over the years, is that having a good team in place allowed me to do what the leader does, which is maintain the psychology of the team. I learned that the chokehold of all business comes down to the psychology of the leader or leadership. That’s where you look at if you want growth in your business. The leadership first has to grow, expand their psychology, expand their understanding of how to take a team from one level to the next level.

It’s caused me to reflect and allowed me to restructure my role in a way where I’m performing actual leadership things. It is not something that I studied or understood because I read a few books but it’s something I had to work on, which is connecting with people, building a culture, setting principles, setting values and setting business rhythm and then continually improving it. Tom, talk about that. You’ve had some leadership role being second in command at this network. You also ran the Denver office. You were a partner at the firm, which is based out of the Midwest. Talk about the good leadership that you’ve seen, the bad leadership that you’ve seen and then how you have essentially taken that information and honed in on your leadership style and how you’re leading.

First of all, fundamental to all of this is a leader’s understanding of what leadership is. It might seem that’s intuitive, but I don’t think it is in all cases. People aspire to leadership or become leaders for various reasons. Some because they want a title and they want to tell people what to do, others because of pay. Others because they understand leadership and want to be in that role and influence people.

When the work culture within a company isn’t encouraging, the employees’ ability to work hard and be positive is significantly diminished. Click To Tweet

Are you saying there’s a difference between a leadership role and a leader?

Absolutely. There’s no doubt. If there’s something I’ve seen is many people put into leadership positions that don’t know how to lead. Fundamental to any leader being successful is understanding what their role is. You talked about and I’ve reflected on it over the years as well because as a lawyer, no one pays me to be a leader. Clients, particularly in private practice, pay you for your work so you have to work twelve hours and produce good work and be competent with that. At the same time, I had leadership roles as the managing partner of an office and all of that stuff. At some point, I had to understand that in order for the office to be successful, I was going to have to take additional time to the legal work I was doing to step back and influence people in the office and see where their gaps were, where the gaps of the office were, so that we could ultimately be successful as a team as opposed to just individuals.

That’s the plight of any law firm. You incentivize an individual, for the most part, to be successful but not necessarily for the firm to be successful in all cases. What I’ve seen and that compelled me to go into an in-house leadership role because I feel like there’s a greater appreciation in some cases in the corporate world. Generally, they pay people to be leaders. You’re putting in a leadership maybe sometimes because there are the skills that you bring but also because they’ve recognized that you have leadership skills and you should be leading a team. I struggle with that at first. I said, “Why are you paying these people money to lead? They should be doing something.” I want them drafting an agreement or I want them at the table negotiating. I’ve come to appreciate that if the company be it big or small, recognizes that someone has a skill in influencing people and bringing them together as a team and helping them function at their highest level, that is something worth paying for. That’s why you may have seen the news, the CEO of GE goes to be the CEO of Johnson & Johnson where their product lines are entirely different.

I don’t know what they do but what I’ve come to appreciate is some of these CEOs transfer industries where they have no experience. They’re not getting paid because of their knowledge of that industry and in certain cases but their ability to lead and bring a company back from a certain situation that transcends industry. I give those examples because going back to some of the points that you’re making, I do think the most effective leader recognizes what their role is and what they’re there to do. They get into the work of how they do that, how they influence people, how they create rhythm within a department, within an organization so that people are functioning at their highest level. They’re happy, they’re getting the mentorship and the tools that they need to be successful. That stuff in my career I thought was intuitive but now I’ve come to appreciate it’s not, particularly as you grow the number of people in a company and the department. That tone needs to be set by an individual and then passed down to others so that those constituencies can be successful.

TWS 13 | Mentoring Business Leaders

Mentoring Business Leaders: If someone has a skill in influencing people, bringing them together as a team, and helping them function at their highest level, it is something worth paying for.


What would you say are maybe the top two to three characteristics of a leader that you have tried to embody?

First of all, the biggest character is that they have the ability to be influential and I use that word, influence. I know there are plenty of literature about this because I’ve seen some leaders who say, “I’ve got a title. I’m going to tell people what to do and they’re going to do it.” If we are all robots, that would be a wonderful thing but we’re not. You need people to join your cause to be on your side, to want to achieve the same objective you are. In order to do that, that’s influencing them. It’s scoping out the personality and say, “What is it going to take for that person to get on board and to do what we need them to do?” Sometimes that’s setting an example. You do have to get your hands dirty a little bit and do that. Once they see that, they will follow you or deploy other skills. In some cases, they’re not going to get there. It comes down to that leader making the hard decision of letting that person go for the benefit of the department, the corporation or the company, whatever it is.

The ability to influence is probably a big characteristic. Humility is another big one that is huge for me. A leader who wants to put others before themselves, wants to see others succeed, wants to see the company succeed. That leader will be successful and that’s hard. I can’t say that I’m always the best at that. That is certainly something I work towards. The humble leader that we hear, the servant leader in some cases, those are the people that want to see other people succeed. They’re the ones who will put in the work and will do the things necessary to try to accomplish something bigger than themselves. There are certain charismatic leaders throughout different industries that we hear about in the news and otherwise that they get big headlines or whatnot. They might have successful companies. I go back to that. I think eventually those companies will stagnate if the ego gets too big, if that stuff gets too big because they will lose sight of who is important to make sure that enterprises are successful.

I think it’s Confucius but it’s one of those counterintuitive paradoxical ideas. If a person looks at a leader and leaders are the ones that tell everybody what to do but that’s not the case. It was Confucius that said, “Leaders who are soft are strong.” It’s the idea where they’re able to essentially take the situation at hand, take all the emotions involved and objectively or as objective as possible analyze those and determine what to do. At the end, who is the person’s best asset and the number one thing in their life, it’s them. If the leader doesn’t understand that, then it’s very difficult for them to get them to do things past a certain point. From a long-term standpoint, being able to have a lasting impact, lasting influence. You have to understand human psychology, what makes a person tick and then evaluate if they’re in the right role.

If you want growth in your business, the leadership first has to grow to expand their psychology and understanding. Click To Tweet

We can probably talk about that, which is people that are in roles that they have no business being in. Not necessarily based on them being incompetent. They well could be but it’s not because of them as a person. It might be because of their experience. It might be because of their conation, their natural tendencies, their strengths. One of the biggest things a leader can do is to get a team together, identify certain strengths, identify the roles where they’re going to be able to operate efficiently and make an even greater impact than if it was one or two people. This is something where this business coach made me understand. It sounds so fundamental but yet I look at human nature and without this, people get super frustrated, anxious and concerned which if you combine all of those things together, you have emotions that don’t allow people to do very good work. That’s the ability to create business rhythm.

I’ve understood there’s a brainwave pattern of your flow state. It’s right in between your Alpha and your Theta. There’s this flow state where you’re able to have complete focus. You have no distractions. It’s like you’re in that zone. I look at business rhythm. An ideal business rhythm is creating the structure in which a team operates, which has that very flow-like state. Talk about where you’ve seen clunky rhythm, maybe some of the previous firms where stuff didn’t get done. It wasn’t because people were incompetent but because this person didn’t know what that person was doing or what this step was or there wasn’t necessarily guidance by leadership. Talk about some of the clunky situations, the friction you’ve seen in the past. Also talk about some of the good business rhythms and then maybe how you’ve taken your new role in the last few years and established your team and established its rhythm.

In terms of where I’ve seen some clunkiness or some disruption in rhythm or barriers to establishing any rhythm, to begin with. It goes back to these organizations that I’ve either been involved with or they’ve been clients, whatever, where I’ve seen a fractured state of operations and leadership. There are certain functions within an organization that are dissatisfied. Maybe its marketing is always unresponsive and they don’t send the right stuff or they’re not up to par as similar competing organizations or your HR function is not helpful. There are these constituencies or services that reside within a company that seems to exist and no one seems to pay attention to them. That gets people frustrated and other things so that they can’t do their jobs or it ruins their day. You get out of the rhythm of sorts. As I’ve seen organizations overcome that, it’s been around first identifying that. You’ve got to have the appropriate feedback loops, whether it’s leadership or operators that understand how those different constituencies and the disruption that they’re causing are being disruptive.

The things we’re talking about are not intuitive for people. I keep on using that word as if everyone speaks the same language. I don’t think it is. People complain about HR and most people, leaders and otherwise saying whatever, that’s HR, marketing, “We’ll fix that, but we like our guy and that’s our guy and that’s how it is so deal with it and grow up.” That’s an antiquated philosophy. The more sophisticated leaders, the more sophisticated managers will step back and say, “As I look into different pieces within my organization, where are the barriers? What are the sources of frustration?” It’s not just identifying and say, “Go fix that.” We all have jobs. We all spend a lot of time. It’s not like you can tackle it all in the first place or one single meeting or get together and everyone’s good and you’ve re-established where you need to be.

TWS 13 | Mentoring Business Leaders

Mentoring Business Leaders: Feedback helps you identify the gaps that disrupt workflow.


They’re like, “We’ve got one issue. We’ve got five or six issues and five or six got pieces that maybe disruptive. Let’s take this one. Let’s look at it, let’s fix it, then we will get to the others as well.” It’s having a plan to do that. We do an example, I set this up as we have some standing meetings within our department which we call legal operations meeting and we’ve done exactly that. We’ve said, “What are the things in our day that are challenging? Is it our contracting processes? Are our IT flat boards conducive in helping us do the work that we do?” This group of us are going to be meeting to identify those particular pieces that are creating barriers within our department. We’re going to fix them, move on to the next one and then the next one so that we can create those efficiencies and create that rhythm that I think gives us the job satisfaction and gives us the tools that we need to be successful.

Most people become overstaffed because of bad rhythm.

Throw more people at it. To me, identifying what the fix is. Most people have the dumbest solution that I’ve seen as well but it’s understanding the process, thinking through it and then taking the steps to fix it.

A very well-created and then managed the business process, your start to finish whatever that flow looks like. When there are hand-offs in between these impact points of each department or business unit as you have handoff, it’s the clear understanding of both the party that’s giving and the party that’s receiving. That is typically where you find the most friction. If you don’t have a clear understanding, then it bottlenecks everything else going forward, especially if you have ten processes through your business process or your business flow. As you look at entrepreneurship, entrepreneurship interestingly enough is finding friction. All wealth and opportunity exist where there’s friction. Whether that’s making travel more convenient, whether that’s making communication more convenient, entrepreneurs are always looking for friction. What I find fascinating and it’s very ironic where most entrepreneurial-driven businesses fail because of their own friction.

That is the failure to understand what the business process is and assume that everybody else knows what it is. Properly documenting it, properly managing it, improving it, that requires a series of meetings and a series of reporting and objective measurements of what is expected, what is being handed off. The feedback loop that you mentioned, Tom, is as important in a very small two to five-person office or 5,000-firm if there’s more of it. Typically, those rhythms are very much the same. There are a few other things I wanted to get into, but I want to say that for another time. Thank you for reading. Tom, thank you. We will see you next time.

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About Tom Donohoe

TWS 13 | Mentoring Business LeadersTom Donohoe is a proven leader, problem solver and teamwork-oriented health care attorney who focuses on assisting business partners and clients in achieving their goals in a compliant manner consistent with their mission, vision and values.

Tom advises health care providers on a wide range of transactional and regulatory matters, including hospital/physician joint ventures, physician practice acquisitions, physician alignment and clinical integration. Tom also assists health care providers in complying with the Stark Law, Anti-Kickback Statute and other fraud and abuse laws and regulations.

Presently, Tom is located in Denver, Colorado where he is serving as associate general counsel for a regional health system. Tom graduated cum laude from Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in 2008 with a concentration and honors in health care law. He is admitted to the bar in Indiana and Colorado.


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Thriving In Leadership By Being Conscious with Bob Rosen

TWS 11 | Being Conscious


Being a leader today, no matter what organization or agency you are in, is much more difficult than it was before. The speed that technological advancements afford us has only created more and more options together with confusion and competition. What is to be done? Bob Rosen, trusted CEO adviser, organizational psychologist, and bestselling author, tells us his findings about leadership in today’s world and how we can navigate it more successfully. Bob begins by giving us a background from when he started Healthy Companies International, sharing the correlations they have found between relationships and its impact to leadership positions in the company. At the heart of it is his book, Conscious, where he shows the need to go deep into our roots – the physical, emotional, intellectual, social, vocational, and spiritual – in order to survive the change.

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Thriving In Leadership By Being Conscious with Bob Rosen

Bob, welcome to the show. It’s great to have you on. I’m excited for the interview.

It’s my pleasure.

You’ve been in the game of business and have probably looked at tons of different leadership structures and personality types. Why don’t you give us an idea of your background from the time you started Healthy Companies International until now?

I was trained as a clinical psychologist. My first job was in the Department of Psychiatry at George Washington School of Medicine. I was treating successful families and the fathers never showed up for treatment. I got very interested in how these men were having an impact on their family is by extension in their companies. I started writing about what was possible if you had healthy leaders and healthy companies working together. I got a call from the MacArthur Foundation in Chicago and they threw a bunch of money at me to start for a not-for-profit. We studied top executives and interviewed over the years 600 CEOs in about 55 countries of large companies. Toyota, Boeing, Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble to try to get a sense of how these leaders were building great companies. Now, Healthy Companies is a leadership and transformation company. We do consulting mainly around the human side of organizations. We also do a lot of leadership development. We’re bringing the messages of being grounded and conscious into organizations at all levels so that people and companies can prepare for all the disruptions and change that is happening and will happen in the future.

Speed is a critical driver. Uncertainty is reality. Click To Tweet

Some of the backgrounds had to do with men and families and that they would not show up to these therapy sessions with their families. Did you find a correlation between maybe how a father has an impact on his family? If a man has an impact if he’s in a leadership position in the company?

Over the last years, the pace of change has increased dramatically. Speed is a critical driver. Uncertainty is reality. The world is more complex with more choices. Technology is the uber disruptor in our personal lives and our business lives. Competition comes from everywhere. Everybody in business is like a global businessperson because of technology and the fact that money markets and people can come from everywhere. This has caused a lot of stress, a lot of opportunities and a lot of challenge for leaders. Leading now, whether you’re leading a not-for-profit organization, a government agency or a large global corporation is much more challenging and much more difficult. When I say leading, I’m talking about leaders at any level of the organization. It’s interesting, as the world has changed outside in a counter-intuitive way, it’s forced us to look inside for answers. Leaders have had to look inside themselves to become more agile, more resilient, more adaptive, more collaborative and higher performing. That’s been a real shift for all leaders, men and women. It’s been a hard one, especially for men because we grew up at a time when men fought their way into new solutions. They didn’t feel their way into new solutions oftentimes. They made the decisions in more authoritative workplaces. We hid from vulnerability and weakness. We didn’t make mistakes in public. We didn’t fall down and get up and tell anybody. The world has changed for us and we’ve had to develop some new mindsets for the new world order.

I’m curious about what you said and looking at leadership in the past, I agree with your comments. Men particularly fighting for what they have and wearing some façade, not necessarily going within and being self-aware. Did that work in the past and if so, the employee, the people that were being led, was it their mindset changed first or was there some other cause?

A lot of factors changed. One is that the workforce demanded and is demanding more from their leaders. They want their leaders to be more real, more honest, more authentic. Acknowledging with them in a partnership that the world is tough and we can create and we can navigate through this together. The workforce has been a factor. Secondly is the evolution of men and women. We’ve seen changes within both genders, preparing us and changing our relationship with each other. Lastly is the environment has changed so dramatically. The level of complexity and uncertainty is so high. The tenure for top executives is going down and down. There’s so much pressure on leaders to perform. The world is changing so quickly on them and they don’t have all the answers. Another factor is that who has power in the organization has fundamentally changed. With technology, everybody has access to knowledge and information and so authority, responsibility, accountability and power has been pushed down in the organization. Mainly because people can make decisions and are closer to the customer down through the organization. The world’s gotten complex and the top executives don’t have all the information. All of those factors have contributed to the evolution of the concept of leadership.

TWS 11 | Being Conscious

Being Conscious: The dilemma is that many of our workplaces are not designed for humanity.


The world has become very complex in a sense. The transient nature of employees as well is interesting to note. This brings up a question I wanted to ask which is about the name of your company, which is Healthy Companies International. Remind us again when the company was founded.

We were founded in 1987. That was some time ago. I’ve written eight leadership books. The first one was called The Healthy CompanyI was on a plane and when you produce your first book, you want to take it out, open it up on a plane and hope that somebody next to you says, “What an interesting book.” and it happened. The guy next to me on the plane says, “It’s an interesting title. Is that a novel?” It was a smack in the face because I thought this idealistic understanding of the potential of companies was so critical. This guy didn’t think that it was even possible. In the last years since I wrote that book, there’s a growing recognition by the more progressive companies that if they don’t create cultures and environments that enable people, inspire people, challenge people and engage people their hearts and minds, they’re not going to have a very successful company for too long. That was my first book, Conscious. Another book is Grounded, which is based on the idea that we grew up in a paradigm that says that what you do defines who you are. The environment is forcing us to flip that to say that who you are as a human being drives what you do and how you perform.

The book’s organized around six roots of being grounded. Your physical, your emotional roots, your intellectual roots, your social roots, your vocational roots and your spiritual roots. Those leaders who exhibit those roots have a stronger foundation when the winds of change come and blow at them. Conscious was written as the companion book. It basically talks about how do you accelerate yourself? How do you move faster and adapt faster in this changing world? It’s based on the notion that the more conscious you are, the more aware you are of yourself, your relationships, the environment and surroundings around you. The faster you adapt and the higher performing you are. Conscious is organized into four practices. The first one is to go deep and to discover your personal self inside. The second is to think big into a world of possibilities. The third is to get real, be honest, intentional, step up and be a change agent. The last one is to step up. To be a transformational leader in whatever you do. We have data to support that those leaders who are self-aware outperform their competitors.

The world is more complex with more choices. Click To Tweet

Would you mind giving us maybe some examples? I’m assuming there’s some in the book but giving some examples of how to apply this methodology or apply this philosophy to leadership of a big business.

In Conscious, we link pitfalls to practices. One of the problems in business now is that many of us are too unaware or superficial. We don’t go deep enough, we don’t understand our insights, what’s going on inside of us. The world keeps changing so fast and we don’t stop and reflect. The practice of go deep is to help people become more aware and introspective. One of the things we do in our workshop is we have people look at their life story and to make sense of who they are or how did the past influence how they show up now. We also help them to become more comfortable being uncomfortable in this world. Many of us grew up believing that the goal of life was to be happy. You’re supposed to feel good all the time, but in the new world order, it’s bumpier. We have ups and downs. We have to learn not only to get comfortable being uncomfortable, but we have to learn how to be resilient to fall down and get up.

That means spending more time in our positive emotions, which comes from positive psychology. It means managing our threats more effectively, knowing the connection between our mind and our body. Also, using what we call our thought liberators rather than thought underminers or hijackers. There are very specific tools in the book and in our workshops to do that. Think big is about being curious and adaptive. One of the great examples of go deep is Oprah Winfrey. I watched her in real time. She has dealt with her personal demons and her internal self on the public stage. She’s been authentic. She showed up with an open mind and an open heart. She has a wonderful quote that says, “If I only knew that being authentic would make me this much money, I would have done it a lot earlier.” It’s a sign to people that people are hungry for people who are authentic. Who tells the truth about the internal experience that we’re facing, but many of us are afraid of that.

What is it about that it’s so compelling? With the training in psychology, what is it about being empathetic, transparent and open and being willing to talk about your faults? What is it about that that resonates so deeply with somebody else, especially someone that you’re in a leadership position with?

As the world has changed outside in a counter-intuitive way, it's forced us to look inside for answers. Click To Tweet

Many of us grow up in the paradigm that says the goal is to be the smartest kid in the room. We’re reinforced by report cards and performance appraisals in the workplace. We’ve outgrown the smart paradigm because everybody’s smart. The new paradigm is to be conscious and to be aware. Smart gets you in the room, but conscious keeps you there. That’s one shift. Another reason is if you think about it every moment of every day, we make a choice consciously or unconsciously to live that moment in fear or love. We have a set of fear-based emotions. The three primary ones are anger, sadness and anxiety. We have love-based emotions, confidence, optimism, compassion, generosity, faith and love. The more people can experience the full range of that emotional continuum but spend most of their time in their positive emotions, which are hardwired just like their negative emotions, the easier it is for them to navigate through all this complexity and change. The dilemma is that a lot of people live their life in these fear-based emotions. They get hijacked by demons from the past. They worry constantly about what’s going to happen in the future. They magnify or generalize situations that are not rational.

Each of us is hijacked by one of those three primary emotions whether it’s sadness, anger or anxiety. We generally know that in the privacy of our hearts and minds. Being aware of that is very important. The dilemma is that many of our workplaces were not designed for humanity. Increasingly younger people and the external environment is forcing leaders to be more confident and humbler, more humane, a real person in the workplace. People love that. It frees you up, so you don’t have to hold onto all the fear-based emotions. You can be more positive, more joyful and navigate through it. One of the specific tools is to be able to determine the difference between what you can and cannot control. We, in psychology, call this ceaseless striving. People who are constantly trying to control things that they can’t control and it creates tremendous distress. Everybody knows that. How do you allow yourself to be personally powerful and at the same time accept and be comfortable with uncertainty? That’s a real important tool for people to develop in this new workplace.

As you do your consulting and you with work companies, is there as much emphasis put on the employees. At least the training of the employees or the education of the employees as there is with the leadership? I imagine if it was one-sided, leaders would probably resonate with a lot of what you’re saying, but then it could be somewhat disruptive if there hasn’t been context created for the employees.

We bring our Grounded and Conscious workshops into organizations and we say that it’s important to facilitate them at the top with executives. We certify and train middle managers, human resource or learning managers or even operating unit managers to facilitate those workshops. We allow our tools and all of our materials to go in those packages so that a lot of middle managers are starting to learn this. We use technology for the masses for educating people in electronic learning and digital environment. It’s important. If you don’t do this, you don’t have a contrary of mature healthy adults in your organization. If you don’t, it’s very hard to execute your business strategy. It simply is because people are not showing up as healthy, mature adults. What happens is we create blame cultures where the top blames the bottom for not getting the work right. The bottom blames the top because the leaders are too greedy, selfish or don’t know where they’re going rather than a culture of commitment. The shift from being unhealthy to healthy is to move toward that culture of commitment, but it happens one leader at a time. You can’t change the culture if you’re not willing to recognize that everybody’s got to change. Every CEO I talked to is talking about organizational transformation and business transformation. Oftentimes, what we forget or we minimize is if you want the organization to transform, every person in the organization has to transform. That requires an investment, it requires priorities.

TWS 11 | Being Conscious

Being Conscious: There’s this power that is so contagious that if you can own it, you can get a group of people to do some pretty marvelous things.


A company is an abstract. A company is not like a living thing. It’s a group of individuals. It’s creating some humanity out of the culture of a business. With the lens that you have to business, what are some things you see, what are maybe some companies that exemplify this notion of being conscious? What are some companies that you’ve seen struggle because of not recognizing the notion of being conscious?

One company in particular for the latter would be Wells Fargo. Completely was not conscious of what they were doing. Maybe there were a couple executives who were, but the company as a whole didn’t realize that their incentives were all out of whack. They were forcing customers to buy products that they didn’t want. It’s cost them multiple billions of dollars and it’s still happening where the leaders were not conscious of what was going on. Contrast that to a company like Google or Apple who are constantly on the edge and creating learning cultures. The People Leader Laszlo Bock had Google for years talked about the importance of learning agility and learning on the fly. Seeing connections and helping people develop in their jobs. That’s what healthy companies do. Another one would be Reed Hastings at Netflix out front on trying to create a values-based healthy culture.

We have to learn not only to get comfortable being uncomfortable, but also how to be resilient to fall down and get up. Click To Tweet

What’s interesting about Reed is that if you look at his history, Netflix has changed its business model multiple times. It always had a vision to create video streaming on the internet. The world was not ready for that when he started the company in 1997. He was willing to reinvent the company over time. He had to bring people with him. That required thinking big and engaging people in conversation about now and tomorrow. That’s a very important skill some people call it ambidexterity. It’s helping people live for now and lead for now and prepare for tomorrows simultaneously. That requires a different mindset. There are lots of examples. Michael Phelps is a great example. In Get Real we talk in the book about the accelerators. Those things inside of us that drive us forward, like our confidence, our faith and inspiring leaders.

Also, our hijackers, those things inside of ourselves that are thinking errors, our emotional derailers that I talked about. Our desire to control or perfectionism, these are hijackers. Michael Phelps is a great example. I used his example in the book of somebody who had mastered these accelerators. His intense drive for success and his perfectionism in the swimming and the like. He won all these gold medals and then after Beijing, he fell apart because he hadn’t addressed the hijackers in his life. Being a normal real human being like all of us, he ended up going into a treatment facility. As you recall when he came out in Rio and emerged as this mature adult with a family, he seemed like a different person when you interviewed him. He had gone deep and gotten real with himself. He was able to emerge a stronger person. That’s what Conscious is all about is giving people the tools they need to thrive in this disruptive and accelerating world.

This has been a fascinating conversation. I’m looking forward to reading the book. Would you tell us about those who have either mentored you or inspired you directly or indirectly over the years to understand and be passionate? You’re clearly passionate about what you believe in. Which of these principles help transform businesses? Would you mind going through maybe some of the mentors you’ve had and the things or events that have been inspired you over the years?

The more we can move from negative energy to positive energy, the better off we'll be. Click To Tweet

I got a PhD in clinical psychology, but I had to learn business from the streets. I didn’t get an MBA. What I did was I went out and I sat face-to-face with all these CEOs over about a twenty-year period. I learned a ton about how they think, how they feel and how they manage their boards. How they build executive teams, how they deal with their fears and frustrations. How they built cultures. Although every business is different, there are some common maladies that cut across any business, any industry, any country around the world. Many of them were mentors, they probably never knew that they were my mentors. For me to have to step back from those interviews and write stories about them in my books helped me a great deal in understanding the challenges of leading complex companies and complex organizations. I’ve tried to invest in my own development. There were multiple times I could get off the train and do stress management or do organizational development, which is very important. I kept stretching myself to get to the CEO until the entire enterprise. I’ve had therapy over the years and I tend to be a pretty authentic person. When I was younger, the most important thing that I wanted to be perceived as when I gave a speech is somebody who is smart. I was a smart kid. Now, I go in and talk and I want people to leave the room a little bigger and a little better than I found them. I evolved as a human being to a more conscious state, to a more other oriented perspective which has been healthy for me.

We have a whole other conversation about the school system, education system that is ingrained in people. What the definition of smart is and stupid. I have almost two teenagers. I have a fourteen-year-old and a twelve-year-old. I have a four-year-old. They’re in this time of their life where that is starting to affect them. The conversations we’ve had have been pretty remarkable because even though society is progressing so quickly, you still have these ancient things that are involved in the school system in teaching the youth, which is flawed as you put it and I totally agree. That’s one of those things where a lot of people are driven by looking smart. Doing everything possible to avoid looking stupid when they make a mistake. That’s very unhealthy. I’ve seen it with the business I run and I’ve seen other businesses as well. It’s one of those complexes that creates some big disruption.

There’s a difference between negative energy and positive energy. That energy sits inside you, team or classroom. It sits inside an organization or a society. The more we can move from negative energy to positive energy, the better off we’ll be. We’ll be healthier, more fulfilled and higher performing.

Smart gets you in the room, but conscious keeps you there. Click To Tweet

That’s amazing about someone that is aware of how to have that positive energy and then how to express it. It’s viral. It can impact huge numbers of people. We’ve seen leaders over the years, Nelson Mandela comes to mind. There’s this power there that is so contagious that if you can own it, you can get a group of people to do some pretty marvelous things.

I see it all over the place and not just at the top in the middle and the bottom of organizations. People who are willing to step up and be grounded and conscious, not only are they happier, but they do better in life.

Do you think that the same leadership principles, tactics and being self-aware apply in politics?

That’s probably more so. These folks live on the public stage 24/7. They’re role models one way or the other. How they show up as human beings influence us. It’s important to have low crime. It’s important to have a good economy. It’s important to have a safe and secure country. It’s also important to communicate to people what it means to be healthy, grounded and conscious as a human being because people look to our leaders. I was at a speech that Jeff Bezos gave, the CEO and Founder of Amazon. He said in the speech, “One of the things that concerns me is that leaders think that they shouldn’t be scrutinized. The definition of leadership is that you will be scrutinized because leadership is a public relationship, wherever it is in government or business.”

Your feedback is like your scorecard. The feedback is the score in how effective of a leader you are.

TWS 11 | Being Conscious

Conscious: The Power of Awareness in Business and Life

No question about it. We need to help leaders develop a thicker skin. One of the dilemmas is that we idealize our leaders or we demonize them. We don’t allow them to be human beings on the public stage. Where they don’t have to have all the answers. We’re partially responsible for this. It goes in both directions.

Would you tell the audience the best way that they can pick up the book, Conscious: The Power of Awareness in Business and Life?

I’m happy to say it became a national bestseller. I’m excited about this and it’s not too long. It’s only about 200 pages. You could find it at Amazon, you can find it in all of the websites. You can also come to HealthyCompanies.com and find out about us. I wish everybody in your audience good luck on their journey.

Bob, it’s great to meet you again. Thank you so much for being on here and best of luck. Congratulations on the success of your book.

Thank you so much.

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About Bob Rosen

TWS 11 | Being ConsciousBob Rosen is a trusted CEO adviser, organizational psychologist, and bestselling author. He has long been on a mission to transform the world of business, one leader at a time. Bob founded Healthy Companies International over twenty years ago with the singular goal of helping executives achieve their leadership potential. With support from a multiyear grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Bob and his colleagues began an in-depth study of leadership. Since then, he has personally interviewed more than 500 CEOs in 45 countries in organizations as diverse as Ford, Motorola, Johnson & Johnson, Singapore Airlines, Brinks, Northrop Grumman, Toyota, Citigroup, PepsiCo, ING, and PriceWaterhouseCoopers. He has become an adviser to many of these companies, and coordinates the Healthy CEO Roundtable.

Bob is a frequent keynote speaker at a variety of global events. Bob has spoken on issues ranging from Leading Transformation and Leading Innovation to Leading Growth and Leading in a Global World. The underlying foundation of all his work is the power of being a healthy and grounded leader and building high-performance executive teams as the catalyst for personal and organizational success.

Bob is a frequent media commentator who has been quoted in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Bloomberg Businessweek, Financial Times, Time, Chief Executive Magazine, and more. Bob’s books include The Healthy Company, Leading People, Just Enough Anxiety, Global Literacies, The Catalyst, the New York Times Bestseller Grounded®, and his latest Conscious.

Bob graduated from the University of Virginia. He subsequently earned a PhD in clinical psychology at the University of Pittsburgh. Bob teaches in executive education programs, and has been a longtime faculty member in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at George Washington University’s School of Medicine.

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