253: Live Life with Margin - with Tommy Thompson
Meet Tommy Thompson
Tommy Thompson is an accomplished entrepreneur, executive coach, and passionate teacher whose heart is to impact people for good and for God. After more than thirty years of owning and leading a wide variety of companies, Tommy is now an active blogger, executive coach, and consultant, while also leading a mentoring ministry at his church.
You talk and write a lot about margin, can you tell us a little about what you mean about margin and why it's important?
This is kind of become a cornerstone of almost how the lens that I look at all of life through these days and really for the last 30 years, and came out of a time in my life when I was completely overloaded running four businesses, volunteering at church on about five different angles, raising a family. And I was completely exhausted and overloaded and came across a book by Richard Swenson called “Margin”. And it began to just change my life. And he defines margin as the gap between our load and our limits. And my whole mind frame in life had been we always run all the way to our capacity or over our capacity. And I never realized until I read that book, that life is better when we have margin just like a margin in a book, I would never consider taking the words all the way to the very edge of the page, it would make it terrible reading if you did that. So margin became the way I looked at relationships that became the way I looked at business, became the way I framed faith, all different areas of life. So in all of these areas, margin, creating some space, where we can breathe, becomes a critical way of looking at life. And I think it can even impact organizations and even the concept of networking.
So how does the presence or absence of margin affect relationships?
This is probably one of the biggest areas that it impacts. And all we have to do is to kind of think of how we act. And when we're exhausted, when we're completely overloaded, when we're stressed out, the first victim of us operating that way is our relationships. Most particularly our close relationships, we’re usually terrible with our spouse when we're overloaded and stressed out. And so beginning to create margin in the various places and spheres of our life. The first benefit of it is our relationships begin to breathe. And we begin to have better relationships at home, with our spouse, with our children, with our best friends. And then it even leaks into our relationships at work, when we become better people and everybody benefits from it. So relationships are kind of a key place. And also a key victim of the fact that our culture just operates in absolute high speed with no margin, overloaded, and thinking that's the best way of operating and our relationships are suffering because of that.
What difference does creating space make in organizations?
I don't think creating space is just so that we have a nice, easy life. I think part of the reason for this is so that we can be purposeful and more effective in the things that we do. And so I coach and consult with some decent size operations, as well as having run a half dozen companies over 30 years. And what I've found is, as I create space, in my own life margin, that I reflect better, I plan better, the organization's run more smoothly, than if we are always in this hyper productivity mode. It feels important on the surface, but it's not the way organizations run the best. So taking the extra time to create a good strategic plan, taking the extra time to plan, a marketing campaign. Those things are things that have gone by the wayside because we think we're supposed to move fast. So I've learned that helping organizations and the leaders of organizations live a more spacious life actually improves the performance of those organizations.
I thrive off of that constant demand. Does that change when you've established space?
It changes, but not immediately. I mean, the problem, one of the reasons I think that so many people operate with no margin and over capacity is because it feeds their ego, and it feeds their identity. And so it takes a little while to let go of some of that and to actually operate with a different paradigm, and to say, it's okay, for me to not always look like I'm busy. It's okay, even for me as a CEO, or as a leader to be reading a book during working hours. That's not a bad thing to do, or to be sitting quietly in my office planning where the company's going to go. But our insecurities get in the way. And so it takes a while to push against that. And to begin to create a little bit of a different culture in our companies that doesn't always reward this artificial sense of busyness.
Can you share with our listeners one of your favorite networking experiences that you've had?
I may not be your typical guest on this because I could put on a persona of being an extrovert. But at core, I'm an introvert, and initiating is something that's uncomfortable to me. So over the years of being in business, I've had to figure out how can I do this networking thing, which I completely believe in and know is critical, but do it in a way that works with who I am personally. So for me, interestingly enough, I've used writing, which I like doing both by blogging and writing a book and in a variety of ways, as a networking tool. One of my early kind of successes was taking the uncomfortable step of taking the blog that I write, and starting to post it on LinkedIn and Instagram and just put it out into thin air, and nobody's paying any attention to it. But after about a month or two of that, I had someone reach out to me that I knew distantly, and say, well, I'm kind of interested in some of the things that you're writing about, could we get together and talk about how you might be able to help my company, both coaching, consulting, and that connection has created two of the most meaningful engagements that I have both in terms of executive coaching and consulting for two significantly growing companies. And it's not your typical way of doing networking. But for an introvert that hates to reach out and initiate doing that type of networking is consistent with me. And I found that it still creates that kind of net benefit that we look for in networking.
How do you nurture your network?
I would answer that two ways. The first is I find that I can nurture my network, if I'm honest about genuinely caring about the people that I'm reaching out to. If I'm dealing with the internal tension of thinking that I'm really only doing this, to create sales, or to create coaching engagements or consulting engagements, then that's going to come through. But if I choose to kind of approach my networking from the perspective of genuinely caring about people, then all of a sudden, everything starts to come through naturally. And that is where it also helps me to say, I'm going to be able to nurture my community, by writing, by sharing things that I'm learning, whether it's book reviews, or different things that I'm learning in my blogging, so it all kind of comes through in a consistent way, and a consistent way with my personality and my values, and that helps my community.
What advice would you offer the business professional who's looking to grow their network?
I think, for me, and maybe again, I'm kind of coloring all of this from my introverted personality, it's to network according to your personality and according to your values. If you can begin to build a framework for networking, that is comfortable for you, whether you're an introvert or extrovert, whether you're really funny or whether you're really serious, and you can be authentic to who you are, and create a framework around that, then I think networking works for virtually anyone.
Let's go back to your 20-year-old self, what would you tell yourself to do more of, less of, or differently with regards to your professional career?
I love thinking about that. I think what I would tell myself is to discipline my networking. I think for too many years, I took the easy path of saying, I'm an introvert, I'm not good at networking. And I kind of pawned it off and didn't do this. And interestingly my son taught me something about this. He's an introvert too. And when he was just entering college, I told him kind of, as we were just sitting around talking one night, I said, Chris, if you could just make the practice, the discipline, when you go back to college of networking, with one of your professors, one time each week, it would change your path. Little did I know is that he would take me seriously. And he went back to school. And he began meeting with his professors. And the benefits to him were huge in terms of the networking that he did, and the connections and where that led him to in terms of some of his past. But I didn't take that advice myself when I was 20 years old. I took the easy path. So I would have loved to have told myself, look, I know this is uncomfortable, but set up one lunch a week with someone you want to get together with. And that would have catapulted me in ways that took a lot longer.
We've all heard of the six degrees of separation, who would be the one person that you'd love to connect with? And do you think you can do it then the six degree?
I had to think about who it is that I would want to connect to and as soon as I did that, I realized It's probably only a couple degrees off in terms of separation. So one of my favorite communicators, that I know of, in business or in any venue is Andy Stanley, who is the pastor of North Point Community Church. But he's also this amazing leadership guru, he has several massive podcasts. And he's just a phenomenal communicator. And I've loved listening to him and reading his books and learning from him. And I realized, kind of by your question on this, that he's only a couple steps away from getting to meet him, and getting to know him a little bit. He's a Pastor out of Atlanta, and I have some connections in LA and Atlanta, that are connected with his church, and so probably not too far down the road.
Do you have any final words or advice for our listeners with regards to growing and supporting your network?
I would just really encourage people to take a few minutes away from kind of the busyness and think about out the ways they might go about networking that are in sync with who they are. I've just been strong believer in that we do far too little reflecting. And because of that, we end up with shallow answers. As you know and feel that networking is too important for shallow answers. So I think taking a little time to step back and say, how do I really want to do this in a way that's consistent and authentic with me, is a worthwhile use of a few minutes.
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