Compassion is a requirement that many old-school people in leadership positions would fail. They would disdain the “soft skills” reflected by such considerations. Too many of those who have risen in the ranks based on charisma and hitting the numbers (and being tall!!), have learned the hard way that, when you do not treat your people well, they stop following you and may even intentionally undermine you.

We are living in the Renaissance of Work. Just like great artists know that an empty canvas can become anything, great leaders know that an entire organization — and the people inside it — can become anything, too. Master Artists and Mastering the Art of Leadership draw from the same source: creation. In this series, we’ll meet masters who are creating the future of work and painting a portrait of lasting leadership. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Thomas G. Reid.

Mr. Reid has practiced government contracting law for over 40 years. After obtaining his BA, and JD he became a federal attorney and earned his MPA. He later moved over to industry. His corporate career took him into business areas where in addition to his legal roles he served as a General Counsel, Director of Business Operations, VP of Finance and Administration, and formed his own consulting firm in 2002. Throughout his career he has seen numerous examples of leadership in action, accumulating both good and bad examples that led him to write Sustained Leadership WBS in 2018. He now consults and trains in both government contracting and leadership development.

Thank you for joining us. Our readers would enjoy discovering something interesting about you. What are you in the middle of right now that you’re excited about personally or professionally?

Thanks so much for the invitation to talk about leadership and the state of leadership development and selection in the world today. We have recently launched a learning platform that includes classes on contracting and leadership. With literally hundreds of hours of classes in our portfolio, it has been a challenge to pick the most pertinent and impactful ones to offer. We have also structured the Sustained Leadership WBS book into an annual program for companies to get quality leadership development for their team that will actually create leaders who can sustain the role by becoming the best versions of themselves.

We all get by with a little help from our friends. Who is the leader that has influenced you the most, and how?

When I started my research for Sustained Leadership WBS I was not intending to write a book. I had read so much of the available literature and found it lacking. I then asked myself, “What would I do if I wanted to build myself into a better leader?” That led me to borrow a tool from project management known as the Work Breakdown Schedule (WBS) to write Sustained Leadership WBS to demonstrate how to build better leaders.

In my view, there are a lot of excellent leadership resources. Unfortunately, they lack context and completeness, and might not pertain to me specifically. My leadership development needs are different than anyone else’s.

In building the Sustained Leadership WBS, in defining over 220 elements of leadership, and offering a self-improvement plan, I structured it as a project plan with applicable resources. The bibliography alone is 28 pages long!

My point is that there really is a LOT of great material available, but without an intentional leadership journey plan, it is very ad hoc and hit-or-miss in terms of personal relevancy. Certainly John Maxwell and Ken Blanchard appear often in the bibliography, but there are many lesser known authors who have written incredibly helpful material IF those are areas in which you might need help. For questions, I recommend Dorothy Leeds; for teams it’s Patrick Lencioni; for dealing with others it’s always Dale Carnegie; for effective communication, it’s Deborah Tannen; for sales and marketing it would be Jeffery Gitomer, and for positive thinking it’s Norman Vincent Peale. If I had to choose the ONE that most influenced me, it would have to be Jeffrey Pfeffer, at Stanford, and his 2015 work, Leadership BS as well as his more recent 7 Rules of Power. Both do an excellent job of explaining that state of leadership development today, along with its many flaws. He totally nails the current situation where both leadership development and leadership selection are badly broken on a global scale.

Sometimes our biggest mistakes lead to our biggest discoveries. What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a leader, and what did you discover as a result?

Early in my career I served on the senior staff level as the only in-house attorney for the operation. I recall getting very agitated when I would provide legal advice and the decision-maker would go in a different direction. I mean, HOW DARE THEY!!! It was much later when I was the decision-maker considering the advice of my entire team that I realized the many nuances and intricacies that are involved in business decisions. There is far more to consider than legal safe harbors or guidelines. Certainly, you never want to violate the law, but most decisions are not choices between legal and illegal actions. I had held a very parochial view for many years before I gained an understanding of how and why certain decisions are made. I believe I am a much better decision-maker today. I’ve also learned that I am often not the smartest person in the room. As President Woodrow Wilson told us, “I not only use all the brains that I have, but all I can borrow.” The best decisions come from collaborative thinking and open discussion.

How has your definition of leadership changed or evolved over time? What does it mean to be a leader now?

When I began my deep dive into leadership, as I read everything I could find on the topic I quickly realized there was no universally accepted definition of a leader. More often than not, any person who held a leadership position was referred to as a “leader” even if they demonstrated no discernable traits of a leader. Charismatic people who could “hit the numbers” were often promoted into positions they were ill-equipped to truly lead. One thing I’ve pressed since my study is to be careful to distinguish between those who are leaders and those who merely fill a leadership position. Today I look for individuals who have a balance of the five major categories of traits, skills, and abilities identified in Sustained Leadership WBS. These are character, competence, compassion, communication, and commitment. I then look to see if they are exhibiting the other key elements which I call Essential Leadership Journey Checkpoints. These include being a constant learner, having focus and discipline, being decisive, understanding situational awareness, having a vision they can effectively communicate, and, probably most importantly, developing other leaders.

Success is as often as much about what we stop as what we start. What is one legacy leadership behavior you stopped because you discovered it was no longer valuable or relevant?

I am always intrigued at how well the trait theory of leadership has withstood time despite its complete inability to have any predictive value whatsoever. Even in biblical times, Saul was selected to be the king of Israel because he came from a well reputed family that held great wealth and Saul was “as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else.” (1 Sam 9:2) The Bible goes on to show how he was an absolutely horrible king! Even in modern times coming from the right family, having “old money,” going to the right school, and other such traits are considered necessary to hold a leadership position. None of these are predictive. In the 2015 Republican presidential debates, Google teamed with the RNC and tracked searches about the candidates. They reported that “How tall are the candidates?” was one of the top searches, and statistics of election outcomes supports the view that the taller candidate wins more than 50% of the elections. As it turns out, in that election, officially Jeb Bush and Donald Trump tied as the tallest of the candidates. It is my view that anyone, of any height or background can be a great leader. It evolves from their desire and ability to be the best possible version of themselves and to focus on being a well-rounded, articulate, compassionate, competent, person of high character. People are drawn to follow such people, which is the sine qua non of leadership in my view.

What is one lasting leadership behavior you started or are cultivating because you believe it is valuable or relevant?

I have always been a constant learner. I am a prolific reader and collector, hoarder even, of information on diverse topics. I am also an INFP per the Meyers-Briggs typing. This suggests that, and I have proven in practice, I can think a problem to death! I’m always exploring other options, other dimensions, and other nuances to any decision or action that needs to be taken. This can (and did) cause considerable procrastination. Everything I did seemed to get done at the last minute, and without a firm deadline — it might never get done! In my studies the idea that the best leaders always have a bias for action became a point of great conviction for me. I began developing practices, systems, and habits that imposed deadlines on myself and created an effective system of prioritization to get things done. I am much better at getting things done ahead of schedule, but I still have to fight my natural tendencies to “sleep on it just one more night,” to check one more resource, to get one more sliver of information before moving forward. I have learned that “done” is better than perfect, despite my personal standards on such matters.

If I can offer another, I was involved in a social media discussion with some friends several years ago, and it turned to the expression of kindness to others at every opportunity. I then committed to encouraging or affirming at least ten people every day and have continued to do so ever since. Have I mentioned what a great set of questions you’ve provided to elicit information from those you interview?

What advice would you offer to other leaders who are stuck in past playbooks and patterns and may be having a hard time letting go of what made them successful in the past?

As a believer that our current leadership development and selection processes are badly broken on a global level, my studies attempted to put leadership development in a context that would be useful for anyone at any level of an organization, at any point of their personal development, and would be applicable to any role in life they filled. It is relatively easy to gain a leadership position. If you doubt that, make a suggestion at the next staff meeting and see who is given the action to explore it! My focus was on helping people to be able to sustain a leadership position. I do not believe that the “leadership principle de jure” has any meaningful impact on developing leaders. I believe it is much more complicated and difficult. It requires a devoted personal effort AND a game plan that takes a person from where they are and matures them across a broad range of disciplines. So much training, especially in the corporate context, seems to be based on the sole metric of “butts-in-seats.” Little is done to measure the greater capability and insight that comes from specific training. And force-feeding every participant the exact same content is a waste of time for those who don’t have that particular need in the first place. Take responsibility for your own development. A survey in Fast Company noted that most people attain a leadership role around age 30 and get their first leadership training at age 42. That 12 year gap is critical time in your leadership development. Don’t waste it. Take responsibility for your own development and pursue your thirst for knowledge at every opportunity.

Many of our readers can relate to the challenge of leading people for the first time. What advice would you offer to new and emerging leaders?

I would encourage anyone who has been placed in a leadership position to immediately do a deep and detailed self-assessment against a standard with proven utility. Through this process, strengths and weaknesses can be identified and actions taken to fulfill THOSE specific needs. It is also a key for success to have mentors. I encourage those I mentor to have at least three — one who has achieved what you seek, one who has an appreciation for your current life situation, and one who will kick your butt when you need it, and we all need that sometimes. This means three different people. Embark on a self-study, take advantage of learning opportunities, and consider the advice from your mentors. Your personal leadership journey is a life-long endeavor and will require you to engage in constant refreshers and revisits as your natural tendencies will try to draw you back into bad habits of your past. Fight that with all your strength.

Based on your experience or research, what are the top five traits effective leaders exemplify now?

The best leaders, those I refer to as sustained leaders, are exemplified through a balance of traits, skills, and abilities across the top five elements of the Sustained Leadership WBS. Specifically these are Character, Competence, Compassion, Communication, and Commitment.

When it comes to character — nothing is more important in building sustained relationships. Break trust once and it is nearly impossible to recover. Simply read the newspapers every day and you see where someone’s leadership journey was derailed by a character lapse. I have, in fact, been quoted as saying that every major news story is, at its root, a failure in leadership. With the Sustained Leadership WBS inventory, it is usually easy to see where the leader failed in their responsibility.

Competence includes both the specific discipline, profession, or course of study you pursue, and competence in leadership as a stand-alone discipline in its own right. Every business leader has to understand how to read a spread sheet and know the rules that apply to their industry. Southwest Airlines once promoted its general counsel to the CEO office. Putting a lawyer at the helm of such a highly regulated company can make good sense. Grow your competence, or as Dilbert creator Scott Adams expresses it, build your unique talent stack.

Compassion is a requirement that many old-school people in leadership positions would fail. They would disdain the “soft skills” reflected by such considerations. Too many of those who have risen in the ranks based on charisma and hitting the numbers (and being tall!!), have learned the hard way that, when you do not treat your people well, they stop following you and may even intentionally undermine you.

Communication is a consistent requirement of leadership. Some have been such excellent communicators that their weaknesses in other areas were overshadowed. It is a skill that can be enhanced with natural talent, and ANYONE who devotes some effort to it can improve.

Commitment involves the ability to create a vision, communicate it effectively, and perhaps most importantly, as structured in the Sustained Leadership WBS, a list of things that may have become your favorite bad habit. The WBS includes a list of “don’t do” items and in our training we require each participant to select one on which to work to improve themselves. With our history of ineffective leadership development, there are many people in leadership positions who have a great deal to unlearn.

American Basketball Coach John Wooden said, “Make each day your masterpiece.” How do you embody that quote? We welcome a story or example.

The key message that Sustained Leadership WBS promotes constantly and consistently is that everyone can become a sustained leader and, to do that most effectively, each person must strive to become the best possible version of themselves. Our goal is to help people create a personal leadership journey roadmap and then implement it day by day. Your only competition is the person in the mirror. As I’ve mentioned here today, everyone comes to leadership with a unique set of skills, traits, and abilities. Where one person needs development, many others do not and it is why “one size fits all” leadership development is so problematic. Candidly, I consider it a disaster. Each person has different needs. Each person has a different personal leadership journey. Focusing on addressing their specific development needs provides considerable confidence and motivation for continuing personal development as a sustained leader. My mother used to use a phrase with me frequently. It probably has an official source, but my source is “Mom.” She would tell me, “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.” She also taught me that the biggest room in the world is the room for improvement, an aphorism I’ve heard Harvey MacKay use. Being a constant learner is something she instilled in me. She inspired my drive to read as much as I can and to continue my education. I was the first member of my family to attend college, not to mention to go to law school. Not everyone had the type of mother I had, but it is never too late to start making good decisions. Engaging in self-assessment, self-improvement, capitalizing on your individual abilities, building relationship, learning more effective communication, and understanding the importance of character and commitment is something anyone can do. With a bit of desire, motivation, encouragement, and guidance or mentoring, ANYONE can begin to incrementally improve themselves and the world in which they live. Wooden was a great coach and his words are easily adopted by anyone who wants to take personal responsibility for improving our world.

What is the legacy you aspire to leave as a leader?

When I was doing some genealogical research, the software I was using noted birth and death dates and calculated the life span for each person entered into the database. One day I noted that I had already outlived the life span of both my father and brother. “Why me?”, I thought. There is no answer to such a rhetorical question, but it did start me thinking about what I had accomplished and what was left for me to accomplish. The world is still a wide-open canvass, and I am fully equipped with a variety of paints and artistic media. This realization was extremely motivating, and it was what got me through the process of writing and publishing that 678 page book, Sustained Leadership WBS. I am presently building out a learning platform that is comprised of the hundreds of hours of training I’ve conducted, along with new material relevant to my clientele. I want to instill in others the desire to lead, to improve, to be effective, to love others, and to spread kindness. If I’ve been able to share my decades of experience and learning, to the degree I can help others develop their personal leadership journey roadmap and gain the confidence and drive to engage on that life-long adventure, it will be a legacy worth preserving.

How can our readers connect with you to continue the conversation?

The simplest way is to reach out through the website You can learn about my business matters through,, and the new learning platform

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience a leadership master at work. We wish you continued success and good health!

Thank you for this opportunity to share with your readers some words of encouragement and hope. I trust they will take advantage of the many opportunities to become, day by day, the best version of themselves.