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Creating a strong team, staying grounded, always learning

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Self-awareness, empathy and curiosity are the three most important qualities for an executive.

They lead to creating a strong team, keeping you grounded and always looking to learn, said Tom Garrity, managing partner of Compass Point Consulting LLC in Hanover Township, Northampton County.

Garrity’s company, which provides growth and business transition consulting to family businesses, is marking its 15th year. A management coach, Garrity has helped business owners and executives from Harrisburg to Bridgewater, N.J., and from Delaware to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

He arrived in the Lehigh Valley 35 years ago to head up the East Coast expansion for the family owned, South Dakota-based Larson Manufacturing Co. A South Dakota native, Garrity later headed up two family owned Quakertown manufacturers before starting Compass Point in 2003.

“I was fortunate to have a very good mentor who pushed me,” said Garrity, former chairman of the board of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp.

In an interview with Lehigh Valley Business, Garrity talked about management, including of millennials, and the changing nature of being an executive.

<Besides the obvious reason of helping others, why did you get into this business?

Tom Garrity: I come from a long line of family businesses. Although I didn’t start my career thinking, “I’m going to work for a family business,” every company I have worked for was a family business.

I found myself working with the owner-families to have the discussions no one wanted to have, but everyone knew they should have. As is true with all of those types of crucial conversations (personal, family, business), once you have them, the power of the angst that has stymied you loses its power, and suddenly you can make progress again.

When that impacts lives, I find that worth getting out of bed for.

<In your 15 years as a coach and consultant and without disclosing names, what was your best turnaround effort and why?

Garrity: One company rises to the top. The company is a third-generation family business in the manufacturing sector, and they got caught up in an asbestos liability. It nearly destroyed the business.

There were numerous challenges, including the most obvious, business survival, but also transitioning ownership, key leadership succession and developing some family business governance (board of advisers and a shareholder’s council).

We – it was definitely a team that helped make this a success – helped the family navigate through an organized bankruptcy that essentially put a cap on the liability and emerge as an even stronger and better company, and, more importantly, a stronger and more united family.

There is a new executive management team in place, a formal board of advisers with outside board members, in addition to family members, and ownership transition continues to successfully move forward.

<What are the two or three most important traits or qualities that an executive should have?

Garrity: I believe the big three are self-awareness, empathy and curiosity.

Self-awareness is the foundation for any person’s personal growth. And once you begin the process and you “get it,” you understand the journey is never complete. You truly become a lifelong learner about human behavior – yours and others.

This leads to building really strong teams. Strong teams win. As Jim Collins states in the book “Good to Great,” “First who, then what.”

Empathy keeps you grounded and figuratively “walking in another person’s moccasins.” It is a rare day where there is only one point of view.

Curiosity is the lifeblood of innovation and breakthroughs. Curiosity keeps you poking, looking in the corners, asking questions and seeing things others don’t.

And a curious life is pretty fun. Life becomes a journey of learning, versus a race to the end. There is no end to curiosity.

<What are the two or three biggest things that have changed over the last 15 years in terms of being an executive?

Garrity: The three most significant changes for executives are digitization, the pace of change and technology’s continual erosion into our personal lives.

Digitization – computers for everyone, the internet and smartphones – is our current Industrial Revolution. Our time will be in tomorrow’s history books as a major shift in civilization.

Not only do we all have access to basically anything, no one owns the “truth” anymore. Digitization has shrunk the world. We call it globalization.

Change is nothing new, but the rapid pace certainly has its challenges. Today, you don’t develop a solution to a problem and plan to take it to market in five years – that’s too late, as the market will have changed by then.

Sustaining a competitive advantage is now the holy grail of business. No one owns the “truth.”

As good as technology is, it is taking a toll on our lives. The tools of technology have allowed us to be more productive, but our work days have not shortened.

In fact, they are longer than ever. This is the great work-life balance game we all play.

<Is managing millennials really that much different than managing others? Why or why not?

Garrity: You’ve heard my rant before on this. I say millennials, shimennials. Stop whining about the millennials – we created them, now deal with it.

They are our kids. They didn’t learn their behavior on their own. We raised them that way. That’s how life works.

Many of you are probably saying, “I never told my kid to be lazy or act entitled.” But you did.

You probably didn’t do it intentionally, but when kids are raised in an environment of having all their problems solved by someone else, of someone helicoptering above them and stepping in to guide their every move, of getting a ribbon or trophy for just showing up, of someone who hauls their butt all over the region or nation to play sports when they are 12 years old – the list goes on and on – the unintended consequence is spoiled, entitled and undisciplined behavior. You reap what you sow.

<What is the best piece of career advice that you ever received?

Garrity: “Worry (about tomorrow) and regret (over yesterday) are the twin thieves of the present.” – Dear Abby.

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