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Leading in constantly changing environment

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Published Thursday October 7th, 2010   Photo: Matthew Sherwood/Telegraph-Journal Dave Veale interviews Tom Gribbons, Vice-President & Branch Manager, RBC Dominion Securities as part of the Leadership Unleashed series of interviews.

When you meet Tom Gribbons you immediately sense that you are dealing with a leader who is direct, straight forward and can handle the pressure that comes with being in the business of professional wealth management.

I would expect that these are critical attributes to being successful in his role as a vice-president and branch manager at RBC Dominion Securities. ‘We are all human,’ says Tom Gribbons, vice-president branch manager at RBC Dominion Securities. ‘For example, if a client leaves you kind of scratching your head and saying “Where did we go wrong?” … then you immediately have to say “How do we learn from this?” ‘ In our interview, Tom shares his thoughts on leading in constantly changing environment, making difficult decisions and how to learn from failure. He also reminded me of the importance of leaders playing an active role in their community. Tom is a brilliant role model in this respect as the chairman of Vibrant Communities Saint John Leadership Roundtable (an organization dedicated to drastically reducing poverty), director of the Greater Saint John Community Foundation, past president of the Saint John Board of Trade and finance director of Enterprise Saint John. Here is an excerpt from our interview:

Q: What attracted you to becoming a leader at RBC Dominion Securities?

A: Primarily because I like to deal with people. I tend to have an eclectic sort of personality – I don’t like to be stuck in one field. I don’t want to be simply doing one thing over and over again. What attracted to me this industry was that you never know what the next phone call is going to be like and you never know what the next client is going to be like. Our clients’ stories are constantly changing and evolving – and we have to change with them. [Tweet “Our clients’ stories are constantly changing – we have to change with them. – Tom Gribbons”] And, of course, our economy is constantly moving and changing. So that’s what I enjoy, that complete and utter chaos of change and having to bring some semblance of normalcy.

Q: Have you always been comfortable with leading through change?

A: It hasn’t always been comfortable. It depends on the situation. To be very honest, when the markets are very difficult it makes it very challenging because the very basis of what you believe in and what you practice in is uncontrollable. My background isn’t finance so it’s interesting that I came to New Brunswick 30 years ago to study forestry at UNB and like many people in this industry I came to this career as a change in course after my formal education was completed.

Q: What are the most difficult decisions that you make as a leader?

A: Human resources, hiring and firing. Fortunately, I have not had to fire very often. Hiring the right people is a more critical decision and sometimes you agonize over that as well.

Q: When you hire someone, what are the attributes that you are looking for?

A: We’re not necessarily focusing on the person’s credentials. It is attitude, enthusiasm, willingness to learn and, of course, you can’t be a shrinking violet. You have to be a person who enjoys meeting people, being gregarious and being out there – we’re in a relationship business.

[Tweet “We’re not necessarily focusing on the person’s credentials. – Tom Gribbons”]

Q: I’m guessing that there is a lot of rejection in your business. In terms of you as a leader, how do you deal with rejection or failure? A: Well, I go into a funk for a little while I’ll be very honest.

Q: So, you are human.

A: We are all human. For example, if a client leaves you kind of scratching your head and saying “Where did we go wrong?” … then you immediately have to say “How do we learn from this?” What I try to do with my advisors is sit down and talk without laying blame. Things happen. So we try and find out “How do we fix it things for the next time?” Fortunately we don’t lose clients that often. Generally we are debriefing about how we had a success, but failure is the only way that you move forward. If you can’t accept failure and learn from it then you will not be a success.

[Tweet “I try to sit down with my Advisors and talk without laying blame. – Tom Gribbons”]

Q: Any thoughts, comments or advice you’d give to emerging leaders?

A: I think that most people that are leaders have figured out part of this, but anybody that wants to succeed has to step back from their own business for awhile and think about the community or think about their neighbourhood or think about the kids. Think about doing something other than just what you’re doing to make a living. It’s the right thing to do and you’ll feel good about it and it will come back to you.

Q: So building community and altruism is critical as a leader?

A: It is critical and when you start to volunteer your time more you will find that it is fun. It gives you a little bit of a stress relief after work. You can get so hung up on doing everything that you need to be doing at work, but boy is it ever fun to go to a meeting once in a while and think about something totally different. It is really therapeutic.

[Tweet “Volunteering…is really therapeutic. – Tom Gribbons”]

Q: Who inspires you?

A: That’s a good question. I lost my father years and years ago and I have very good memories of my father. He was a disciplined man – a military man – we are all basically children of that war generation. He and his whole generation inspired me a lot. He was a tail gunner. I lost him when I was only about 22 so I never had a chance to know him as adult to adult, but just that memory and the way that he did what he had to do for the family and everybody. That’s very inspirational.

Dave Veale is a business and leadership coach and founder of Vision Coaching Inc. in Saint John. Email Dave at Dave@VisionCoachingInc.com or follow him on twitter @dave_veale. Don’t miss any of Dave’s interviews with leaders…get blog updates in your inbox by signing up over here, at the top of the right column ==>

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