Have you ever met someone who connects with people in a way that seems natural and without effort? When you find someone who listens to (the physical act of absorbing sounds) and hears (paying attention to what is being said or left unsaid) those around them with greater clarity than others, are you inspired to make a personal connection? David Telford is one of these people. He is the kind of guy that endeavors to understand people and makes a lasting impression with every interaction.
When discussing what it means to succeed, David draws on both definitions of the word; turn out well or have a favorable result, and come next after or follow after another. To David, succeeding isn’t the completion of a journey but rather the achievement of a progression of goals, each serving as a mile marker along the way. As these goals are reached, the path is laid for others to follow. “Success is never an individual pursuit.”
In a recent, real life example, David shares about preparing for a 28.3-mile hike to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He jokes that his goal was originally to just survive. He started with small hikes and progressed further with time. He set goals to hike 5, 7, 12, and then 21 miles as part of his training. Three weeks before the date of the Make-a-Wish hike (28.3 miles in one day), he was on a 21-mile training hike when around mile-17, he hyper-extended his knee and had to stop. He was determined to proceed with the Make-a-Wish hike and committed do what he could, although completing all 28.3 miles was unlikely. He even made a deal with his wife, if they both finished the hike, they would get Make-a-Wish tattoos to celebrate. When the day of the hike arrived, he could still feel the pain in his knee. At mile-17 the pain in his knee was compounded by growing heat exhaustion. At mile-21, he knew his struggle to continue was actually holding his wife back from completing the hike. So, David stopped his own hike and encouraged his wife to finish (which she did).
One of the biggest lessons David draws from this event was, a leader needs to understand when their direct leadership is not needed anymore, and the person they have been guiding is ready to go on without them. A leader often has to lead from behind, driving others to find their own path, and provide encouragement and support to empower them to succeed. David states it is important for managers who are leaders, to remember they work on behalf of their subordinates. That is how a leader’s success is measured. Are those who you are responsible for successful? Are you clearing obstacles to enable their success? Are you giving them a means to thrive and step up as leaders themselves?
David cites Jim Anderson (https://www.linkedin.com/in/jim-anderson-a32859/), who was David’s manager at JD Edwards, as an example of such a leader. David recognizes he, himself, is often unmanageable, by which he means if you try to manage him, he will often rebel, but if you provide leadership and support, he will find ways to succeed. He credits Jim Anderson with both empowering him in that capacity, as well as teaching him the benefits of this approach. With Jim as a role model, David eventually found himself in the Critical Account organization at Oracle where he worked with customers throughout the world to address challenges with their JD Edwards implementations. This is where those listening and hearing skills became his greatest asset.
David says the best tool available in a consultant’s toolbox is the ability to listen and hear what is being said. The physical act of absorbing sounds is not enough, a consultant needs hear with empathy to understand the pain, and uncover things which may be left unsaid. “You guys have to fix this problem now!” might be what is said, but “Or else I will lose my job!” is implied even if not spoken. David learned this early in his career, which had a significant impact on his ability to handle critical accounts for JD Edwards. Through experiencing different cultures and situations, he found a primal desire in all people is to be heard. He said, “During my time with Critical Accounts, I found 9 times out of 10, the problem with a project was communication. Everyone was speaking, some people were listening, but nobody was hearing. Day 1 of any escalation was always an opportunity for everyone on the team to say what they had to say, point fingers where they wanted to point, and deflect blame. Day 2 was about moving forward.”
Critical Accounts is where David met the second person he credits as having a significant role in his leadership approach; Carlos Barradas. David shares it was Carlos who helped him understand, in troubleshooting, the focus needs to be on solutions not blame. As David traveled around the world helping to diffuse critical situations, he realized finding a workable solution to fixing problems was far more important than finding the best solution. He says, “There might 50 solutions to a problem, and they will all work, but there might be 2 that get the job done now, even if they are not the most elegant way to do it.” During times of difficulty the important focus is to get past the thing holding back progress. There will be time to reflect on root cause and lessons learned after the critical issue is resolved. You have to keep things in perspective.
Keeping perspective is where David shares he has learned some valuable lessons in leadership. Remember, the hike? After quitting at mile-21, David felt like he had failed. Amy Brindley (https://www.linkedin.com/in/amy-matlock-brindley-7b7b2953/) the President and CEO of Make-A-Wish Central and West North Carolina reminded him hiking 21 miles in one day is a big deal even if you have two good knees. He had walked farther than he believed he could before he started training. He had exceeded his own expectations.
Amy has become not just a friend to David but also a source of inspiration and a continual reminder to keep perspective. “She has an incredible passion for these kids in medical jeopardy, as well as their families,” he says. “It is hard to imagine how someone can sort through and connect with all these emotions experienced by these hundreds of families and continue to wake-up each day and do it all again – with a huge, infectious smile on her face.”
When discussing his ability to work diverse groups of people, David points to two books which have influenced his method for understanding; The Tao of Pooh, and The Te of Piglet, both written by Benjamin Hoff. He shared, these books helped him frame an understanding of how people behave by understanding how they emulate different characteristics of those lovable characters from Christopher Robbin’s neighborhood. David also took some college classes on Zen and regularly meditates. He is a lover of languages (human and computer) and endeavors to learn something new each week. These traits form the foundation of David’s ability to understand problems from the perspective of those facing issues.
In business, as many professionals progress, there comes a time when an “Exit Plan” begins to form. Often, this “Exit Plan” includes planning when and how one will retire to enjoy the fruits of their years of labor. David’s view on this is different. He believes we should all be enjoying the benefits from our hard work as we live our lives, and the “Exit Plan” should be about training and mentoring others to fill the role he will eventually leave. “That’s when the real work, and the real living begin.” A true leader ensures a successful organization will continue to thrive well beyond the leader’s tenure.
David’s leadership style, and success in the workplace is built upon learning from the experiences of many great leaders in his life. David is also a foundation for numerous other leaders who have worked and are working with him. He serves as an inspiration and motivator to those with whom he has come in contact. Thank you David for taking time with me to give me insight into your life.
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