I am excited to bring you the fifth story in our “Leaders Who Inspire Us” series. In these candid one-on-one interviews, we will feature senior leaders who have had a lasting impact on their teams and their organizations. We will share stories that are about more than doing a job or building a career. They are about fulfilling a personal mission to drive change.
Today, we’re sharing Thomas Crahan’s story. Thomas is the General Manager of Vehicle Marketing and Communications at Toyota Motor Sales. In a recent interview, he shared insights about his own journey of self-discovery and the one piece of advice that ultimately reshaped his thinking as a leader.
Thomas’s career with Toyota Motor Sales started in 2006 when he accepted a role in Advanced Product Strategy after several years working at Nissan North America. Eager to hit the ground running, he focused on aligning Scion’s second-generation products to their brand promise.
Not long after taking on the new role, he quickly realized the challenges inherit in navigating a culture that was already successful in its own right. He remembers coming to the realization early on: “I had spent my entire career developing the expertise and credibility to lead change and I now worked in an environment that wasn’t looking for that.” He spent the next few years seeking out projects where he could introduce innovation to the existing product planning processes including the redesign of the 2015 Camry and creating Toyota’s active safety strategy.
The successes along the way provided the fuel to forge ahead, and the failures provided the opportunity to rethink his approach.
The Courage to Be Vulnerable
Fast forward to 2016…the start of the most recent chapter in Thomas’s leadership journey. In addition to managing the responsibilities of his new role as general manager of marketing, he has invested significant time and energy in better understanding his own personal values and how he shows up as a leader. He’s discovered a few invaluable things along the way that might help any leader who is driven to do a job well and wants to exceed expectations.
“We have all been told as we take on leadership roles that ‘what got you here won’t get you there.’ In my case, I needed to transform from a technical expert to an inspirational leader of experts.
“My father taught me to value honor above all else. He explained that honor required the courage to overcome fear and meant caring enough about the cause to make the necessary sacrifices. This guidance led me to push myself and the organizations I have worked for to break through obstacles and deliver on stretch goals.”
This “drive” is common among leaders and is a key ingredient in progress, but it can also limit the potential of the team. That discovery was what helped Thomas breakthrough his current “driven” leadership style to become a more inspirational leader.
Working with his Linkage coach helped him to recognize that showing up as a “driven” leader dampened his team’s willingness to speak up and challenge. “Here, I thought that my passion would ignite theirs, and it was actually having the opposite effect. My intensity was intimidating, not inspirational.”
This is where the real work began. Thomas had to find a way to retain the inspirational aspect of his passion while being more inclusive. The secret in this transformation was unpacking what “drove” him, because it is the unconscious emotion behind the “drive” that shapes how we show up; not our conscious intentions or goals.
“What I realized was that my subconscious need to achieve lofty objectives in the face of large obstacles was born out of overcoming childhood insecurities. While those fears provided the fire that fueled the drive, they caused me to ‘show up’ as intense rather than uplifting, and if I wanted to become ‘present’ and inspirational, I would first have to work through those childhood experiences.
“This source of ‘drive’ among executives is probably more common than we would like to admit, but accepting this in myself and working through it has helped me to become more empathetic, joyful and inspirational to the teams that depend on me.
“When you have the courage to be vulnerable, you help create an environment that fosters authenticity and trust, and this is the soil that grows great leaders and great products.
“If I think about the very best leaders I have worked for, they not only had integrity and vision, they also brought a calm presence into conversation which demonstrated their respect for every point of view and care for each team member. They built unwavering trust that helped their companies become stronger through adverse times.”
His final, parting words of advice: “Think deeply about what drives you. If there are things on the list that are not affirming, work on that. Work on that with someone you can trust and be kind to yourself through the process—my coach told me, and it proved true—others will appreciate it.”