Tom EppersonTen years ago, I thought of myself as a laid-back surfer dude.  Easy going, no worries, a delight to work with.  Sure, I could be hard on other people, but that’s leadership, right?  Then I started working on myself, looked in the mirror, and realized I was no laid back surfer dude. I realized that I’m actually a tightly wound, direct-drive, high-expectation sort of guy and leadership for me meant being right.  Being smart was my hammer, and when all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Ten years ago, our company was also having an identity crisis.  In just a few years we had tripled in size, tripled in revenue, tripled in locations, and decentralized the company.   Not surprisingly, the company’s culture started to fracture.  We siloed and started fighting over resources, especially at the top of the business.  Leadership had become a series of meetings-after-the-meetings, jockeying for position, and as one officer put it, “making my candle brighter by putting yours out.”

In the end, we found a company down in Texas, Holt CAT, that practiced something called Values Based Leadership.  And Values Based Leadership has made all the difference.

We started by defining the company’s values—what we wanted the company to stand for, how we wanted to make decisions, and what sort of culture we wanted to create.   But espousing values is not enough; transforming a culture takes time, effort, and most of all, leadership.  In order to create the culture we aspired to, we first had to work on ourselves.  We had to look in the mirror, and realize change starts with us.

For me, that meant recognizing that leadership is about so much more than having the right answer and pounding other people until they agree.   If I was going to lead, it meant learning to care about others, to being curious, to developing my emotional intelligence and not just my IQ, to influencing by using more than just logic and smarts, to getting feedback, to giving praise, to keeping my awareness high, to finding ways of taking other people with me, to adapting to the needs of others.  I’ve had to do so much work on myself, it’s amazing I’ve had any time to develop others.

After years of intense leadership development and work on the culture, we’ve succeeded in creating a values-based organization. Of course, our journey isn’t over—you don’t ever stop working on your culture, just as you never stop working on yourself and your leadership.  We’ve been tasked with sharing the lessons we’ve learned with as many people around the world as possible. Because we believe that everyone was born with the extraordinary potential to make a positive difference in the lives of others.  And the best way of making a difference—of igniting the potential we are all born with—is through leadership.

In this blog, I’ll be sharing what I’ve learned about using values based leadership to ignite the potential of others and organizations, as well as what I’ve learned about myself along the way.  And of course, there’s always more to learn—so I’d love to hear your comments, questions and feedback!

I’m excited about sharing our journey, as well as my own journey, with you, and about hearing your own hard-earned lessons about leadership, cultural transformation, and values.



Tom Epperson

Tom Epperson

Dr. Tom Epperson is the President of InnerWill, and an instructor in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Executive MBA program. Tom is a certified business coach and has a Doctorate in Leadership from The George Washington University. Tom works with clients on cultural transformation, leadership development, executive coaching, and igniting individual and organizational potential. Previously, Tom served as the HR Director for Luck Companies, and played a significant role as one of the architects of Luck Companies’ cultural transformation.

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