What I Learned from Tom Donohue, US Chamber of Commerce



Recently Tom Donohue was recognized by CEO Update in its association leadership awards program. Thanks to the team at International Franchise Association, I had the honor to attend, hear Tom’s comments and later reflect on the impact this association leader had on my career. He may lead the Chamber for another decade. However, I pondered how many more forums I might personally get to hear him deliver the “straight talk.” Thus, this entry.
Tom was my “big boss” at American Trucking Associations and the Chamber. To be sure, many executives experienced a closer working relationship than I had with Tom.  However, I’m close enough to have watched the man in action, collaborated with him and been privy to his hands on teaching.
Through all this, three key leadership themes were most important to me.
 Authenticity – The silver hair is real and so is the straight talk attitude. Members of your team need to know where you stand. But possibly more important is that authenticity (repeated often) confirms consistency. This empowers your staff because they know what the boss would do in a similar situation. This enables productivity, clarity of purpose and action. What a great environment to work in!
 Preparation – You might be wrong and survive a rigorous discussion with the boss. However, if you were not ready, just prepare for one of the longest 30 minutes in your life. Then, curl into a fetal position at an office afterwards. You deserved it, because wasting a leader’s time is a huge offense.
Loyalty – Tom has high expectations. However, he has your back externally with members or other constituents…with a good does of personal empathy. I’ll never forget when my dad was diagnosed with cancer. Tom was one of the first to call, provide advice and most importantly the offer to help. Your staff will go to the mat if they know you have their back.
There is something else I learned from Tom: Don’t be a wimp, ask for the money, then shut up.
I’m so pleased he was honored.


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