Tom Deierlein

Six Questions for Tom Deierlein.

Six Questions for Tom Deierlein Nine years ago today, Captain Tom Deierlein was shot by a sniper in a Baghdad slum. His life since that day has been a remarkable story of service, leadership and transformation.Tom will speak at next month’s Seller Forum about creating your own personal leadership philosophy.

1. You think it’s important not just to believe in a leadership philosophy but to actually write it down.  Why?

People have in their heads how they want to lead but articulating this is tricky.  When you write it down on a page or two, it causes you to really, really think through how you want to lead…to think through values, priorities, and expectations. It immediately leads to a healthy discussion about how best to work together and — critically — in times of crisis it will guide your actions.

2. You’ve been in leadership positions in both the internet ad/tech world and the military.  Is there a common thread for great leadership?

I think that leadership is leadership.  I find myself guided by the 11 principles I was taught 30 years ago when I was a 17-year-old cadet.  It might be a high school student athlete who is captain of her soccer team, a Marine leading a team in combat, or a first time manager at an ad agency. The principles are the same.  I feel it breaks down into three major areas:

  1. Values and character:  People want a leader they trust and who makes the right choices regardless of consequences.
  2. Concern for your people: Genuine concern and desire to help them be their absolute best personally and professionally.
  3. Decisions:   Willingness to make decisions –including the hard ones — and be held accountable for them.

Technically there is a fourth:  Results.  Without success the other three don’t matter.

If you lead a national or regional digital media sales organization request your invitation to the Fall Seller Forum – “Leadership is Not Optional” — or call us at 802.985.2500 for more details. Two thirds of our available spots are already taken, so save yours today.

3. Can you give a short statement that tells us the difference between leadership and management?

I guess I’m one of those people who believe management is about things (process, operations, technology) and leadership is about people.

4. They say that adversity doesn’t build character, but rather reveals it.  You were shot by a sniper in Sadr City, Iraq in 2006 and spent most of a year recovering and rebuilding at Walter Reed.  What did that experience reveal to you about Tom Deierlein?

I spent 8 months in the hospital first in recovery and then rehab.  That gave me a lot of time for reflection and self-analysis. Not that I was an ogre before, but I decided to be a better person.  I decided to be more selfless and help others. To slow down and enjoy life more – let fewer things bother me.  As a joke, I call this ‘Tom 2.0.’ Whenever I slip back into undesired behaviors or attitudes I call it ‘Tom 1.0 creeping back in.’

5. Through the TD Foundation, you’ve made your story about more than your own struggles and successes.  You’ve tapped into something bigger and more important.  That seems like a good leadership lesson right there, doesn’t it?

Whenever you talk to anyone about charity and helping others I think you find they get as much out of it as those they help.  It is like fuel for the soul.  People that help others are actually happier in general.

6. Someone reading this post is struggling to unite their team and get them to perform at a whole new level.  What one piece of advice do you offer?

I just finished a great book on this topic called “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.”  But if I were to give one piece of advice it would be to set shared goals, communicate those goals, and then publicly reward behaviors that demonstrate teamwork and cooperation to get these goals accomplished.


ServiceToday is veteran’s day and we’re using The Drift to send a message that is at once both personal and universal.  The nature of military service in our country today means that the vast majority of us and our children will spend our lives never picking up a rifle or serving on the deck of a warship.  Today is about those who have, who do and who will in the future.

I have a nephew  currently serving a tour of duty in Afghanistan, after having already served in Iraq.  I would want for Scott what we should want for all our veterans: to have our society and government equip them for life as vigorously fully as we equip them in the field.  Unfortunately — and this is not political — we are still better as a country at sending people to war than we are in bringing them home.  What the VA and other government agencies can’t accomplish is left to us.

Which brings me to a friend and a cause that I hold dear.  Tom Deierlein was an industry friend and colleague before I ever knew he had a connection to the military.  In a chain of events familiar to those of us who know Tom, he was called back to the military in 2006 to serve as a civilian affairs officer in Sadr City, a Shiite slum in Baghdad.  Immediately he began collecting toys, school supplies, vitamins…anything that would make the lives of suffering Iraqi children and families more tolerable and hopeful.  Short time later, Tom was shot by a sniper, spent most of a year in Walter Reed Army Hospital, learned to walk again, and never looked away from the mission for a second.

The TD Foundation now helps not only Iraqi and Afghan children — supporting girls schools threatened by the Taliban, purchasing prosthetic limbs, arranging transportation for lifesaving surgery — but has now expanded its mission to helping the families of wounded warriors back here in the United States.  Recently, Tom shared with many of us the plight of a seriously disabled vet and his family:  Forced into becoming a nearly full-time caregiver, the soldier’s wife was unable to work. Bills came due, the family car fell into disrepair.  Even the purchase of a medically prescribed bed for her veteran couldn’t be made.  Learning of the situation, Tom was able to simply write a check to make all of this go away.  No bureaucracy, no overhead, no celebrity-filled fundraisers.  Just help.

Knowing what our service members give, I will never feel like I can ever have ‘done my share.’  But I can do something today and so can you.  Make a donation right now.  Even ten bucks…anything.  Then forward this post — or tweet the hell out of it.  Then write me back or post a comment.  Let’s make noise and put a lot more money into the TD Foundation so that Tom can write a lot more checks.

And you don’t even have to dump a bucket of ice water on your head.

A Very Good Thing.

Those who’ve been in one of my workshops may remember me saying that three qualities make for a very effective seller:  focus, impact and generosityFocus helps you understand where your time and efforts are best spent – where you really can make a difference.  Impact is something you lay out as a challenge to yourself – I want to do enough to really make a difference.  And generosity is one of those counterintuitive notions that turns out to be truly liberating; the best sellers (along with the best executives and, for that matter, the best people) don’t tally the score after every action – they know that doing good for those you serve always comes back.  These three are the major components of a great career…and a very good life.

The Drift is proudly underwritten this week by PubMatic, which empowers publishers with one holistic platform to sell advertising more intelligently.

Today on a golf course up in Westchester County, Upstream Group and a dozen other companies from the digital media and technology worlds are gathering to raise funds for the TD Foundation, and I’m thinking a lot about focus, impact and generosity.  For those unfamiliar with the cause, TD was founded by good friend and fellow industry veteran Tom Deierlein, who was recalled to service as a Captain in the Army Rangers in 2005 after more than a dozen years of civilian life.  For the first several months of his deployment as a civil affairs officer in the slums of Sadr City, Tom saw need and brought focus, impact and generosity to the situation.  It started with the e-mails:  These Iraqi kids could really use school supplies, soccer balls, vitamins…. Instantly Tom was the personal link between our high-flying industry and the realities of service and horrors of war.   He was to become so much more.

In September 2007 Tom and his unit came under sniper fire and he was seriously wounded.  When I visited him at Walter Reed Medical Center a few weeks later, one of the first things he said was “Doug, we’ve got to keep this thing going.”  After weeks of being totally immobilized and many months of painful and difficult therapy, Tom never stopped thinking about the school children and families in Iraq who still needed help getting through the day.  The TD Foundation was created with a mission to provide medical transportation and family support to wounded and critically ill children in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and to continue providing the day to day necessities – school supplies, soccer balls and vitamins! – that make life better in an immediate and measurable way.

The generosity part of this story is self-evident.  But what I really love about being involved with Tom and the TD Foundation is the focus and impact they bring to so many life-changing situations.  Recently Tom got a call on his cell phone from a relief organization desperate to get medical transportation to the United States for a badly burned Iraqi child. “Great…no problem.  Where should I send the check?”  No layers, no committees, just help right now.  This is a good thing.  A very good thing.

So I’m using today’s Drift to raise both money and awareness for Tom and the TD Foundation.  There are several thousand people who receive content notification of this blog every week, and at least half again as many who are getting it through syndication or referral.  Take $10, $20 – the amount doesn’t matter – and put it in an envelope to TD Foundation, 38 Hamilton Place, Garden City, New York, 11530. (Be sure to write “Drift” on the notation line.)   Or donate online.  Or send me a personal e-mail and I’ll make sure you get connected.

I’m handing Tom a check today and I’m going to feel really great about that.  I hope you’ll enjoy the same feeling.  Thank you.