Mindsets on Steroids: A Conversation with Tim Tobin

In my Mindsets on Steroids blog series, influential leaders share their secrets to help you win by finding your inner desire to change, ignite your passion, and instill life patterns. If what you were doing right now would get you there, you would already be there.

Tim Tobin is the dean of Choice University at Choice Hotels International where he oversees professional development for franchisees. Previously, he was Vice President of Global Leadership Development for Marriott International and held talent management roles for Baker Tilly and Booz Allen Hamilton. He holds an Ed.D. in Human Resource Development from George Washington University, as well as a master’s degree in Organizational Management. Tim is the author of “Your Leadership Story: Use Your Story to Energize, Inspire, and Motivate”, a frequent leadership speaker, and is a five-time Ironman triathlon finisher.

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Tell us a bit about your current role at Choice.

“I’m currently the dean of Choice University at Choice Hotels International, which is a top hotel and franchising organization in the world, so I oversee all of the learning for our franchisees. I really consider myself a learning and leadership development professional overall.

“One of the things I’ve learned is that I really love to build things. Whether I need to come in and fix it or build from the ground up, I get a lot of energy from that. This (Choice University) is an organization that had some good pieces in place but ready for its next iteration when I arrived. I was responsible for putting together everything from the strategy to all of the execution and everything in between. We’re realizing some early high impact wins, so I got really energized by the process and results, and I learned a ton.”

Lasting change starts with inner desire. What internal triggers have set change in motion in your life? 

“The more I think about it, at different stages of my life there have probably been different triggers. When I was a bit younger, I probably just didn’t give it much thought. The wheels were in motion, I was learning and having fun, traveling, getting some experiences, and I think the first trigger was the realization that that’s not really enough.

“After I finished my undergrad I really just had some odds and ends jobs for a couple of years, and I realized that all those delays kind of set me back personally and professionally from a success standpoint. I said, ‘I’ve got to go back and really educate myself,’ and that’s what drove me to get a masters degree. I realized that maybe there’s something more out there and then I said this learning thing is really fun with the master’s degree. I don’t want it to really stop, so that’s when I went on for my doctoral degree.

“My motivation at first, to be quite candid, was strictly in the title. I wanted people to call me doctor, but something really funny happened along the way… I had the realization that I was actually learning something. While I was proud of the accomplishment and the progress, the title actually became far less significant… It’s really about what I learned in the process – the way I approach problems and solutions. I went in with one motivation, and lo and behold I came out with a completely different one and probably a bit more beneficial.

“A common theme for me is realizing that I have not reached my full potential yet. So I’m going to continue to strive for that. Along the way, I’m going to try some things out and some things I’ll probably be more successful at than others. I don’t just go for the easy things. Writing a book isn’t easy. Getting a doctoral degree isn’t easy, but they’re possible if you give it a shot.”

Passion fuels explosive growth. What ignites your passion?

“I was actually lucky. Later in my career I had the opportunity to attend a training course where they had attendees think about their personal mission. For me, mine is about helping people meet their full potential. That’s it. That transcends everything I do.

“During my career over the last twenty years I’ve put myself in learning and leadership development roles that are basically tasked with helping people reach their potential. We’ve all heard the expression ‘if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.’ I feel like I work hard, but I love what I do.

“I’m almost embarrassed to say it, but the truth of it is my motivation when I was younger might have been much more transactional in the sense that I just wanted things. Success for me was about things, whether it be a title, or a certain salary, or the things the salary brings… I realized that there’s power in this thing called learning. If we pay attention to that and really do some soul searching and ask, ‘what is it that I get energized by?’ That’s really where my purpose came in.”

Consistent life patterns are often the missing component to greatness. How do you find discipline in your life? Does your training as an endurance athlete help?

“I blend discipline with flexibility. To use the fitness example, if you’re going to train for any kind of endurance sport, you have to have discipline. Knowing that I’m doing an Ironman triathlon, and coming up on my sixth one, I know that I have to run, bike and swim, and that I have to do it often and at great distances. But when I wake up in the morning, if I don’t feel like running that day, I’m not going to run. I try to keep some amount of flexibility with my drive, focus and rigor. I’ve got to do at least one workout every day, and often times it’s two things a day, but I don’t want to teach myself to hate running or swimming. I want to give myself some permissions to say, ‘you know what, this isn’t where I feel like directing my energy today, but I really want to do a good thing over here.’

“That applies to work. I’m a big list person. I try to start with the most difficult thing on my list every day, rather than save it for last. But again, I give myself permission where there’s flexibility, to say, ‘you know what, that’s not where I’m going to get my energy today, so I need to refocus.

“For me, discipline starts with self-awareness. I’m very in tune, not only with what needs to get done, but how I’m feeling physically, mentally, emotionally at any given time, so I’m pretty connected internally. Along with that comes a level of self-criticism and expecting more of myself.

“Have that plan, but keep it fun. I talk to my team all the time and let them know it’s okay to come up for air, hit the pause button or whatever. It’s interval training. If you’re going in 4th gear all the time you’re going to burn yourself out.”

You can find more info on Tim and his work at www.tobinleadership.com and can follow him on Twitter at @tobinleadership.

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