As consultants, some of the most common questions we answer is about how we got to where we are professionally. People wonder how we got here, and how we see the world. We thought we would share our team’s stories.
Today, we’re sharing an interview with Matt Thomas, the President of L M Thomas Group.
David: Everyone is wondering how you got started. Walk us through your professional journey: what influenced you to take this kind of path?
Matt: I didn't start off intending to do consulting, but I've done it now for the last 12 years. I realized that I was interested in developing organizational systems and helping people thrive both individually, as leaders, and as organizations. It's one thing to work with a leader, and it's another thing to help a whole group of people thrive regarding what they're called to do.
My first job out of school was to be a church pastor of a congregation in an economically depressed community. The church went under in the middle of the housing crisis post 2008, so they couldn't pay me and I couldn't move. I figured something else out, and when that really started to take off I became affiliated with a small boutique firm for about 8 years. In 2019 my wife and I launched L M Thomas Group, which has grown by double year over year. I am really excited to be able to work with small and medium-sized businesses, nonprofits, and even a few
churches. I get to help them figure out all those things that are getting in their own way so they can meet the goals that they're trying to get to.
David: I love that you mentioned that you were originally a pastor. I feel like that would pair well with consulting; just being humble, being able to articulate things, and truly listening.
Matt: To break that down even a little bit further, a lot of times in the church world and in the consulting world people really focus on the knowledge, errors, or are kind of the morality police. In the church space often if you’re preaching it’s “here's what you need to know” and then “here's what you need to do” and “here’s how to behave.”
In the consulting space a lot of times people are coming in because they have some very strong core expertise or technical expertise about something. They're the experts that come in with a lot of knowledge and “musts” and “best practices”.
In both spaces, I think there’s a lot of room for our firm to come in, because it's a contrast for a lot of folks. I learned the hard way, that frankly nobody really likes to be told what they have to do. They want to be able to express their values, express how they're wired, and get the help they need along the way to achieve the goal they
stated. Instead of having an expert or a super-saint telling them what to do, they’d rather have somebody come walk alongside with them and that does not judge them when they screw up. So that’s the kind of consultants we try to be: helpful, yes, competent, certainly – but in a partner/advisor relationship rather than an expert relationship.
David: You mentioned you started your own business LM Thomas Group in 2019. What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome when you first started?
Matt: The biggest hurdle that I had to overcome was to articulate what I was selling and to whom. Especially in this industry where you are selling services, rather than a product, it's really hard to say, “here, I have the skillset, pay me for it”. With consulting that's what you're saying. If you're an accountant, or an attorney, or a marketing firm, or any other skill-based industry you must be able to articulate what you do clearly enough that somebody can say “oh yeah, I want that”. Then on the other hand be able to price it in a way that you cannot only do it today,
but you can do it tomorrow. Most consultants start off underpricing their services, but you also cannot price it so high that everybody thinks it’s overpriced.
The biggest hurdle is that ability to communicate with confidence, “I can actually do this thing and I can actually help people”. But you can’t just tell it, you have to show it.
There are so many people who come out and say, “Look at what I can do: I can do this, I can do this…”
If you're saying “I can do this” all the time, people can pick up on the fact that it feels quite like you're trying to convince yourself as much as you're trying to convince them and it feels very insecure.
On the other hand, if you can just say “yeah you know, I've seen that before and I’ve seen that work out a couple different ways”, all of a sudden you're showing your expertise rather than telling your expertise. So that has been a huge challenge: gaining the confidence to move from telling my expertise to showing the expertise. But it’s worth it: it makes a world of difference in how people interact with you.
David: What resources did you or perhaps still currently rely on? Are there any resources that help you navigate your own frustrations and challenges?
Matt: I think the earliest resource that I would apply on a regular basis was just education. I'm not even talking about college and graduate school; I'm talking about high school. When I was in high school, I was taught a how to think through problems, think in flowcharts, and break down problems/solutions into reasonable chunks.
These days, the resources I have been able to draw on include a crew of people who have a similar mindset. I have been blessed to have been able to hire a team of people who have that kind of mindset of how we think through a problem to a solution.
David: We know the world has changed to become more remote and hybrid. As technology continues to advance and you're working from home, you're working a hybrid life. It's easy to blur the line between work and life outside of work. How do you manage a work-life balance and set boundaries for yourself?
Matt: The interesting thing is that because of the nature of my consulting work from 2010 forward I've been doing the remote work thing before everybody had to in the pandemic. I have a family, and every once in a while, those two worlds collide. I don’t quite want to admit that we may have had at least one incident of accidental, gleeful, toddler nudity on Zoom meeting for instance. Or a client may have overheard potty training in the room next door. As we're trying to be serious, and as much as you're trying to get work done, I think these collisions, instead of violating professionalism, help us to understand that we are human, and the online remote work has, in some ways, humanized us. We're seeing into each other's home offices in our house a lot more than we ever did before.
What helps me further, I have a defined workspace and when I'm out of that workspace I'm not doing work.
David: Any suggestions for people that don’t have the luxury of a defined workspace?
Matt: You don't necessarily need a specific room. You could just use a corner of that room. Then make sure the only thing you're doing in that area is work. It's that habit hygiene of just doing what you're going to do in that space. You want to make it exclusive. After I’ve defined a workspace, I also know that after a certain time of day I'm not responding to emails and texts unless it's a genuine emergency. I've also learned that because I'm a consultant and because I work with people who are facing major challenges all the time, I have very good limits on when I make somebody else's emergency my emergency.
David: You’re on social media and post about your love of running. That's a huge hobby of yours, and probably a good outlet to relax or decompress. While you’re running, do you like to listen to music, podcasts, or books? Or would you rather just be silent or run with a buddy?
Matt: This afternoon will be 630 days in a row of running at least a mile every day, so getting close to 2 years. When I run, I prefer to run outdoors, and without anything in my ears for safety, because I also know that most drivers aren't necessarily aware of runners and pedestrians. That silence helps me to be mindful of my body. As other things come up in my head, I can set them aside and focus on my cadence or heart rate.
David: It's a form of meditation and mindfulness. You're being present. You live in the moment, taking in the sights and sounds. I think that's something that is important for current society and mental health.
Matt: Yes, I’m focused on my own physical presence. If I run on the treadmill, I can listen to three different podcasts. One is “Dare to Lead” from Brené Brown. The others are “Hidden Brain”, and “Freakonomics Radio”. The thing I like about all three of those is that they all push me to think about things in a very different way. All of them open new possibilities for thinking – especially when they’re interviewing authors. It's kind of the bibliography that I chase for the books I've read in my professional development time.
David: LM Thomas Group has been developing a weekly newsletter around the topics of adaptive change, leadership, and growth. These topics are not necessarily specific to business, although that is usually what the topics are centered on. Can you briefly discuss each of these topics?
Matt: Adaptive change is something that I have studied for quite a while. Many people try to solve the problems they're facing in business through changing the intensity. If something isn't working the way we needed it to, we try harder and we try to do it faster. All this does is create static.
If you're not getting where you want to go, and all you're doing is doing what you've been doing more intensely, all the problems that you've been facing are also going to get amplified.
Adaptive change suggests we look at our habits and mindsets, look at our goals, strategy, and also look at what we're experiencing as symptoms of something deeper rather than the thing itself. It asks us to adapt and change. We must adjust our mindsets, our habits, and it's not just merely about intensity anymore. It's about facing those problems that don't have easy solutions.
David: Another topic that we discuss in the newsletter is leadership. What is a sound leader? What are some characteristics of a modern-day, “successful” leader?
Matt: I think a lot of people confuse leadership and authority. Authority says, “I'm the teacher, you're the student, sit down or I give you detention.” The student is going to behave in a certain way because there's this threat of detention or a bad grade. Authority is not really leadership. Leadership is saying “I see something in you. I think you could do more, and therefore we can chase that together. Leadership lives in the space between having authority and making someone do something and going beyond the authority to see if people follow your lead. Most businesses that are having team problems, it's because somebody is living in authority rather than leadership.
David: How do you see yourself trying to grow?
Matt: Growth is almost always about getting your systems right. I have kids at home. You don't worry about them growing, they just do it. She gets enough food, she gets cuddles, she’s got clothing, and she gets the right amount of sleep, and growth just happens. Growth is something that naturally occurs rather than something that you have to plan.
When a business’ growth is stagnant or leaders feel lost with what they're currently doing, the biggest challenge is that most business owners get stuck in the day-to-day too much. They lose track of the long-term and big picture. That kind of very short-term thinking really stagnates a business because people just can't get ahead of whatever the issue is. They can't see the big picture at that point and day-to-day is too much.
On the other hand, you get other leaders who are so visionary they can't sit still long enough to allow something to develop. When it doesn't give immediate results they're off to the next thing. Adaptive change in their perspective and adjusting leadership strategies and potentially lead to some growth.
David: What is the best advice you've received and try to live by?
Matt: Stay consistent. It doesn't necessarily have to be this New Year's resolution kind of consistent: but make small changes and do the little things that will eventually add up each day. Consistency has made the difference for the day in and day out.