February 11, 2019

Tom Atema Jr.’s 52 Lessons for Leaders to Learn and Apply in Order to Get Better: #14-26

In the past few years, the company I started—Atema Partners—has shown significant growth and success. I feel incredibly blessed, to say the least. As a result of that growth, we opened a new division a few years ago, AP Live, and now it’s become a successful organization in its own right. Very recently, we acquired two additional companies under the Atema Partners parent umbrella. Those are all signs most every business owner dreams of, and I am certainly no different in that respect. But as I began to reflect on the reasons behind those positives, I found myself sitting over a blank piece of paper that was calling for me to document what I think I’ve done well during our first decade of business, and probably more importantly why it has worked for me.

I decided I wanted to focus on one point every week of the year. I wanted to be very intentional about understanding each point or area’s importance and relevance in this story that continues to unfold for me, both personally and professionally. And so, my list of 52 lessons was born. The list was—and still is—a draft. It is fluid. It changes as I grow and learn. But I think that’s why it’s so valuable; it keeps me thinking forward even as I reflect back.

Obviously 52 of anything is a lot to absorb, which is why I’m breaking up my list into four blog installments of 13 each. This is the second installment; if you missed the first one, just click on my November blog post for a quick catch-up.

I encourage you to put together your own list. It may be very different than mine—the key is to make it meaningful to you, in your ongoing personal and professional journey to become a better you. Focus on your list’s points in an intentional way, whether it’s daily or weekly. I think once you do, you’ll agree that your own list can be a real game changer for your life yet to come!

*Note: For #1-13, see my 11-16-18 blog post.

  1. Listen.

This may be difficult for you to learn and to do; you might be an action, check-it-off-the-list kind of person. I have been so blessed to have a wife and coworkers who are much smarter than I am; I try to spend more time listening and asking questions than I do talking. And honestly, some days are better than others. So your listening ability may be a big work in progress, but it will make you better.

  1. Be genuine.

Have you ever heard the statement, ‘Dress for the job you want—not the one you have’? While there is some truth to that in terms of cleanliness and self-care, people can sense when someone is trying too hard. Be okay with who you are instead of trying to be someone you’re not.

  1. Say thank you.

People don’t hear thank you enough. Try to say thanksthank you, I appreciate you, etc., on a regular basis. From there, search for other ways to say thank you; write cards, send gifts, send birthday texts . . . all ways of telling people thanks for being part of your life and making you better.

  1. Make time for yourself.

I always struggle with this one; it seems so selfish to me. One of the fastest ways to burn out, however, is to always be going, going, going for others. Consider what energizes you—time alone, or time with others? I am a more introverted person, so I need time alone in order to recharge. I have a good friend who is extroverted, however, so he needs time with people. If you don’t make time for yourself in terms of what energizes you, you cannot be your best, and that does not make anyone better. Finding a system and time that works may take a lot of trial and error, and it will shift and change as your current circumstances change.

  1. Love everyone. Always.

The idea of loving everyone is really just common decency. Remembering this will help you to treat people the way you would want to be treated.

  1. Assume positive intent.

The first time I heard this statement on a podcast, it changed my outlook. I work hard to make sure my first reaction is to assume positive intent when something comes my way. More often than not, there is more to the story; instead of making up a story that is normally “worst possible case,” try to assume positive intent. Always look for another reason besides the worst one.

  1. Take time off.

Everyone has to take time off from work. For me, this accomplishes a few things (time with family is the primary accomplishment), but changing up your location or even just changing up your daily routine helps our minds work in new ways. Many times, the most clarity and creative thoughts come from the time off that you’ll take.

  1. Try new things.

If you knew me, you’d chuckle at this one—I am a creature of habit, and I love my routines. But I have to be willing to try new things in order to get better. This is for all areas of my life; we have to try new things at work or we will not get better or bigger. Try new vacation spots to absorb the beauty of this planet. Try new ways of engaging your family. Just doing the same things over and over again creates a circle and does not make anyone better.

  1. Enjoy life.

Allow yourself to have fun. It may sound odd, but give yourself permission. I am a checklist person and normally “fun” is not on the list, but I need it. We all need fun in our lives.

  1. Be grateful.

Stop, take a deep breath, and look around at all that you have been given. Do this at home, in your truck, at your office, anyplace you can. Our organization gets to do amazing things, with amazing people in amazing places, and I don’t want to forget that. Consider what is amazing in your own world, and do so with gratitude.

  1. Recognize that what you do matters.

You don’t want to be someone who has to be ‘talked into’ work; nor do you want anyone who works for you to think that way. What you do matters to your clients, to your coworkers, your vendors . . . everyone you support. Knowing that every job is important will help you get better.

  1. Give back.

As a company, as a leader, as an individual. As you grow and get better, you’ll be able to give away even more. I cannot stress enough how important it is to give something away freely—don’t wait until you have more; that day will never come. You have been blessed, so take the mindset that it’s your responsibility to bless others.

  1. Be intentional.

This may come easily to you, but that’s not the case for everyone. Being intentional allows you to be in charge of your life and not just let life happen to you.


Tom Atema Jr. is the founder and CEO of Atema Partners, parent company of AP Live, OCD Labs, and Media Visions—the premier providers of audio-visual solutions for meetings, events, and touring—where quotes are always free, and quality is always first. For information, email Tom and his team at questions@atemapartners.com.