May 13, 2019

Tom Atema Jr.’s 52 Lessons for Leaders to Learn and Apply in Order to Get Better: #27-39

Toward the end of last year, I decided that I wanted to create a list of 52 lessons (or matters of importance) that I’ve learned over the course of my life and career so far. (If you’ve missed my previous two blogs with the first 26 lessons, check them out: #1-13, and #14-26.) I thought it would be a good idea to focus on one lesson or point every week for a year. These points of focus are varied in levels of importance for me; you and I might agree on the levels, or we might not. I just encourage you to come up with a list that suits your life. 

What matters is that your list speaks to and fosters your own personal and/or professional growth. I offer my list here mainly as a jumping-off point for you if you need one. The main thing is just to be intentional about reflecting on some key points for a defined period of time. Set some time aside for it. I think you’ll be pleased with how it can define your thinking and behavior going forward.

27. Focus on getting better.

If you’re reading this, it’s very likely that you want to get better both personally and professionally. This process—to get better, to be better—happens more in the small areas than the big. Ask yourself: Will what I am getting ready to spend time, money, goodwill, etc., on make me a better parent, spouse, coworker, leader . . . or will it just build something temporary for me?

28. Be humble.

Someone once told me that I will never be as good as people tell me I am. This may sound tough, but that person was teaching me to keep everything in check and to stay grounded. Remember, it’s never been about you—rather, it’s about the team you have and that team working together. This is true for work (team: coworkers) and home (team: family).

29. Money.

This is something that we all need. (I already knew that, how about you?) It’s not the only thing, however, and it’s not the most important. If you’ll support your coworkers and allow them to support your clients, the money will come. This has always worked for us.

30. Always remain open-minded.

The most obvious application of this lesson is directed toward others, and that is important; but it also applies to you, yourself. Learn how to be open-minded toward people giving you feedback and even criticism, and how to not beat yourself up too much or take things too personally. Feedback is essential in our common quest to get better—but how we respond to it matters just as much.

31. How I react matters.

Things both good and bad happen in life, and you will continue to experience both. When you realize that you can’t control most of it, remember that you can control how you will react to it.

32. Don’t judge people.

Most of the time there is a bigger story behind people and why they act a certain way, or say something that doesn’t settle well with you. Take time to try and see things through their eyes, and maybe understand their circumstances.

33. Know how you’re wired.

There are any number of legitimate personality assessments and other tools to help you determine how you’re wired (I also make this information public in our organization, so that people can know how I am wired and I can know how they are, too).

34. Past experiences matter.

We spend a lot of time focusing only on the future, but past experiences matter. I don’t recommend dwelling on the past, but your past is what made you what you are today. It matters.

35. Work-life balance is a myth.

I know, I know—I’ve already stated that this is a myth . . . and it is, because “balance” has to change based on the season of life. When most people hear “work-life balance,” they think of someone working too much . . . but it can also be the opposite when someone’s home life interferes with work. Your current circumstances will determine when work may take more time than home, or vice versa. The two can never be completely in balance all the time. For me, balance is achieved when I am staying within my guardrails and working towards my future hopes and dreams.

36. Know your limits.

Decide how much is too much before you get into a situation that cannot be managed. This decision has to be made ahead of time. For example, it’s too late to decide how much debt you’re comfortable with once you’re in debt, or how much you can drink at a business meeting after you’ve already had a glass of wine.

37. Remain in “learning mode.”

Learn from every encounter, every good and bad experience or event. Apply what you learn to make your next experience or encounter better.

38. Look up and around.

So often we don’t take the time to look at the bigger picture, or to look around at all that is happening around us. This is especially hard when we don’t like what is happening, or dislike a decision that was made, but if we can stop and ask about the greater goal, that usually helps us understand why.

39. Hold yourself and others accountable.

You cannot grow alone. We all need professional people in our lives who will help us reach our future hopes and dreams. Appoint a personal advisory board made up of people who can help you achieve mental, physical, and professional goals—essentially, they can collectively help you get better.


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