(Replay) Becoming an Authentic Leader with Thomas Gelmi

Listen to the episode right here.

For almost two decades, Thomas Gelmi has been an executive coach, facilitator, and sparring partner supporting leaders and teams in their development at various levels and innumerous industries. He focuses on developing personal and interpersonal competence in leadership, teamwork, and customer contact.

Based in Switzerland, with a home near Zurich, Thomas works with people all across Europe and regularly in North America, Africa, Asia, and Australia. His clients include global corporations as well as SMEs and private individuals.

Podcast Highlights

Who is Thomas Gelmi? 

Thomas works with leaders across the globe and supports them in developing their personal and interpersonal skills. He’s been doing this for the past two decades but before that he worked for Swiss Air and learned an incredible amount about what builds connection, rapport, and trust between human beings.

In an earlier life, Thomas was a hairdresser, circus performer, and lived an adventurous life before choosing his current pursuit.

What did the cabin crew experience teach you about leadership?

Being in a narrow metal tube 10,000 meters in the air is a special environment. For a cabin crew, problems and challenges need to be anticipated before they happen and when problems do occur they need to be solved immediately, without external help.

The cabin crew is responsible for both the safety of the passengers as well as the service, and they need to strike a balance between leadership and building relationships.

Leadership Vs. Relationships

For many leaders it’s a question of either/or. They are either firm and assertive or soft and accommodating, but the truth is you can be both at different times depending on what’s called for.

You can be clear, decisive, and even demanding if necessary while still being kind and respectful to the person. This is one pillar of the Harvard principle for successful negotiations: keep the issue and the person apart.

It’s more powerful to be firm, but kind than it is to start yelling at people and trying to assert your dominance.

Soft Skills Are Essential

Even in business-to-business organizations, it’s humans that keep the business running. Wherever people want to achieve something together, the ability to connect and build relationships and trust is key. This is called interpersonal competence, but in order to be able to work well with others you need a well developed personal competence. 

In order to connect with others you need to know yourself first. You need the ability to self regulate and understand the energy you are bringing to an interaction. This is a foundational skill for being a good leader.

The first step to changing and optimizing something is becoming aware of it. Are you being intentional in your actions and behavior, or are you on autopilot? Are you aware of the effect and impact that you have on others and is that in alignment with your intentions? 

There can be a large gap between your intentions as a leader and how your behavior is perceived by others. Many leaders are certain that their behaviors and actions and what leads to their success, without realizing that their success may actually be in spite of those behaviors.

Feedback is crucial to changing behaviors that are turning people off in your organization. This requires a climate of trust.

Building an Environment of Trust

Demonstrate that it is safe to offer critical thoughts by being the role model. How you react to a mistake or when something goes wrong is the moment of truth. An organization needs to have a climate of psychological safety and trust for people to open up. This is when it is safe to bring in your own opinions as well as admit mistakes because you know you will get support.

Under a climate of psychological threat, everyone is hypervigilant and on high alert. No one feels safe and the priority is to hide mistakes because of the fear of punishment. This environment prevents people from really engaging and doing what’s best for the customer. People will do just enough not to get punished and no more because the risk will be too high.

When people are not engaged, their passion and love go outside of the organization, but what could be possible if you could bring that passion into the work?

Vulnerability as a Leader

Being vulnerable and genuine is an aspect of authenticity. If you believe that admitting a mistake is a show of weakness, people will sense that you are not being authentic and your credibility and trust will suffer.

It may be counter intuitive, but having the courage to admit your mistakes and asking for the support of your team to find a solution will create the reverse effect.

Getting to the point where you feel capable of being open and authentic requires baby steps. Start with your personal life by sharing small things and as you see the benefits it will get easier to make that the default.

The law of reciprocity generally leads to more openness between individuals as one person discloses something, the other feels the need to follow suit. The best way to make someone interested in you is to show an interest in them as a human being.

Thomas Gelmi’s Takeaway

The first step is self-care and self-compassion. You can’t help anyone if you don’t take care of yourself first. Being the leader to yourself that you want to be for everyone else.


Dare To Lead by Brené Brown