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A Discussion with Tom Kalous About Our Influences and Finding Motivation

Tom Kalous is a successful organizational consultant located in Westminster, Colorado. Tom studied Psychology and Economics and received his undergraduate degree from Colorado State University. After finishing his undergraduate degree, he went straight into a combined Master’s and PhD program in Counseling Psychology with a minor in Quantitative Psychology at Ohio State University.  Following the […]

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Tom Kalous
Tom Kalous

Tom Kalous is a successful organizational consultant located in Westminster, Colorado. Tom studied Psychology and Economics and received his undergraduate degree from Colorado State University. After finishing his undergraduate degree, he went straight into a combined Master’s and PhD program in Counseling Psychology with a minor in Quantitative Psychology at Ohio State University.  Following the successful completion of his PhD, he was a practicing psychologist for several years after that.  During this time, he had also worked with organizations as a consultant and conducted trainings and adult education programs in how to apply psychology to leadership.  He left private practice as a psychologist in 2008 and turned his focus to his organizational consulting on empathy and leadership training.

Tom has been putting on emotional intelligence and leadership workshops, doing executive coaching, and organizational consulting for his company, TDK Consulting.  His work also focuses on applied social neuroscience and what is going on inside of our brains.  He helps people to understand the hard science that supports the soft skills and why the soft skills matter from a neurological standpoint.  He has worked with a wide variety of clientele including scientists and law enforcement to help them gain a better understanding of how to interact with each other better and how to influence people. 

Tom has several years of consulting experience with software development and project management processes, specifically agile software development.  He was a leader in a software development organization and trained people in how to use agile methods.  This style emphasizes completing work in little chunks in order to get more feedback from users even as the project is being built.  The feedback loop is built into the product cycle.  Agile methodology is a feedback-driven process rather a plan-driven process that is typically used in more traditional project management methods. Tom hopes to further his success in organizational consulting by continuing to innovate and improve on previous methods and practices.

In the last few years, what lifestyle, habit, or behavior change has had the biggest positive impact on your life?

The lifestyle change that has had the biggest impact on my life has been taking golf back up again.  Picking up playing golf again got me back in touch with some old friends and it also helped me start getting outside more, walking more, and being more physically active.  Making this progress also encouraged me to eat healthier, which then led me to walk more when I was not on the golf course.  Doing something physical that I really enjoyed helped to change my social world and my physical world.  Picking up a physical activity that you really enjoy, for me, was a great first step in changing my overall lifestyle. 

When you feel unfocused, what do you do?

When I feel unfocused, I take a break.  When I was in graduate school, my advisor, Ted Kaul, told me once when I had a lot going on and was really overwhelmed to just step away completely. He said, “you know when you least feel like you can take a break is when you most need one”. It has been some of the best advice I’ve received.  When I feel unfocused, I know I need to take a step back and regroup a little bit.  I might need to go out for a walk or decide not to work on the task that day, but taking a step back has helped me refocus and come back to it with a fresh mind.  It is that conscious decision to take a break that really helps me to focus again. 

What advice would you give a smart and ambitious recent college graduate? What advice should they ignore?

My advice is to be patient.  Steven Colbert once said, “You cannot be both young and wise.”  Young people think that they’re lot wiser than they are, and they underestimate how important experience is.  It takes time, so be patient and realize you’re not going to start at the top of an organization.  You’re probably not going to start with a lot of authority and a lot of power.  Be willing to work your way up and see that as part of how you get to where you want to be. 

Also, always actively look for what your purpose is.  Why are you doing this work?  What motivates you?  Be purpose-driven in everything that you do.  If you are patient and purpose driven, that will lead to the place where you’ll find a career that is fulfilling. Keep in mind, it’s probably not going to happen right out of college, no matter how bright you are, no matter how ambitious you are.  Be willing to work your way up, but at the same time, be looking for what really matters to you and why you are doing it. 

If your reason for working is money, you are going to be really disappointed.  Don’t see the amount of money you make as any type of indicator of how successful you are.  I know a lot of very unsuccessful wealthy people.  I know a lot of very successful people who live paycheck to paycheck.  Happiness does not come from money.  You want enough to pay the bills and anything above and beyond that you are lucky to have. 

What is one lifestyle trend that excites you?

I am not a person who is big on trends, they don’t typically excite me.  That being said, I have made changes in my life to move towards a more minimalist lifestyle.  I think that as a society, we have gotten too focused on consumption.  I like when I see people start to consider, what do I really need?  How can I consume less?  I once had a friend of mine say, anything you own, owns you.  The more stuff you own, the more you are owned by your stuff.  I think the more we work towards consuming less, needing less, and wanting less, the happier we are in the moment.  That would be a trend that excites me the most. 

Who has been the biggest influence in your life and why?

I have mentioned him before, my advisor, Ted Kaul, in graduate school.  Ted was the most well-read and the most intelligent human being I’ve ever met.  I could never mention a book that I had read that he hadn’t read.  He would prove that he read it by asking me questions about the information found in the text.  I never read anything that he had not read beforehand.  One of the things that I admired the most was that while was one of the most well-read and intelligent people I have ever met, he was also highly compassionate.  He could read people, understand people and motivate people.  He was truly a unique human being.  He was not always everybody’s favorite person because he could also be a little harsh, and he was very demanding, but he got so much out of his graduate students and so much out of the people around him.  It was his combination of intellect and empathy that was just totally unique in my life.  I learned so much from him in the years I was in my graduate school through not just the curriculum, but the life lessons that he passed on to all of us.

What’s one of the biggest life lessons you’ve learned?

This is a lesson from the world of improv.  The power of a concept called “yes, and . . .”.  I learned this from my best friend in elementary school, who is still my best friend to today.  His name is Eric Farone.  He is a consultant and trainer in improvisation and owned his own theater for about 20 years.  “Yes, and . . .” is at the core of improv. The idea is that whatever somebody gives you onstage, you take it and you say, “yes, and . . .” to it.  If you say, “yes, but . . .” or you say “no”, it kills the scene.  “Yes, and . . .” keeps the scene alive and it keeps things moving.  It turns out, that’s the same thing in life.  When we learn to say, “yes, and . . .” to each other, when we hear each other, we accept what’s coming our way, and rather than being critical of it or telling people why they’re wrong, or saying, “no, we shouldn’t do that”, if we say, “yea, that’s a great idea and what if added this?” then we open up a wide array of further opportunities.  When we take that “yes, and . . .” approach, amazing things are built and created.  That has happened in my personal life and it happens in business.  I try to approach everything I do with this idea of being open to what’s coming to me and then building on that. 

What do you think it is that makes you/someone successful?

When my daughter was about five or six years old, we had gone on a trip together.  Her mother and I had gotten divorced and this was our first trip together, just the two of us.  She had been reading a little kids’ book and the main character in it had met Leonardo da Vinci and asked him what the key to happiness was.  It turned out in the book he said it was curiosity.  She got up the next morning and she said, “You know, da Vinci was wrong”, as I’m tying her shoes and we’re getting ready to go.  “Okay.  Why was da Vinci wrong?”  She says, “Curiosity is great.  I really like that.  But that’s not the key to happiness.”  I said, “Well, what is?”  and she says, “The key to happiness is being able to be yourself.”  That was really a touching moment hearing that from my 5-year-old daughter.  You are successful when you’re happy; you’re successful when you can be yourself.  The key to success is being able to be authentic and genuine and being able to bring your whole self to everything you do. 

How do you stay motivated?

We use motivation the wrong way.  We think that motivation leads to doing and it is exactly the opposite.  Doing leads to motivation.  Once we start doing something, we become motivated to finish it.  If you are waiting for motivation to come to you, you might sit and wait for forever.  The way that I stay motivated is to remind myself to just start doing something, even if it something small.  Start with something easy.  Start with something fun.  That will lead to motivation to do more. 

What legacy do you hope to leave behind?

I hope to leave behind the idea that the most powerful force in life is love and acceptance.  We get much more done by accepting one another, by accepting ourselves, and by loving each other than we do by pushing each other or wanting people to be different than they are.  If there is one legacy that I could leave behind, it would be that people would understand that the place to start is by accepting ourselves and other people for who we are. 

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