As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Thomas J. Giordano, Jr.
He has dedicated his career to assisting disabled Americans. He leads Pond Lehocky Disability, the firm’s nationwide Social Security and disability insurance arm. The department has represented tens of thousands of disabled individuals in all 50 states. Giordano has also previously served on the board of directors of the Epilepsy Foundation of Eastern Pennsylvania. A graduate of Rutgers University School of Law — Camden, Giordano currently serves as the chair of the Social Security Disability Committee of the American Association for Justice and as the co-chair of the Social Security Disability section of the Philadelphia Bar Association.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I’m the son of a legal secretary who showed me early on that hard work, compassion, and loyalty pay off. My mother rose through the ranks in her 40-year legal career and ended up the human resource manager for a large Philadelphia law firm. Visiting her office throughout my childhood and watching the professional men and women with their suits and briefcases had a lasting impression on me. I may not have known what an attorney did at that time, but I knew I wanted to be apart of it.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I made a lot of mistakes early on in my career, which at the time did not seem so funny. What I can tell you is that in hindsight, I would not change anything because those mistakes are true learning lessons.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There are so many people who are responsible for where I am today that we would need hours to adequately give them credit. One person that truly stands out is my current partner and mentor, Samuel H. Pond. If it were not for Sam, I know that I would not be in the position I am in today. About 13 years ago during a law firm meeting, he spoke passionately about Social Security disability and how he believed it was a growing practice area where millions of Americans would need assistance; and we needed to help people navigate through an often complicated system. I listened intently to his words (as I still do today) and felt that it was a great opportunity for a young workers’ compensation attorney. I expressed an interest immediately and it was that decision that I believe charted the course for the rest of my career and eventual partnership with Sam and Jerry Lehocky, who also was instrumental in my career.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
The purpose was and still is the same. Deliver top-notch, quality legal representation to our clients. Treat them with respect, compassion, and honesty. Be an advocate, a fighter on their behalf. Sam Pond always says, “do right by the client and the rest will take care of itself.”
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
We are in the middle of a global pandemic, an unprecedented event that does not have a playbook or manual on how to handle it. I think I am handling it and leading like most people in my position are, by simply trying to do the best that I can. I do believe leaders have a responsibility during times of crisis to be as steady and positive as possible. How can you expect your team to be calm and do their jobs if their leader seems frantic, nervous, or unsure?
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Never. Winston Churchill has taught us that. My motivation comes in many forms. First, I do not like to fail. Second, I feel a sense of great responsibility to my partners, our staff, and our clients. Finally, I have a wife and four small children that provide constant reminders of what I am working for.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
A positive attitude and the understanding that you must be flexible and open to change. Don’t be foolish enough to think you have it all figured it, because you don’t! Something I have learned more recently in my career is how important it is to know yourself. Know what you are good at and what you are not. Constantly strive to improve in those areas of need.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
I’m sorry that I sound like a broken record, but a positive attitude is key. Whether you realize it or not, your team feeds off your energy. What we often fail to realize is that not everyone does feel positive and have a good attitude, especially during these difficult times, so it’s important that we identify those individuals and communicate with them. They should know you care and are available to them.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
I don’t think anything beats “face to face” communication, especially when delivering difficult news. We are extremely fortunate to live in a time with incredible technological advances in video conferencing.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Fail to plan, plan to fail. That still rings true today. But again, be ready to change at a moment’s notice. Do your best to identify trends in your industry and remember how important it is to have accurate data. With the right data and reports, you may be able to get ahead of something that could destroy your business.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
I’m not sure there is just one. Speaking for our firm, I know that we have looked at every crisis as an opportunity to get better.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
Growing your business is an exciting time, but there are common pitfalls that we all must be aware of. First and foremost, if you have clients, make sure your service to them does not slip while growing. Second, don’t always assume that you can fix problems by adding more employees. This is a sure-fire way to add expenses before revenue. Lastly, constantly tweak and improve your operations.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
I’ve quickly learned that a strong brand can be a life preserver during turbulent times. Building a brand is extremely difficult, but in times of uncertainty, it provides a distinct advantage in growth traction. Communication with your clients and potential clients is also key. Again, we are fortunate that we live in a time where communicating with our clients and potential clients is an email or social media post away.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Be positive, grateful, and have perspective. It is easy to get wrapped up in the chaos and uncertainty in our world today. But rather than focus on the negative, I chose to focus on the positive. Since being quarantined and unable to work with my colleagues on a daily basis, I have noticed that we communicate and see each other more than ever before. I am continually grateful not just for the opportunities my partners bestowed upon me, but for the team that surrounds me. I get to work with some of the most talented executives, attorneys, and staff in the business. Quite frankly they make me look better than I really am. Finally, having perspective can really lessen the impact of any crisis. Our business has surely been affected by COVID-19, but we have been able to continue representing our clients in telephonic hearings every day. Many attorneys in the country have not.
- Be open to change, welcome it. It is the only way we improve.
- Constantly analyze and improve your operations. Your way is not perfect and there is always a better, more interesting, and novel approach out there.
- Communicate with your staff and your clients. No explanation needed here. Open and honest communication is always rewarded.
- Identify trends as early as possible and be willing to diversify your business. We have continued to pursue other practice areas outside our core workers’ compensation and Social Security disability specialties.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Winston Churchill. This one has stuck with me for years and I always look to it whenever dealing with a challenge in any aspect of my life. It’s so simple yet takes an inordinate amount of courage. The easiest thing to do is to give up when facing a major hurdle. This tells me to keep going and things will get better. They always do.
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