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Ep. 60: Learning to lead authentically with Tom Bromwich

Tom Bromwich, Head of People Development | Kwalee

For Tom Bromwich, it's all about authenticity. As Head of People Development, he opens up about his transition into an industry that was entirely new to his portfolio, shedding light on the challenges and excitement of navigating unfamiliar territory at gaming publisher Kwalee. From battling imposter syndrome to discovering the power of being "you," he offers valuable insights into what it truly means to lead with integrity.

On this episode we explore how to pick up the good tactics of mentors, while developing your own leadership style. And Tom explains how personal and company values are crucial to team harmony as well as how to honor the experience of more senior leaders as newer leaders are being developed.

Answered on this Episode

  • How can people leaders facilitate constructive conversations at work?

  • When working with a team of creatives, how can people leaders adjust their approach? 

  • What are some ways people leaders can troubleshoot when problems arise?

  • How can more experienced leaders be honored while encouraging the development of up-and-coming leaders? 

Advice from Tom

  • Leadership thrives on authenticity. Copying others can lead to feelings of impostor syndrome. Embrace your uniqueness, craft your own style.

  • Leadership development can be facilitated through open conversations and shared experiences rather than overly structured training programs.

  • "Be yourself and you've got the job based on you, not on anything else."

Connect with Tom on LinkedIn


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Full Transcript

[00:00:00] Aaron: Tom, it's so fun to have you here. It's so fun to have this discussion about leadership, about your journey.And thank you for coming on today. 

[00:00:07] Tom Bromwich: Yeah, thanks for having me. Looking forward to it. Yeah. It's great to be here. 

[00:00:10] Aaron: You talk about being approached to work in the L and D space, despite not having knowledge of the gaming field that you're in. I think your VP of HR worked with you in the past and brought you into this role.

Can you tell me a little bit about that process and someone seeing you and kind Picking you and pulling you in. 

[00:00:30] Tom Bromwich: Yeah, it's yeah, so I've not, so I've not worked in the games industry or in, I have no studio background. So this is all new to me. But I guess with all new professionals, you can go from one industry to another.

So it's never been too much of a worry. it excites me in a weird way. I quite like the learning process , I'll never be the master. So it's always quite exciting to, to figure stuff out, but that, yeah, it's quite a flattering Who anyone who has ever had that kind of phone call or someone shown an interest in bringing you [00:01:00] somewhere where they're going, or they've seen a bit of, they believe in you.

 So having someone knock on your door and say, Hey, I'm going here. This is what we're doing. What do you think? It's one of those moments in time where you go, that's quite cool.

I've never really had someone go I want to bring you with me. And yeah, obviously you have to make your own decisions on whether that move is right for you. And for me, it was right place, right time. The opportunity sounded exciting, stretching Yeah. All the kinds of things you want with a new role.

I guess the one thing going into a new role when you know someone is you immediately, you don't lose that imposter syndrome certainly sits and taps you on the shoulder every time you walk into the office. But it helps me anyway. I don't know. It helps other people.

It helped me go into this role with an added extra confidence, almost like a, actually someone already believes in me. So I can go in. I can go and do what I do and be the best version of myself and add value and all that good stuff. And I, yeah, I don't know that people [00:02:00] suffer with kind of imposter syndrome, a bit of self doubt every now and then, but specifically whenever I've gone into a new role, there's that excitement of, yes, I've got the job and I want to, , I'm ready.

I've, I'm going to make the most out of it is all of a sudden kind of clouded by that. Or what if they've picked the wrong person? What if it was a mistake? What is and yeah, you get through that. And I think we need to understand that it's not just you in the room that feels like that.

I think that's quite a. Yeah, a powerful moment, not overconfidence, but a, Oh, I can do this. 

[00:02:32] Aaron: Yeah. Yeah. I love that.

I love the, like the energy it gave you. And also, I guess what I'm wondering is. You're the head of people development. You bring those people on once they come in that door and you just highlighted kind of one of the true real factors of anybody in the position, whether you're a C suite executive or a first time, individual contributor we all may experience some of that of did they hire the right person [00:03:00] in your role?

How do you support people to, when they come in the door, have that bit of confidence in that pep in their step how do you help them overcome that in the, tools and processes you put together. 

[00:03:11] Tom Bromwich: Yeah. I think like confidence is a tough one. You've got to, for me, it's just create a space where people can like, almost believe in themselves.

 I think that's probably the best to give people belief they're there for a reason that they've been invited to the table to have dinner, not to be going to sit there and read the menu they're there to contribute and add value. It's it's tough, especially if you've got people with a bit of self doubt and I've been, I am that, I'm a person like you doubt yourself and all sorts.

Yeah. Instilling belief has to have a great leadership team around them. If you've got a leadership team that kind of cast out and yeah. Question people doubt on their decision making or doubt on why they brought someone into the business. That can be seriously harmful.

But if you've got a leader that will genuinely believe in that person and back them confidence, like you can, people [00:04:00] overnight change when someone goes, Oh, that person believes in me. So I guess I don't really have answered your question, but I guess it's the way we approach it is just be human to people and people will make mistakes.

Mistakes are going to happen, but you've got to believe in. Kind of what people can do. They're there for a reason. As soon as you start doubting decision making or doubting people's ability it just gonna, it's gonna spiral out of control. And if you put yourself in that shoes, if someone was doubting your abilities, all of a sudden your confidence just gets zapped .

You start to second guess your decision making stuff that would normally be natural instinct may disappear. I've seen people seen senior roles, Just be like a shadow of themselves when confidence disappears. But it's hard to put , your finger on where or what happened.

Little things can be triggers for people. But yeah, in an L and D world, it's there to just truly believe in like the art of the possible. That person can do anything. As soon as you start doubting. They can't I think you're into a bit of a losing battle that might be a bit like blue sky thinking [00:05:00] fairytale world But it's my thoughts.

[00:05:03] Aaron: Yeah and it's real right like you got to bring someone on and believe in their potential There's research behind it, you know that if you Believe in someone to be a top performer. Doesn't mean they're going to be a top performer, but it definitely elevates their performance to a significant level.

It's been done in schools and it's been done in, in the business world. You also tapped into something that's quite interesting, which is, okay we need , their leader to believe in them. We need their leader to support them. So that's another layer that you influence and impact within the role.

How do you then go about. If that's, it's believing in them when they come in the door, but also getting their leaders to, to show up in a certain way. What are the things that you look at focus on with the managers in your organization to influence that? 

[00:05:50] Tom Bromwich: That's the, that's top down, really.

That has to be driven through, through the organization that has to be the secret sauce, the kind of golden thread that goes through everything. Is the senior [00:06:00] leadership team. Acting or approach the same kind of topics in the same way as their teams and their teams, and all of that.

 Otherwise it's going to fail because , I've seen it. And I guess you may have seen it. It just breeds a culture of kind of, I would see it as poor behaviors or kind of stagnant leadership or all sorts. But the only way I've seen doing it is being there and being an ally is just almost a little.

Kind of that person that's nipping at the heels to always talking about like the power of just having a conversation of being authentic and talking to people if that's not done. All the way through the organization. You're going to cause problems. Cause what will happen is if you might go into mid management or into kind of those early careers, junior leadership positions, and you're doing a lot of great work there where people are learning how to become leaders.

I don't know what becoming a leader looks like, but people believe Oh, I've not done this before. So I need to learn how to do it. So you do a lot of work in that space, but if you forget the people that have been doing it for 10, 15, 20 [00:07:00] years, and you're trying to make a Throughout an organization, it's not going to change anything you might create in a training room or in a workshop environment, you might have a lot of great conversations where in practice, this is going to be wonderful.

But when you go into reality, when your leadership teams aren't following the same. model or got the same values or the same thought process or whatever it may be. Yeah, you'll end up back at square one. 

[00:07:24] Aaron: You talk about, the importance of bringing your whole self to work.

And it's just clear in the way you show up in our conversations about, like just you're authentic. How does that. Bleed into the way you think about leadership and the way you lean into your role. 

[00:07:39] Tom Bromwich: That's a lesson I've learned over time.

I've tried to imitate the, my the person I'm rewarding into that become my boss at the time. And I've tried to imitate them. And when I've had a great leader imitating Kind of what they're doing is this is, and this is quite naive, but you are, this is great.

This is working. This is awesome. Yeah. Because they're great. But then when you [00:08:00] try and imitate someone that you think is doing a great job, or you think they're a great leader yeah, it doesn't work. I guess I've fallen flat on my face. I've, if I look back now and I'm sure some of my teams would have, Tell me some of the mistakes or some of the ways I just have approached situations, conversations or just certain things.

And we've all had moments where you're like, I probably shouldn't have done it that way. I should have done it differently. My team's to tell you that, yeah, that was pretty, I'm going to come out and swear. 

[00:08:24] Aaron: You can swear. Yeah. You can swear. 

[00:08:26] Tom Bromwich: Okay. That was pretty shitty. Or like it's Yeah. Is there 

[00:08:29] Aaron: a moment that stands out 

[00:08:32] Tom Bromwich: in your memory?

Yeah. There's some poor ones just not like just having like just quite sensitive situations where you just would have conducted yourself in a little bit a different way. Not again, not. Bring putting my whole self into the conversation or not picking up on signs , just put it mainly linked to where it's like more personal stuff and you just don't recognize it and you're too focused on getting the job done.

And that's not me. I'm not, uh, yeah, extremely fiery and driven [00:09:00] to, to always get stuff done. And I've just, yeah, just dropped the ball a few times on some quite sensitive situations, just moments where you go as a human being, that was a pretty crappy way to handle that situation.

If that was your friend or if that was your your partner or a family member, you wouldn't have, you wouldn't have approached it in that way. And that was purely coming from a place where I was trying to be this leader that I thought I had to be this really like assertive just that out of the box leader you see on TV where I've actually got to be very fiery and red and direct.

Actually, that's not me. I'm not. I'm, I listened and I love harmony. I love a democratic approach. I love getting other people's ideas. And it just led to me doing some silly, silly stuff, but just learn maybe learn a few lessons, but it's important to learn those lessons.

You have to go, okay, actually, that's not me. That was pretty crap. That was awful. I'm not going to be that person. Or actually that person I'm looking up to, that leader that I thought was pretty good, they're not, they aren't, [00:10:00] but that other one that I had that I was reporting into a different time, yeah, they were great.

They were awesome. So I can take bits of them, but maybe not bits of this person over here. 

[00:10:13] Aaron: Yeah, there's a couple of things in here's one is like you took those lessons. He said, okay These are like seared into your brain of like whoo That's not that's not who I am.

That's not what I want to be And so like you took those and you said how do I bring those forward? And then what you're sharing now is like what I'm hearing through it is Your leadership is you, but you're taking inspiration and elements from different leaders that you've experienced in different situations.

You've experienced. 

[00:10:36] Tom Bromwich: I think I always show up as myself. Try my best to anyway. Um, Yeah. But I think it's important especially certain situations that, because I could sit in a room, we sit in a room with a thousand leaders and there could be one that's, there's a group of people that's been doing it for 10, 15, 20, 30 years.

And then there could be someone who this is their first, they've just all of a sudden inherited a team of [00:11:00] whatever. But we all experience. They may have, that person who's really junior and really green might have just experienced something that the people that have been doing this for 50, 30, 40 years, whatever it is, haven't.

So I think from a leadership point of view, I think it's important to just take elements where you go, that just worked. And that's me. It's authentic. I can do that truly without putting on an act and people not seeing through me. So I can take that element of their leadership style. Just leading a great team and getting people to come with you rather than taking them there. So you just take it, you're just taking these little snippets of, Oh yeah that's the way that I want to be.

That really works. And that. Resonates with me, has the same values as me. So yeah, that person's great. I'm going to take it with them. I'm going to, I'm going to take a little bit of that, do it my way, but I'm going to bring it, I'm going to put it into my little toolkit and I'm going to use that day in, day out.


[00:11:50] Aaron: how does this concept of authentic leadership and the lessons you've learned translate into your role? 

[00:11:57] Tom Bromwich: Been a kind of long, lesson. I think I've tried the [00:12:00] whole like, let's put When you explain, when we talk about leadership is tried the whole, oh yeah, like out of the box leadership.

So this is the leadership course that you're going to go on. You're all going to learn how to be great leaders and then all great in the room. And then you walk out of it and go that's a load of nonsense because we're not, we can't learn it like you, there isn't a book that tells us all to be the leader and you have to be open to the idea of actually you've got to be yourself and then as long as you can, show a bit of yourself and open up to your teams and open up to people around you, you're going to some pretty cool stuff.

As long as the people around you have got very similar values, as soon as you start crossing values, that can be quite yeah. That can lead to some kind of challenging conversations, but I just say, bring yourself like, yeah, you have to, you really have to be authentic and have to be genuine and be your true self.

Otherwise you're putting on an act day in, day out, and that's only going to last so long. And I've been there, I've been there when I've, which I've just said is that I'm going to be this [00:13:00] person. I'm going to be that leader. I see on TV, that person I've been working with and it wears you down.

Because you're not yourself and people see through it. People immediately become like Jekyll and Hyde. Like one day you are yourself because that's your, your true self or showing you your kind of conscious or less conscious personas coming out. Then on another day, you're coming out of a meeting and you're then trying to pretend to be what you deceive of the ideal boss.

So yeah. I think just, Being you and you is good enough and you've got the job based on you, not on anything else. So yeah, 

[00:13:33] Aaron: you have, a unique organization in the gaming space and you've grown quite rapidly and you have, people taking on management roles that were previously, QA that were previously engineers that were previously designers, right?

Like these very different roles. And now they're being asked to lead their teams. And so how do you bridge that gap of I'm an individual contributor, now I'm, now I lead a team and that idea of be yourself. Like, how do you help them get from. Where they are today to this [00:14:00] concept of , finding your authentic leadership.

[00:14:02] Tom Bromwich: And I think that this scenario is true to a lot of industries. I've said that kind of going from the role where you are, you're great at what you do, you're as an IC, as a, yeah, you're a specialist or whatever it may be, is that you are, you're great at that. Now, all of a sudden you've got 10 people that you work with who like look up to you and expect you to know, have all the answers.

I still think that's one of the steepest learning curves in in your working career going from, like that buddy to boss kind of world, it's Oh, they were my, like my peers, my powers, my, yeah. Now all of a sudden I might have to have some pretty serious or challenging or courageous conversations.

 It's not going to happen overnight. So when we talk about being authentic and being genuine and being yourself, yeah, it's not going to be tomorrow that you're actually, yeah, I'm going to know who I am when it comes to leadership. What we, all I would ever ask of people is to just try and show up as you've been showing up until that point, because you would have been leading people through coaching [00:15:00] or mentoring, or just generally being around for people bring that person.

To the table as a leader try your best not to. Then all of a sudden go from, yep, I'm that individual contributor now tomorrow, I'm the team leader. Don't be a different person because people know you already. And I've seen it time and time again where you're going like that. Like a week ago, you're amazing.

Like . You had extreme constructive conversations and you were really challenging and yeah, you're just great. And then all of a sudden. You're extremely assertive to the borderline aggressive and not really planned and not really well thought out. And I think sometimes people have a vision of what a leader looks like from.

Kind of experience of previously, or they think the natural reaction to leadership becomes this really assertive , I'm especially in the industry working now where in the gaming space you don't have to be, we're all about creativity and listening to ideas and stuff like that. It doesn't have to be that kind of, yeah, I'm going to use bullish. Bullish is probably the wrong word. But yeah. Lee that bullish leader of old. You can [00:16:00] be extremely collaborative. You can listen, you can seek harmony.

You can, engage completely differently to what kind of you think you can. 

[00:16:08] Aaron: What. Structures or trainings or tools do you put in place to help people build those realizations, to help people make those, developments in their management? How do you actually do it?

If I'm a people leader listening okay, it sounds good, but like, how does Tom do that? How did, how does he get those leaders , to leaning into being their authentic self more frequently. 

[00:16:28] Tom Bromwich: So in a previous role we launched a leadership Academy and all that really was about sharing experiences and sharing conversations. 

It's not really content heavy pick. And I think we had six topics and they were like, The like standard topics that you'd hear in any leadership program, like courageous conversations, feedback what else did we have? Like presence and impact what else did we do coaching? I think in there, and it was like out of the box topics, but instead of sitting there and telling people how to.

be a leader. We just had [00:17:00] common shared experiences. Yeah. We'd have some sort of kind of toolkit moments along the way. It's like, Oh, actually, when you're, when we're talking about maybe change or we're talking about courageous conversations or coaching, we can give people tools that they can dip into when they need them.

Cause that's great. That's going to actually, I'm having a very challenging conversation. I remember that method or that tool that I can use, but really all it was is getting eight to 12. Leaders are all different from all different backgrounds from far reaching, far and wide to share experiences and share scenarios and really encourage the conversation.

I've not seen a leadership program where someone says, I think I've said it now a couple of times is where a leadership program has taught people how to be leaders. But watching people and listening to leaders in a room from, Any walk of life, share experiences and people learn from those experiences.

It just, it's just magic. And there's never really a wrong way, or wrong way to do it. And I've not come across where you've stood in that conversation and gone, okay, I probably should hold this. I need to step [00:18:00] in. Great leaders come to the front. So you see in those conversations that you'll see the great leaders share really good experiences and really listen and encourage people to contribute.

So yeah, I just get people in a room. I know it sounds really simple and really bonkers. Pick a topic, , shape the session in whatever way of a start, middle and end, and then get people talking. Like a little bit like this . 

[00:18:25] Aaron: I love it. , we're big proponents at raise the bar of that too.

And we've, we always had people breaking out into breakout rooms and we're big on the practice and having conversations about it and exploring the concepts yourselves and Right. Go and talk about it. What's your experience with it? Or go do it and then talk about your experience with it.

And we even leaned in even more and said, Hey, we're gonna do practice labs. Where it's , not only. We did the main topics, but now we're just going to meet without any topic. 

[00:18:50] Tom Bromwich: Yeah, I love that. 

[00:18:51] Aaron: Just talk about it and do it. And I love how, like what I wrote down as you were sharing, this is you're allowing the learning to unfold [00:19:00] without, as someone who might be listening to this Oh, Tom, hasn't given me the steps.

What am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to get my people to there? And what you're sharing is get them in the room. Allow it to unfold, allow them to learn, because even if you do have 20 steps, they're not going to adopt them in the way that you want them to adopt. 

They're going to figure it out themselves. 

[00:19:20] Tom Bromwich: Yeah. You might have a key message that you want to convey. You might have that in your mind. Actually, I really need them to really get this because maybe you maybe have got a problem. Maybe there is a, there's, there is something you're trying to resolve, whether it is poor communication or it's planning or whatever it may be.

So you can, if you really need to, I'd say shape it. You could start the conversation in that direction and it's going to continue in that way. But yeah, I'm with you, get people talking. Especially when you've got people are varying from all walks of life, from your organization, people share some awesome stuff and you'll learn so much yourself as well.

You're like, Oh, I didn't, that's probably should start doing that. That's a really great idea. And then I would always finish on, yeah what are we going to do differently? So something to take away, something [00:20:00] tangible, . And the more you do it, I've found is the more trust that gets built.

So the first couple of sessions you might run, people get a bit like, yeah, what is this, why are we just having a conversation and where's this going? And sometimes it can get quite, yeah, opening people aren't willing too much to share too much, but once they get into a couple of those sessions and they can see the power of it The sessions go from strength to strength and the bonds it builds across teams as well.

[00:20:22] Aaron: It's yeah, that's like the secondary benefit is like the cross cultural collaboration. It's not even the primary goal, right? Yeah. As we're talking about this, building authentic leadership. And I think there's something you said in here, which is incredibly powerful, which is this idea that. Hey, yeah, we have a direction.

We have a focus or we like, L and D professionals all the time and chief people officers. I talked to all time, . And they have like this laundry list of things that they need to improve based on the engagement survey, based on , their company reports based on the metrics based on the team.

And. Like all that can be true, you can guide the direction there. But what I didn't hear is guide the direction there and then make sure they all take away these five points. It's you guide them one [00:21:00] direction because people, you're not going to accomplish all 50 things you want to accomplish, especially if you're pushing it.

But what we've seen in the same realm is if you pick one thing Yeah. And focus the conversation on that, you're going to get so much more richness out of it. I just, I love the simplicity. And for people who are listening, like there is power in simplicity. It's hard to be simple. It's hard to do your job, which has had a people development at a growing company and say, you know what, we're just going to have people have conversations.

[00:21:28] Tom Bromwich: Yeah. And sometimes like an L and D, like it feels a bit of a con you go all I'm doing is starting a conversation, but I've been, there's a couple of people I've worked with previously and just absolute artists. Just, you just go, this is, they make it look so easy and yes they've got like a vision of how they want to run in it.

 , they're very prepared, very planned, but as you go into that room, it is literally a conversation. And it'll be. Guided here or there And be simple. Yeah. I like simple. Don't overcomplicate it. 

[00:21:57] Aaron: This is, I don't [00:22:00] want to add any more to this because this is at the core of what we see a lot of challenges within organizations, within teams.

Developing people as we overcomplicate it. And I just, I love the simplicity of the message of sharing the simplicity of finding your authentic self and helping others do it by allowing them to learn from one another and not pushing a, a tenfold agenda, having a couple of core key themes and ideas.

So this has just been tremendous. And I, there's like a lot of gold nuggets in this. So thank you. for bringing yourself and your vulnerability and sharing your stories and lessons learned because that's how people learn. 

[00:22:35] Tom Bromwich: Yeah. Thank you very much. Yeah. And if you, if your listeners do want to reach out, I'm sure they're about to find my LinkedIn and , try and solve problems together and maybe I've got a lot of problems that they can help me with.

[00:22:45] Aaron: I love it. We'll put your we'll put your LinkedIn in the show notes. This was just awesome. Thank you, Tom. 

[00:22:49] Tom Bromwich: No. Yeah, no, I really appreciate it.


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