Several nights ago, I attended a dedication ceremony for a newly-renovated elementary school in Stafford County. As I was leaving the building, I saw my former boss standing in the hallway. This man was my first “real” boss…in my first “real” job (and I hadn’t seen him in more than 20 years). I still wonder why an experienced branch head for the Navy took a chance on hiring a fresh-out-of-college, liberal arts major to manage a classified engineering library. But am I glad he did–Tom Kimbrell was the best boss I ever had.
While I have been fortunate to work for many wonderful people over the years, Tom Kimbrell was different. Tom taught me about good leadership by modeling hard work, honesty, relationship-building, and passionate commitment each and every day. He is the type of leader that his team would do anything for. He is the type of leader that you never forget. He is the type of leader you want to be.
So, what is it about this man that makes him so memorable? Why do I still to this day, hold Tom Kimbrell up as the measure of what a good leader should be?
First, Tom is the hardest worker I know. He zipped around the office moving at a rate of speed that would have him pulled over in most residential neighborhoods. Yet, he never asked anyone to work harder than he did. And, truth be told, he made me want to go the extra mile for him.
With Tom, you always knew where you stood. If you fell short of the mark, he helped you reach it; and if you were successful, his words and actions let you know you were doing a good job. At one point Tom told me that “The reward for good work is more work.” After that, I knew that when he was piling it on, he was proud of the job I was doing.
Personal relationships were Tom’s forte. Even after 20 years, Tom remembered very specific details about my life. He had clearly followed my career and was interested in how my husband and children were doing (keep in mind, I was unmarried when he hired me, and had no children when I left the government). Tom cared about his people, and they, in turn, cared for him. He used his skill at personal relationship-building to assemble teams that worked together collegially and effectively.
Finally, Tom’s passion for his work was contagious. To be honest, I still know almost nothing about the radar systems in-place on a fleet of AEGIS cruisers (I was, after all, a philosophy major); Tom helped me to understand that the classified specifications and documents that I maintained in the library kept the sailors on those ships safe. Tom’s desire to always do the right thing and his true commitment to his work helped me understand that I had an important role as a member of his team.
Tom is retired now. He spends his days making furniture, assisting his wife with her real estate business, and playing with his grandchildren. It’s wonderful to see him enjoying this time of his life. He deserves it. I have to admit, I miss the days of running when he bellowed for me and watching him lead teams of engineers at times of national crisis, going 99 miles per hour. He was something to watch. He was someone to learn from.