One of the best parts of owning your own company is creating your own job description. Just ask Tim Hebert, CEO of Atrion, a company that specializes in providing customized technology solutions to businesses from Virginia to Canada.
Hebert started out as a stereotypical computer geek. “I was more of a technologist first,” he says. “Like a lot of computer nerds, I was not a person that spent a lot of time really thinking about the people side of things. I was really learning more about technology and about programming languages and computers in general.”
“If I wanted to be a better leader, it started with me really understanding who I was and what made me do the things I did.”
That all changed when Hebert joined the United States Air Force at seventeen years old.
“As I made that transition to technology and continuing my college education, as well as being in the military, one thing that happened for me is that I became a technical instructor,” he says. “I taught technology to new recruits coming into the military, and in doing that I really developed a passion for working with people, helping them, mentoring, coaching, educating them, and empowering them. I became quite good at it.” This was when Hebert realized he was happiest working with technology and people simultaneously.
“I was dealing with technology every day,” Hebert says. “But I had the pleasure of working with people for eight hours a day and helping them make their transitions to technology careers, so that was really rewarding.”
Once he left the military, Hebert found himself working in more traditional technology roles. “My first couple of jobs, I was a technologist and moved away from working with people for a while. I spent a year programming—didn’t really spend a lot of time with clients or other people in the organization—and I realized I didn’t enjoy doing that.”
Rather than accept his fate in the traditional technological role, Hebert set out to create a job that would cater to his love of technology—and his love of helping people. Once he knew that he wanted to be a leader, he immediately set out to become one.
“Early in my career, I started really looking at myself and realized, if I wanted to be a better leader, it started with me really understanding who I was and what made me do the things I did,” Hebert says. “So, I developed the model where I look at three aspects of my life.”
Those three aspects were purpose, values, and his own strengths and weaknesses. He realized that inspiring people to become their best came with a sense of purpose and aligned with his core values. From there, his focus shifted to building on that core purpose.
As far as his own process of growing into an experienced and committed leader, Hebert says he had to teach himself most of what he now knows.
“Unfortunately, in our world today, there are not a lot of good places you go to learn about leadership,” he says. “We don’t teach it in our school systems, and most colleges are just starting to have very specific leadership programs.” During his own time as a student, Hebert found little available guidance when it came to learning how to lead. So, he developed his own personal education program.
“I started by watching people I admire,” he says. “I read literally hundreds of books on leadership. I started developing my own models about leadership, and one of the things that really struck me as something that was not talked about in a lot of books, or even in a lot of groups, is that everyone is a leader.”
Hebert likens the call to leadership to the drive to have kids. “Most people, when they think about being parents for the first time, they don’t think of themselves as a leader—they think of themselves as a parent. But really, parenting is nothing more than a leadership role,” he explains. “I have to take a young child from being completely dependent to being completely interdependent. I have to challenge them and at times push them to do better. I have to empower them and make them feel good about themselves, and I also have to encourage them, and I do that through appreciation and gratitude and recognition for what they do. Those are all skills that a leader must posses.”
Another important lesson Hebert—an active adventurer who dabbles in scuba diving, marathon running, and mountain climbing—has learned from inside and outside his work life has to do with discipline and goals.
“You can’t just get off the couch and go do these things and enjoy the experience,” he says. “You have to set goals. You have to be able to execute against those goals. For me, it’s about the discipline you create to be able to accomplish these goals in life. What am I going to do every day that’s going to push me one step closer to accomplishing my goals at the end of the day?”