Tim Schokking on why you should be the one cleaning up the room at the end of the evening

Timothy Schokking is an executive coach and consultant who's experience and expertise spans across executing high profile product launches, managing key quality assurance initiatives and providing strategic insights to senior leadership audiences at a organizations like Lululemon and General Motors . He is an adept operations leader with a passion for helping others achieve their goals through coaching and breaking through personal barriers. Tim is a graduate of York University (Economics and Business), McMaster University (MBA) and currently resides in Vancouver, British Columbia.        

Looking back ten years, where did you think you’d be by this point in your career? How did you get here?

Ten years ago, I was finishing up my undergrad in Economics and Business at York University and had the intention of going to law school. After writing the LSAT however and doing a lot of thinking around the true “why” I was interested in law (which was largely financially driven), I realized that it was not the right path for me. This led me to begin my career in event planning where I got exposure to many client-service and back-office functions within the company I was at. It was a great experience coming out of school and I’m still friends with the owners of the firm today. From there, I ended up working in enterprise software sales for a short period of time which eventually led me to start my MBA at McMaster University. Mac was the only school I applied to because of its co-op program. I ended up having a few invaluable co-op terms specifically, one at the GM assembly plant in Oshawa. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. Coming out of my MBA, I wanted to get into HR strategy and was viscerally drawn to the culture at Lululemon. When all was said and done, I had applied to three different roles there and was eventually hired into a position in Quality during a time when the organization was struggling through major quality issues. Right off the bat, I got to learn a lot about crisis management.

What were some of the most important business lessons you have had to learn the hard way so far? How have they contributed to your current success?

Learning to be vulnerable was one of the most important lessons for me. I experienced it while at GM and experienced it at Lululemon almost ten-fold. It’s very interesting to see the change in people and their relationship to you when you are willing to be vulnerable. Showing vulnerability is not a weakness as many would think, it’s actually a strength. Putting your guard up does a lot to repel people. When you are in a situation and you don’t know what you are doing, you shouldn’t pretend that you do. Instead, admit that you need help and ask for it. By doing so, you’ll find that you can connect much easier with people and they are more likely to support you. From my experience, people genuinely want to help and being vulnerable is a great way to connect more effectively with people.

You do a lot of coaching in addition to your day job. What are some of the common things that hold people back from getting to where they want to go?

To be honest, it’s themselves. People get in their own way. They overthink, over analyze and come from a place of fear. Then the question becomes a lot about “what if?” and that’s not helpful. The “what if” question is great when you are building models and looking at things theoretically. In the real world however, there are thousands of iterations of what could potentially happen and if you aren’t creating action then you are stagnant by definition. I have the “why not” policy that I give to everyone I coach. This policy is about asking yourself “why not” with respect to doing something and if you don’t have a compelling answer within the first few seconds, you should probably do it. Not to say that there aren’t repercussions to every action, but most of the time, the worst thing that will happen is that you end up where you started off in the first place.

What does leadership look like to you and what is the most exciting leadership opportunity for the next generation to make a real impact in today’s organizations?

To me, great leaders have impeccable integrity. I have always been drawn to leaders who I can trust, who will stand up for me, who will challenge me, and who will let me fail while ensuring that I come out ok at the end of it. They bring an element of safety. These are the leaders who I continue to keep in touch with and whom I aspire to become one day.

While I was at GM, I got to work with some really great leaders who showed me the importance of being firm, fair and consistent. I wouldn’t say that they were necessarily well liked, but they were well respected and were clear about expectations.

When looking to make an impact, I’d tell others to search out what inspires you and make it your own. Resist the urge to imitate someone else. You are less likely to be successful if you are not authentic. Like I’ve mentioned, be vulnerable. Just because one is a leader doesn’t mean that they have all of the answers. Remember that you can’t do it all yourself and that you have to make people want to work for you.

You’ve held a lot of roles in a short period of time. What advice would you give to someone to become more adaptable and add value to new situations quickly?

Don’t worry about how you look at the start, ask tons of questions and genuinely listen. Approach every situation from a place of curiosity and not judgment. I once read something great that said, “I don’t want to be the expert because then I can’t learn”. The lens of a being an expert anchors you to thinking that you don’t need to know something. That’s when you stop growing. Being adaptable ultimately comes by giving up rigidity. If you think about trying to catch a ball, you can’t do it by just stopping the ball’s force. You need to cushion the ball and flow with it. If you put up hard walls to something, stuff will just bounce off.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to those new to the workforce to help them get ahead of the game in today’s marketplace?  

It’s important to reach out and talk to other people about the things that they are doing and learn from their experiences. Continue to ask really good questions because the learning doesn’t stop once you come out of school.

Most importantly however, there is a big element around modesty, especially in our generation. There is a fine line between being confident and being cocky and I’ve always been of the belief that there isn’t a type of work that is above anyone. You should have no problem with being the guy who is happy to tidy up the room at the end of the night. If you come into any situation with a chip on your shoulder it will not end up well. Working in a service industry like culinary or retail adds a lot of valuable lessons and experiences. I strongly recommend that everyone takes the time to do that at some point in their career.

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Aubrey Chapnick