T.J. Johnson Case Study
Executive Coaching Key to Dramatic Career Success
This is an individual case study – a chronicle of how a high potential leader came to recognize important ways to change his leadership style, and was more successful as a result.
The Companies: Hill-Rom, Ventana Medical Systems, HTG Molecular Diagnostics, Inc.
Industry: Healthcare Manufacturing
"Without question, Topgrading has made my career and all the companies I’ve run more successful."
- TJ Johnson, Executive Chairman, HTG Molecular Diagnostics
Ignoring Weaker Points, Focusing on Strengths
“I believe that one of the biggest barriers to my executive success was blind spots – not fully recognizing my weaker points; weaker points that would have slowed my career progress.” - TJ Johnson
An all-too common leadership development view is that people don’t overcome weaker points, so “development” should be to coach people to lean more into their strengths. While people do get promoted because of their strengths, more commonly they are not promoted as a result of their weaker points.
Out of the hundreds of senior executives coached by Topgrading Professionals, very few had managers or external coaches who were able to tell them the hard truths they needed to hear. The Topgrading coaching process of course identifies a leader’s strengths, but also their blind spots – weaker points that the manager does not view as serious but could seriously affect their ability to lead and the success of their career.
Coaching For Success
TJ Johnson was General Manager of a division of Hillenbrand when he was interviewed by Brad Smart as part of a succession planning process at Hill-Rom. Smart concluded he was a “high pot,” sure to succeed running a big company one day. Johnson was promoted to VP Global Marketing at Hill-Rom, where he continued to be coached by Smart.
As part of the Topgrading coaching process, we get solid measures of how the manager's strengths and weaker points have led to successes and failures, and work with them to build a practical plan to both maximize strengths and overcome weaker points.
Johnson accepted the hard-hitting feedback and set forth a detailed plan on how to dramatically improve his leadership style. He states, “It has been a life-changer for me and a process that I value a great deal. I’m still working to improve my leadership skills; I have always had a relentless attitude of improvement. I now believe I channel that passion in a more effective way because of my Topgrading coaching. I was a little skeptical at the beginning but I’m a devoted believer in and a practitioner of Topgrading today.”
“I’ve taught all my managers the Topgrading methods. It’s packed my teams with A Players. In my current job, we have only 100 employees, all hired with Topgrading, and we're growing fast.”
- TJ Johnson
After Hill-Rom, Johnson took on an executive role at Ventana Medical Systems, and in 5 years built the company from a respectable $250 million market capitalization to $3.4 billion and sold the company.
Next, some venture capitalists persuaded Johnson to try a start-up – what is now HTG Molecular Diagnostics, a sophisticated molecular profiling company that identifies biomarkers for research. The company went public in 2015 and is just entering the commercial growth stage. Johnson used Topgrading to hire a team of A Players from Ventana and added new executives from across the industry. Firm in the philosophy that talent wins, Johnson and team continue to use Topgrading as the organization rapidly grows.
With this start-up taking off in sales and a solid team in place, Johnson promoted himself to Executive Chairman to restore some balance to his life. Johnson retains full authority for talent – hiring methods, succession planning, and performance management. The new CEO is happy to have such an experienced talent master retaining that responsibility.
Johnson could write a book on leadership, highlighting what he has learned and what he has done with that knowledge. At the risk of oversimplifying, he summarized his advice to leaders:
- Find a way to identify not just your strengths but your weaker points, your potential Achilles’ heels, your fatal flaws.
- Then create and implement a plan to fix them. Build in an honest way to measure your improvement.
- Hire high performers, not just good performers. Topgrading worked for me.