Thomas Lebor

It was a huge pleasure speaking with you Tom. My esteemed business partner and friend. There is no-one on this Earth I’d rather travel this road with! After a rocky few years back at the beginning of our relationship we have gone on to forge a formidable synergy. Playing to our complimentary personalities and strengths there is no doubt you see and bring out the best in me like no other person. Deep down we have always shared the same values; we love helping and leading people; we care about social justice and sense of community; and above all else we know we are equally as vulnerable and have the same capacity to fail as the next person.


What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? 

There are two books which I’ve given out several times. Both had a significant impact on my life, and both were introduced to me by our business mentor, Paul Brown, who my business partner, Mark Nesbitt, and I were lucky enough to come across early on in our career:

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey is a book that can, if you truly engage with it, teach you how to lead yourself, and ultimately others, in achieving your life/business goals with integrity. 

Good to Great became our business bible. It compares successful companies with mediocre ones, highlighting the things they do differently. 

There were so many ‘light bulb’ moments as I read it, with the somewhat painful recognition that at the time, we ran a very mediocre company. It was an incredible catalyst to change, and that, along with a mentor that could translate the wisdom contained within it into practical principles, completely transformed the companies we ran.


What purchase of £100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)? (Brand and model, where you found it?)

The first of the 7 habits, reminds us that we have the power to change the way we react to outside influence – our habitual responses to the things that happen to us. But changing habits isn’t easy as you need to notice in the moment what your mode of behavior is, in order to alter it.

As we went through the process of working out how we can help others achieve this: reading literature on the subject, brainstorming, testing ideas on ourselves. it suddenly came to us that simply wearing a wrist band that we would notice throughout the day, helping us watch ourselves from the outside, might do the job. It cost me just 50p and is actually changing my life!


How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?

As discussed earlier, the failure to turn our intention into a reality in the early days of UrbanLeaf, has been my ‘favorite failure’ (so far), which also set us up for later success. If we hadn’t been so bad, I don’t think we would have been so ready to embrace change and have the humility to recognise how much we had to learn. It also acted as a point of comparison with what we went on to create. It was that early failure that led to the next 15 years of success.


If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it —metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions — what would it say and why? 

Whether we like it or not, or if we even realise it or not, we are all spending all of our time avoiding suffering and striving to be happy. Recognising that, then seeking out and acting on the wisdom(s) that makes that possible, is the only worthwhile thing we can spend our time doing. 


What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? 

I’m going to sound like a stuck record, but, paying for and spending time with a business mentor/coach. Everything I have learnt and experienced around achieving success in life and business I can trace back to his influence, including the incredible synergy that Mark and I have.


What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?

Ever since I was a child, I found the sound of a washing machine incredibly relaxing. Even now I’ll lay down on the floor next to it and let my mind wander. I could lay there for hours, although I rarely give myself the license to (bathroom fans are pretty good too).


In the last five years, what new belief, behaviour, or habit has most improved your life?

For a large part of my life, I had a phobia of aggression. I would freeze up in physically confrontational situations.

I’ve always been committed to not letting fear control me, so I took up boxing and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (this journey actually began 15 years ago, not 5). It was terrifying at first, a baptism of fire, but a few years in I had overcome that fear. Now I do them for pleasure and they keep me fit too.

It wasn’t just the liberation from the specific fear that has improved my life, but the recognition that I can change even the most ingrained things about myself if I commit to it.


What advice would you give to a smart, driven student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?” 

I have two pieces of advice:

  1. Get a job in a fast-growing company, in a fast-growing industry, in a field that you care about. The opportunities and the speed of advancement will be unlike anywhere else.
  2. As a society we are obsessed with the idea that natural talent is what generates success. It’s just a story! Actually, excellence is a function of effort; talent is a small part of the puzzle. If you want to be good at anything, set clear goals then approach them with humility, courage and discipline. Find a mentor/coach to train you and then practise. A lot. It will set you apart, as most people don’t do any of that.


What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

Hang on to a talented person with a bad attitude; When you start to compromise it’s a slippery slope to mediocrity. If you want to run a great company you have to have great people. Great in every way; great talent and great skills and great character.


What frustrates you the most about your industry and the way companies are run in it?

This is something that I think is endemic in most of the business world. Compromising quality for growth; It’s very hard to find great people. Most companies chase growth and in order to do so compromise on the quality of their people, building a house of cards. It takes a lot of integrity and discipline not to chase short term profits.


In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to (distractions, invitations, etc.)? What new realisations and/or approaches helped? Any other tips?

I chose a job for myself that allowed the following to work: I’ve worked from home for 12 years, away from busy offices and distractions.. I have a policy, that I communicate clearly, of having my phone on silent. I also keep it away from my desk and I don’t keep my email open. 

If someone needs something from me, they can email me. If someone needs me urgently, they can text me or leave a voicemail. I’ll check each in due course and decide on the importance/urgency myself.


What does a balanced life look like to you? Has a work or a project you have been focused on caused you to neglect other areas of your life?

I have a number of personal needs that have to be met and a number of roles that I am responsible for. In order to live a fulfilled life, I have to make sure that I don’t neglect any of those, or inevitably it leads to crises of one kind or another.

When we first started out in business, I was 24 and didn’t understand this. I put a lot of time and focus into work and for the first time in my adult life, I stopped exercising, got unfit very quickly and stayed so for several years. I was lucky enough to gain the wisdom to change that before I got to an age where I couldn’t get away with it. I’m 45 now and diet and exercise are a priority.


When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do?

If I lose focus temporarily, I go for a short (5 min) walk. I find that resets my brain. I also do that if I need to switch between two very different tasks; creativity and admin for example.

If I feel emotionally overwhelmed, I tend to talk through my problems with my wife, my business partner or a good friend. If all that fails, a good night’s sleep usually does the job.


What does leadership mean to you?

A leader needs to make sure the travel is in the right direction, that the mission is the right one. 

Then, they are a servant to that mission, to defined principles and values and to the people that are working to achieve that mission. 

It’s a paradoxical mix of great drive and great humility.


Which people have most inspired you in your life and why?

Our business mentor, Paul Brown, who taught us that a leader’s values aren’t in conflict with the success of a business, but are in fact the cornerstones of it, and then how to make that a practical reality. 

My business partner, Mark Nesbitt, who has been with me every step of the journey, whose integrity, positivity, wisdom, loyalty and friendship have dragged me through some very tough times. He truly embodies the abundance mentality and his shining light is there for all to see.

My wife, Anna, whose uncompromising nature and unflinching capacity to do and say what she believes is right, drove our success during UrbanLeaf’s transition from mediocrity, and keeps me honest with myself. Also, her love and respect for me, causes me to strive to actually be that person she mistakenly thinks she sees. 

My daughter whose presence in the world inspired me to want to build community and whose imagination, and joyful and playful nature, reminds me daily of the pleasure to be gleaned from life.


What do the words principles and values mean to you?

Principles are natural rules or laws that are permanent, unchanging, and universal in nature. Because of this they can be applied in many different contexts. When you need guidance or wisdom to solve any given problem, you can check against a principle to see if your plan is in harmony with it or clashes against it. Having clear principles means your decisions become coherent with the whole, instead of being dealt with in isolation.

Values are internal and subjective, one’s judgment of what is important in life. They are ways of being and behaving in the world that a person considers to be correct.


Values should govern your behaviour. Principles govern the consequences of your behaviour. 

If you live in harmony with your values, you achieve self-respect.

If you live in harmony with correct principles, you will achieve your aims. 

If your values are in harmony with correct principles, you can achieve both simultaneously.


If you had a forum to speak to 50 leaders, what question would you pose to them, to get them thinking about and being better leaders?

Are the values your company claims to live by just words on a wall? Does your behaviour and those of your managers embody those values? Do your systems and processes encourage people to act in accordance with them? Do your people even know what they are?


What one thing could you do that you aren’t doing now, that if you did on a regular basis, would make a tremendous positive difference in your personal life?  What one thing in your business or professional life would bring similar results?

Getting clarity on some of my lifelong goals – what I really want to achieve in all areas of my life. I have always had a good understanding of my values and my 20-year journey in business has taught me a great many useful principles that I can apply to fulfill my aims, but without clear goals it’s harder to see the steps I need take to live a fulfilled life.


Have you ever engaged with self-help, mentoring or coaching? If so, how?

As many of the answers I have already given show, I have engaged with all of them a great deal and have benefited hugely from doing so.

It has often struck me that people have a tendency only to ask for help only when something is badly wrong; to resolve a problem. But even when we’re ok, in fact even when we’re good, we can all be better. We would have a healthier society if it was culturally normal to get counselling when we didn’t “need” it, or mentorship for things we were already good at, simply to get better still.

It’s a sign of strength to ask for help. People with little internal security can’t do it. It makes them too vulnerable. They feel it makes them appear soft and weak.  But asking for help should be celebrated. We should all do it more.


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Topic: Insights