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The Modern Manager

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Tom Tonkin


181: How to Foster Self-Directed Learning with Tom Tonkin


Mamie Kanfer Stewart


November 30, 2021


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“Our thinking styles affect our collaboration with team members.” -Tom Tonkin

“Training can improve desire, resourcefulness, initiative, and persistence.” -Tom Tonkin

“Soft skills and hard skills require different teaching styles.” -Tom Tonkin

“You can’t build rapport by remembering what page 27 said.” -Tom Tonkin

“Soft skills require working with people, so the feedback should come from people.” -Tom Tonkin

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Episode 181: The Modern Manager

In the 181st episode of The Modern Manager, host Mamie Kanfer Stewart speaks with Dr. Tom Tonkin, CEO of The Conservatory Group. The Modern Manager helps listeners become rockstar bosses in today’s business environment, and Dr. Tom is a highly qualified information source for this topic. 

Contemporary companies value soft skills — character traits that showcase an individual’s relationships with others. Think communication, teamwork, and problem-solving abilities. The problem is, some managers treat all team members the same way. This shouldn’t be the case. 

Everyone has distinct learning styles, strengths, and weaknesses. The best way to get through to employees is to customize training strategies. 


In this podcast, you will learn:

  • The different parts of the brain associated with learning
  • Ideal ways to enhance soft skills and hard skills
  • The importance of practice in honing abilities

Good Question & Answer 1:

Mamie: Can you give us an example of a common soft skill that we typically approach differently than we should?

Dr. Tom: Yes, sure. As an executive coach and trainer, I never get calls from anybody that say, “Dr. Tom, I’m really having a hard time teaching people how to program software.” That type of thing just never shows up. 

Instead, people call me about soft skills like software sales, communication skills, or rapport building. But they expect the same results from hard skills through online classes, videos, or book courses. 

That’s just not how it works. You can’t learn everything about building rapport online, a book, or a module. You can’t sit in front of somebody and try to establish a connection by remembering what page 27 of an e-book said. If you keep pushing for hard-skill methods to learn soft skills, you’ll always wonder why they’re not working for you. 

Remember that coding learning models don’t work the same way rapport-building should because they use different parts of the brain. 

Good Question & Answer 2:

Mamie: I’m imagining now that as managers, we can’t tell people to improve their time management or communication skills by reading a book or finding an online class. So, how should we tell them to enhance these skills?

Dr. Tom: Let’s follow the same logic that I laid out. If hard skills deal with instruments, then devices should show you how to hone them. And if soft skills require working with people, then the feedback should come from other individuals. They’re the ones who should tell you whether you’re in the right or wrong instead of a robot, module, or grading system. 

So, if you want to help teams improve soft skills, role-playing will work. Take away psychological safety and comfort zones to achieve the best results. Change the context from time to time, like speaking to an angry client versus a satisfied one. 

When you role play and just exchange lines, you’re simply exchanging knowledge. But, if you roleplay and address difficult conversations, you help instill soft skills. Don’t be afraid to put employees in situations where they should speak to an audience or don’t know what to say. 

Take them off guard and encourage them to think of ways to manage various situations. These scenarios help them learn on the spot. Do these exercises over and over to improve soft skills. They’re scary and nerve-racking but don’t allow anyone to shy away from them. It’s how your team will learn the skills they need to thrive. 


Additional Topics Discussed:

  • The different types of managerial styles
  • How managers should interact with team members 
  • The four levels of direction and how bosses should manage each one

Host / Podcast Bio:

Mamie Kanfer Stewart hosts The Modern Manager podcast — a gold mine of valuable information for contemporary bosses. For only $5 a month, members can gain access to life-changing advice from the top talent from various industries. There’s an advanced option for those who want to join twice-per-month group coaching and Q&A calls with Mamie and other community members. 

Have you heard of Purell? Well, Mamie’s dad Joe Kanfer is the CEO of GOJO Industries, the inventor of the country’s top hand sanitizer brand. 

Growing up, she would hear the phrase have a productive day daily before her father left the house. This phrase stuck to her like glue and became a huge part of her character. 

Mamie has been an entrepreneur since age 12 and has never stopped. She now runs Meeteor, a training company that helps individuals and teams thrive at work. 

She has graced Forbes, Inc, Business Collective, and PCMag content with articles about productivity, ideal team cultures, and meeting best practices. She also sits on various non-profit boards and received the Lives of Commitment Award from Auburn Seminary in 2016. 

Guest Bio:

Dr. Tom Tonkin serves as CEO for The Conservatory Group — an umbrella company for The Executive Conservatory, The Business Conservatory, and The Sales Conservatory. With partner organizations, it helps convert high-touch needs into daily interactions with clients through subscription-based memberships. 

Dr. Tom received his Ph.D. from Regent University after completing his dissertation A Qualitative Study on the Similarities and Differences Between Authenticity and Sincerity From Leader’s Perspective.

He has since then received the International Academy of Business and Public Administration Disciples (IABPAD) Research Award and went on to become a trusted name in the leadership field. 


Resources and Links Mentioned in the Show:

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