Landscape Leader: John Gibson


John Gibson, president of Swingle, has been a part of the green industry for close to 30 years. He has held many leadership positions during his career. He recognizes that, at the end of the day, the manager of a team is ultimately responsible for failures, while the team is responsible for successes. Find out why he believes making mistakes is an integral part of becoming a good leader.

How would you describe your style of leadership and why does this work for you?

My vision develops with the input of the team. I don’t see “no” as an option. I see many “right” answers. I see the glass three-quarters full. I can motivate you off of a cliff, but I purposely solicit input to stop me from making a really bad decision. I will challenge you to achieve the things you don’t believe can be achieved. I support making mistakes as part of the learning process; I don’t want you to fail, but I want you to understand the difficulty of certain decisions. I want the individual to feel important and the team to be recognized. At the end of the day, as the leader, I am ultimately responsible for our failures – our team is responsible for the success. I accept my mistakes/failures and put them in the past as I am a work in progress. Why does that work for me? Early in my career, I was so goal-oriented that I would achieve a goal, file it and look for the next mountain to climb. A gentleman I work with and admire challenged me to recognize that “success is not a destination, it is a journey.” I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, and I know everything I experience will help me get there.

Who are your leadership role models and why?

First, Tom Garber, my first employer in the industry. He taught me about being a professional in what was not considered a professional industry and how to participate in leadership of a volunteer organization to develop my style. Next, Tom Tolkacz, CEO/owner of Swingle, my mentor for the majority of my career. He gave me the encouragement/flexibility to be involved in many leadership opportunities and evolve in my personal and professional life. Theodore Roosevelt taught me leadership in protecting natural resources because of the vision he had to protect the open spaces that I so enjoy to spend my personal time in. It is my desire to help protect and conserve open spaces for generations to follow.

What have you done in a leadership capacity that you are most proud of and why?

I am most proud of my development as a leader. I can see how my style has changed and how it continues to develop.

If you were to give young leaders one piece of advice, what would that be?

Be open to adapting your style to the situation. There are hundreds, if not thousands of leadership styles and corresponding nuances to how people are successful leaders. Be self-aware of your strengths and weaknesses. Adapt by using your strengths and testing your ability to develop your weaknesses to your advantage.

What leadership words or quotes inspire you most and why?

Theodore Roosevelt: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” I believe we are most successful in creating the future by making the best decisions today.

In a leadership capacity, where do you see yourself in five years?

I am approaching 50 years old and over 30 years in the industry at that point. In five years, I will be a more educated and experienced leader. I trust I will continue to lead an organization toward a vision of value, importance and relevance in the field, as well as take a position of leadership in the conservation of open spaces and the animals (including humans) that enjoy them.