Leaders contemplate what others need. Rich Bahr, CEO group chair for Vistage and founder of Threshold to New Life, unpacks how vulnerability and giving others grace can transform leadership for the better. Rich calls upon his vast experience as a CEO, pastor and leader to talk about race, homelessness, EOS, intentionality, and better listening practices.
From Success to Pursuing Significance
Rich doesn’t sleep in. Most days he wakes up at 3:45 a.m. so he can get downtown to serve breakfast to Minneapolis’ homeless population. Rich finds working with CEOs and the homeless have uncanny similarities. Both have taught him the value of pursuing significance and relationship, rather than just monetary success.
Rich says giving of his talents in the service of others has helped him gain more clarity about who he is. Before, his identity dominantly resided in his role as a CEO. However, working with the homeless has helped him reshape his self-conception in a more balanced and human way.
The lesson: it’s important for leaders to pursue and find significance beyond business success.
Lead With the Heart
Rich assumed his first big leadership role at 26. Since then, he’s learned that the path to good leadership is lined with genuine care for others and knowing how to listen.
[10:10] “Leadership… I think it’s a matter of the heart.”
When leaders contemplate the needs of others, that opens the door for your employees to become a network of partners rather than people you simply oversee.
Strong Leadership Practices
Rich’s extensive experience has gifted him many powerful leadership lessons. He highlights that good leaders exude:
- Selflessness in their work.
- Vulnerability. Sharing from the heart builds trust.
Rich advocates for treating others holistically. For example, when you hire someone, you hire them, their circumstances, family, friends, and everything that goes with them. Rich handles that fact with what he calls the 80-10-10 rule: He expects his employees to keep the factors in their lives balanced 80% of the time; they should come to him 10% of the time if they need grace to reestablish that balance; and the other 10% of the time he challenges them to step it up.
If your team trusts you and they’re high performers, they’ll give you that last 10%.
Rich also stresses the value of giving grace to others. Grace is not a loan, it’s a gift. Nothing builds relationships like the free gift of grace.
Rich challenges leaders to ask themselves two questions:
- What can I do to be the kind of leader that people want to follow?
- Who do I want to follow?
Answering both questions is key to gaining followers. Every leader needs followers.
Intentional, Prepared, and Listening
George Floyd was a friend of Rich’s and his death has had a significant impact on how he leads. Rich emphasizes that it’s important for leaders to be exposed to different ways of thinking. It’s up to leaders to build bridges with others who are different from them and to reach out to the less fortunate.
Rich recounts that many people in the homeless community frequently express sorrow at being consciously ignored and avoided. It hurts to be not looked at on purpose. Rich says this reaction is so common in passersby because people simply are not prepared to interact with the homeless.
[30:59] “A big part about being a leader is being intentional about things and not allowing life to just kind of happen to us.”
Be intentional about your response to every situation instead of looking the other way. People need to be seen.
Rich passes on invaluable advice to all leaders:
[38:02] “Learn to listen without forming a response in your head…Slow down and be willing to be uncomfortable with just a bit of white space between that person ending and you beginning.”
Listening well is a way to honor the other person. If you take a moment to pause before you respond, you will see the fruits.
Also Mentioned In This Episode:
Traction by Gino Wickman
How to Outsmart Your Own Unconscious Bias by Valerie Alexander