Dave Rothacker: Leading With Humanity Can Transform Your Company
Transformational leadership often comes down to basic principles of humanity and humility.
That was one of main messages stressed in the ServiceTitan webinar “How to Become a Transformational Leader,” featuring guest Dave Rothacker, who has studied and written about leadership for decades.
Rothacker, of the GoTime Success Group, emphasized that inspiration comes from who a leader is, not what he or she says.
“We teach what we know,” Rothacker said. “But we reproduce what we are.”
That statement was one of many post-it-on-the-bulletin-board remarks that came from the hour-long webinar, hosted by ServiceTitan’s Jackie Aubel. Rothacker said he was presenting even though he sees himself as “a card-carrying member of the introvert class.” He was willing to speak because leadership is not about the individual speaking.
“It’s about the people you are trying to help,” he said.
Rothacker is the writer of GoTime’s blog titled The Starship Freedom, which he describes as “an imaginary spacecraft designed to provoke, nurture and support a growth mindset.”
Among a series of quotes he posts is one from the book “Learning Leadership” that says “Exemplary leaders don’t impose their visions of the future on people; they awaken dreams …”
“Transformational leadership is when your actions inspire people to dream more, learn more, do more and become more,” he said, a definition he repeated often. “(It’s) when you influence people to think, speak and act in ways that make a positive difference in their lives and the lives of others.”
Leverage ideas from employees to foster growth
Rothacker was joined on the webinar by Trapper Barnes, owner of Infinity Texas Air in Forney, Texas, outside Dallas. Barnes said it’s vital to remember that employees have ideas and ways to get the job done that can be better than those of management.
He said it’s key to “take the lid off” so that new ideas can be shared among all employees. His company grew, he said, when he realized he was the lid who was holding people down.
“Sometimes we just have to get out of our own way and be that leader instead of that manager that is keeping people in a position and holding them from growth,” he said.
Barnes related much of his thinking to sports, because it’s his passion. He played baseball in college and recalled the influence of one of his coaches.
“He could be hard on you, he could drive you to where he wants you to go,” Barnes said. “But at the end of the day he cared about what was happening. Right?
“I had somebody tell me this – it brings us back into sports, but that’s my wheelhouse, I guess – that we want to win on the field, we want to win your mind and we want to win your heart.
“Then the coach turned around and said, ‘Let’s invert that. We need to win your heart, we can win your mind, and now we can win on the field if we can do all three of those things.
“It turns that into caring about people.”
Foster employees who are excited about work
The same applies to business. Barnes said that his goal is to have his employees wake up every day excited about the chance to go to work.
“I want my team to grow,” Barnes said. “I want them to be more successful than I am at the end of the day.”
Barnes doesn’t just talk the talk. He walks the walk. In 2018, Infinity was named One of the Best Contractors to Work For in the nation.
He’s come up with ideas like giving technicians Santa hats and awarding a $25 gift card to the tech who took the most selfies with customers. He even put a gym in his building for employee use, with a treadmill, elliptical and weights. He believes in giving his employees freedom to suggest better ways; that empowerment gives employees the freedom to fail, which spurs growth and a real camaraderie.
The aggregate attitude shows the combination of humility and motivation leaders need, Rothacker said, and creates an environment that promotes positive change, which is what transformation is all about.
Within a company that can mean listening to a new idea, encouraging employees to go beyond, and becoming part of the community. Even in small ways, each of those actions can lead to answering two of Rothacker’s key questions: Do you want to make a difference in the lives of others, and how badly do you want to do that?
Look to leaders who exhibit great traits
As examples of those who have shown that kind of leadership, Rothacker referred to Matt Michel of the Service Roundtable, whose motivational and informational talks are well-known in the trades. He also brought up Ara Mahdessian, who joined with Vahe Kuzoyan to turn their knowledge of technology into software that could help the trades by founding ServiceTitan, a cloud-based software solution for the trades.
“They wanted to improve the lives of folks like their fathers (both home service contractors) and enhance (people’s) businesses,” Rothacker said. He talked of speaking with Mahdessian on a Zoom call when Mahdessian shared an email.
“As he’s telling me about the success of this contractor, he’s getting emotional,” Rothacker said. “I don’t have much hair, but the hair on the back of my head started to spring up and I got goosebumps. Because there was no faking what Ara was doing.
“He was being real.”
Leadership filters down, not up, Rothacker said. Inner values determine our outward behavior. He pointed to two actions taken by Barnes at Infinity that develop culture in a company so that it is focused outward.
One was an effort by Barnes to honor his mother, a teacher who passed away when he was younger. Barnes had his company twice take part in fundraising efforts to buy school supplies for children. The first—“Burgers for Backpacks”—raised a little more than $1,000. The second, partnered with a friend of his who runs Sticky Ribz BBQ, became “BBQ and Backpacks” and raised $3,500.
“I get emotional about my community involvement because it means just that much to me,” Barnes said. “I think you said this earlier … it humanizes us. We’re human. We’re not a company. We live in the community. We work in the community.”
The second initiative was called “A Cause for Paws.’ Every month Infinity pays the adoption fee at a local dog shelter, then provides a “welcome home” package to the new owners – which includes a dog bed, leash, bowls, collar, food, treats and toys.
“Our team is wrapped around it,” Barnes said of the two initiatives. “Everybody wants to be involved in things like that.”
Combine humanity, humility and expectation
As Barnes spoke, Duke, his chocolate lab Duke was sitting in the office with him.
“If there’s a dog in that business, that tells me that company is more human than the next guy,” Rothacker said. “I’ve been studying that for over 30 years.”
Rothacker said hearing Barnes talk about his work and culture tells him what he needs to know about his leadership. He stressed that the combined principles of humanity, humility and expectation on the job can help bring out the best in everyone, which is always what’s best for the company.
“If you really want to make a difference in another person’s life,” Rothacker said, “you apply your heart and purpose, talk about it and paint that picture. And that’s really the vision.”
“You either build the culture you want or the culture is going to build itself,” Barnes said. “So you figure out what you want in your culture and your team.”
As the webinar wound down, Barnes made the clear point: “Culture is in everything.”
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