AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Serving as Augusta’s mayor for ten years, Deke Copenhaver knows something about leadership. Now with a best selling book – The Changemaker: The Art of Building Better Leaders – Deke is stepping into a new venture with a podcast. Now live, Leadership is a Team Sport, the podcast combines Deke’s leadership knowledge with the experience of other leaders. Always a friend to The Means Report, he stopped by to fill us in on what we can expect on the podcast and share some insight on what we can learn from current events.

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Brad Means: Deke thanks for coming back to the Means Report.

Deke Copenhaver: Thank you so much for having me. I’ve missed you guys.

Brad Means: Listen we’ve missed you. I saw Saturday Night Live the other night and they had this guy who said he was like a five or six time host of SNL. I feel like that’s the way it is with you as a guest. You’re like most frequent guest.

Deke Copenhaver: Yeah, and so it’s very cool to be back.

Brad Means: It’s good to have you. We used to talk about all of the activities when you were the mayor of Augusta, Georgia for 10 years. Do you miss being the mayor?

Deke Copenhaver: In some ways I do. I miss being able to have an impact daily on the community we love, but with regards to the politics, that part of it, no, I don’t particularly miss that. And it seems like it’s almost gotten worse since I left.

Brad Means: What do you mean by that? Do you think that more people don’t get along with each other?

Deke Copenhaver: It just from the outside looking in, it just looks like it’s every man for himself. And there’s not a there’s not a real concrete direction. That’s the way it looks to me, but I could be, I’m not looking too much.

Brad Means: Do you mean every man for himself or do you mean every man or woman for their district?

Deke Copenhaver: That’s probably a better assessment, but that’s, and I’ll tell you, Brad, I know we weren’t gonna talk politics, but I told somebody the other day, the best change that our local government can make in my opinion, is make every commissioner run it large to where there’s accountability to the city as a whole and not just to a district.

Brad Means: And I do want to touch on some things that are going on one in our town. I don’t want to ignore the vast experience you have in that arena. So I do wanna sort of tap into it before we talk about what’s going on otherwise. What about the redistricting situation? Do you like the way that played out and just for our viewers, opponents of the way the new district maps came out, say that Summerville and the hill area got what it wanted. And most of it stayed within district three While other parts got pushed off to district five, if I’m not mistaken, do you think it was a fair shake for everybody?

Deke Copenhaver: I don’t know. It’s redistricting is always gonna be controversial and nobody’s gonna get everything that they want. And I can see, changing it based on at the state level versus what was recommended at the local level is gonna ruffle some feathers and it did. So I’m not shocked.

Brad Means: Would you have handled the situation any differently if you were mayor, would you have tried to get in there and work with the commissioners involved and the residents involved and come up with a better solution?

Deke Copenhaver: I would’ve I think that’s part of leadership and I during my time in office, I was always very hands on. It’s difficult to build consensus, but that’s the thing that I was able to do with the commission to make things, was it takes a lot of work to build consensus, but given our structure of government, that’s what you gotta do.

Brad Means: Just from our three or four minutes that we’ve been together so far. It feels like you still have a strong passion for your town and the way it’s run.

Deke Copenhaver: Yeah.

Brad Means: You ever think you’ll jump back in the political arena.

Deke Copenhaver: Brad, I’ll tell you to do it at 37 years old versus 54 years old. And it puts your family through a lot. And so I don’t, I had time to devote to building that consensus, to building trusting relationships with the commissioners, but that was a much younger me. And so I just feel like I’m called on the efforts that I’m doing now, a podcast, everything else I’m not geofenced to Augusta. So it’s sort of taking lessons learned during that time and helping people inside and outside the area.

Brad Means: Last question about that. Does the current mayor ever reach out to you for advice?

Deke Copenhaver: We talked from time to time. Not that often.

Brad Means: Last time you were here, we talked about your book, “the Change Maker.” And congratulations, once again, on “the Change Maker.”

Deke Copenhaver: I appreciate that.

Brad Means: Has it opened new doors for you and has it led to some of the other opportunities that we’ll talk about today?

Deke Copenhaver: It really has. It’s been pretty amazing. It went to number one, two times in three categories on Amazon. So it’s just, I outreach from people around the world. I had a lady from Australia reach out to me during the bushfires to say that she was using it as sort of a handbook on how to deal with situations. I’ve had kids from Spain, people from Africa. And so I really, I do think that that’s what ended up leading me to do the podcast, ’cause I just, I love developing good content.

Brad Means: Let’s talk about the podcast leadership as a team sport. Is it just an extension of your book? Is it an opportunity to impart more leadership skills.

Deke Copenhaver: To a large degree it is. And it’s funny. So a year ago, this coming up June, I started my first podcast, “the Change Maker.” and that was with the guys from Augusta podcast, which are now get up production, David and Chris. Awesome guys.

Brad Means: Great guys.

Deke Copenhaver: But it was basically a proof of concept. I wanted to develop strong enough content to where somebody could look at it and say, “That’s what they do.” So I’ve had Fuze on, Bob Crawford. The basis from the Avett Brothers was a guest. So a lady from Florida, Wendy Stevens who owns a company called Gorilla Marketing, found my podcast, my first podcast. She looks for podcast that she feels like she can monetize. So the goal is that in eight weeks, once it goes live, you get to new and noteworthy on Apple, on iTunes. Then you have a marketable commodity that you can basically go out nationwide and sell to get sponsorships. So that’s what this new one is about, but it is about leadership. And I’m like leadership with integrity, positivity, building cultures that people want to be a part of that people want to work there and that people want to buy your product. That’s what I do. And that’s what the podcast is about.

Brad Means: So the success of a podcast is based not only on ad sales that you mentioned, but subscriptions, right?

Deke Copenhaver: Yes.

Brad Means: So your goal is to get as many people across the, around the world as possible just-

Deke Copenhaver: Around the world.

Brad Means: What age group might enjoy your podcasts?

Deke Copenhaver: It’s for every age group, because I think everybody leadership and learning how to be a good leader is applicable to people of all age ranges. So I’m hopeful that the younger generation, I know that they’re listened to at the book really struck a chord with them, but our world is desperate for good leadership right now. I will give a shout out, Zelensky and the Ukraine. I’m like inspirational leadership. Look at what that guy is doing for his country. And he’s literally laying down his life, but I’m like, that’s the greatest example from a governmental perspective of good team leadership that I’ve seen in my lifetime.

Brad Means: It sure is incredible to watch. So do you think all leaders should be like that to be willing to give their all for the team?

Deke Copenhaver: I do, I honestly do. And I did two podcasts this week that haven’t air yet, but one on Zelensky leadership, inspirational he’s basically, I think the rest of the world is going with stronger sanctions that they would’ve mainly because of him. And they’re seeing the impact that he’s having, but then authoritarian leadership, which is Putin, which in the corporate world, in the business world, you can get results by being, having that dictatorial leadership is not sustainable though. And I don’t, as long as Putin is lasted, I think this is not gonna end well for him in the long run because his people don’t want to be there. And I think he, as a leader has insulated himself and he is outta touch.

Brad Means: So as the member of a team, if you’re looking up at a leader who’s willing to give their all like Zelensky does that motivate you to do your very best, more so than, and a bigger paycheck might.

Deke Copenhaver: It definitely does. And Brad, I’ll tell you, I speak do a lot of speaking engagements on building culture, ’cause in looking back on my time in office, that’s what we did with local government. Fred Russell, our former administrator and I, Karen Nixon, we were the internal management team. We had the backs of department heads, even if the elected body didn’t, they knew that. So they’d go over and above the call of duty to provide quality customer service. And they, we had buy-in from the city staff. And so it was, we really were able to build that culture in a local government. And I’m like, “Man, if you can build it” “in a local government, you can build it anywhere.” But part of that was I think me trying to be a positive, inspirational leader.

Brad Means: So you’re positive. You’re the leader. But what happens when you come into an environment, a culture that’s negative from day one, how do you get rid of that negative part of your office?

Deke Copenhaver: You rise above. I mean you have to rise above-

Brad Means: Do you dismiss the negative people and get rid of them?

Deke Copenhaver: No, not necessarily, but I think over time you basically say this is the program you need to get with the program. And I’ve often told people, I’m like, I there’s a space for people who wanna be negative and everything and you have to, I think it’s good to listen to ’em but I’m like, “I wanna be, I’m just trying to start a party” “where I want everybody to have a good time.” If you wanna be negative and just talk bad about each other, your business, your community, that’s fine. But go and do it with people that are like-minded with you.

Brad Means: So you’ve got the team together. You’re managing the negative personalities. You’re encouraging the positive ones. They’re all in sync. You’re down there in the trenches with them. But then it comes time to say hit certain metrics and sell things and be productive. Just like you’re doing with your podcast. How do you get the team to do that? Or does it just come naturally once you’ve got the culture going.

Deke Copenhaver: Once you’ve got a positive culture and I’ll give you two examples. ‘Cause I study this stuff, “the Bennett,” “the Hotel Bennett Charleston.” So Malise and I started going down there about two years ago. Even after the pandemic hit, they’ve had very little turnover from staff and I talked to Mike Bennett who developed it. I said, you’ve developed a culture here where people wanna work at the Bennett and your guests want to come stay because they love your stuff because they give genuine great service halls, shop house in Columbia, same thing, family owned business, Melissa and I have to take our dog for treatment for lymphoma up there regularly. They allow dogs at halls. And so they basically become their mascots. But I was talking to the manager and I said, have you guys really dealt with the labor shortage? She said, not as much as other restaurants, because we have good benefits packages, we pay our employees well. So they’re an employer of choice. So if you don’t develop these good cultures, when we’re looking at labor shortages, you’re just exacerbating the problem. And I think the churn and burn mentality is gone.

Brad Means: It’s funny, you mentioned halls. My youngest son is getting ready for his spring break, goes to school up in Greenville. He said, before I come home from spring break, can I take a few of my friends to halls? Could you choose maybe Chick-fil-A but it’s worth it.

Deke Copenhaver: We’ve we’ve met the family and they’re just good people. But you can tell. And I tell people, look at the culture of Chick-fil-A. No knock against McDonald’s, but Chick-fil-A is different than McDonald’s, but they offer upward mobility. You have so many people that started off on the counter that are now franchise owners. And it takes, it takes a leap of faith. And I tell people, I bet when Truett Cathy said, “I’m not gonna open on Sundays.” People were like, “You’re gonna lose the church crowd.’ “You’re gonna lose tons of money.’ But he stuck to his guns. He basically, that was what his plan was all along. And I’m like, I can buy into that because the leader is saying, no, I’m not gonna work our employees on Sunday because I have wrong faith.

Brad Means: Well, if you are a true servant leader, how can you ever have your vision carried out? In other words, don’t you, at least at some point as a leader have to say, this is what we’re gonna do. And this is what we’re gonna accomplish. Now I’ll come down and be a servant leader with you and I’ll work toward this goal, but don’t you at some point have to stand in front of the team and say, “You’re gonna do this.”

Deke Copenhaver: You really, you have to get buy-in on the mission. And it’s really important to express to your team members, why the mission is important and why it makes a difference in the world. And I think particularly the younger generation wanna work for businesses that are having some kind of with social impact businesses that give back to the community. So it’s you set the vision and the mission, but I think it’s, you have to be willing to listen to your employees and take their input because it is a team effort and it doesn’t just go one way. You’ve gotta be transparent with your employees. I tell people if you’re running a business as if you’re running a government, you try to hide something from your employees. It’s always gonna come out.

Brad Means: It is.

Deke Copenhaver: And if you have not read your team in on that, they’re gonna get blindsided. You’re gonna get blindsided and it’s gonna undercut your management, your leadership abilities.

Brad Means: Since “the Change Maker,” your book came out and probably before your next podcast, “Leadership is a Team Sport” comes out, something is going to change in our world. Something is going to change in the work environment. We saw what the pandemic did. Has that changed the way you teach leadership. Now that sometimes the leader and the team aren’t in the same room.

Deke Copenhaver: It I would rather do in person, but I just, last year I got into executive coaching, my client and I do everything. We don’t do it remotely. And we, I would prefer to do it in that environment. But I will say so basically since the pandemic hit, I’ve connected with leaders, like-minded leaders all over the world. And so I’ve learned tremendously from them guy. That’s friend of mine, Dave Barren out of Canada. So he’s out of Vancouver. Has the number one rank podcast on Apple for Fortune 500 CEOs worldwide. So I’ve never met him personally, but we’ve established this great friendship and we’re great sounding boards for each other. So it’s opened up possibilities. I still believe that if you can do it in person, do it in person.

Brad Means: And I know you’ve been doing your, you’ve been talking about your book. You’ve been consulting long enough and your podcast of course, is just getting started. But have you gotten a sense of the results that you’ve helped create de have business leaders called you back municipalities called you back and said, “Man, things are changing.”

Deke Copenhaver: Yes, and I will tell you a cute story. So Britain Williams, the new mayor of North Augusta, we connected right before he announced, I believe, but he shared with me that he had read my book and so that he was using parts of it. And with regards to how he ran that campaign for mayor and I’m like, “That’s really cool,” “’cause I really think that Britain’s going,” “doing and gonna do a great job” “for the city of North August.” So that’s just right across the river. But I get that feedback all the time. I gave a book to governor Kemp and when he was at the height of the difficulties that he had the beginning of last. He texted me on a Saturday and said, “Just finish your book and really needed that.”

Brad Means: Was it, “Just finished your book and really needed that.” Also, “Please be on the DFCS advisory board for me.”

Deke Copenhaver: That was kind of it too, but Joe Riley, the former mayor of Charleston’s read it, Governor Deal has read it. I was with hosting an event at the cyber center and interviewing him recently. So it is just cool. It’s having an impact on upcoming leaders, but it also is being read by people who I respect as leaders as well.

Brad Means: And I did want to mention that before you left, the governor did appoint you to the Department of Family and Children’s Services, advisory board. Are you still serving in that capacity?

Deke Copenhaver: I am.

Brad Means: And what is your role to helping our families and children?

Deke Copenhaver: It’s it’s really to give guidance to the staff and it’s amazing. And what I continually tell our staff and board we we’ve somehow gotta try to rebrand ourselves because usually there’s a negative connotation with DFCS. It’s like, DFCS has been called in to take the kids away from the home that’s but the amazing work that that organization does, getting kids, foster homes, getting kids adopted it it’s is amazing work and I’m inspired by our employees.

Brad Means: What’s next for you? Continue to expand what you’re doing in the private sector is that the path you see yourself on.

Deke Copenhaver: That is the path that I see myself on. And if we do what we plan to do with the new podcast, I just think that’s gonna open up so many more doors, but really at the end of the day, it’s about serving to me and helping people. I’m have all these platforms that I can bring people together on common ground and hopefully help improve their lives in some way, shape or form. And that’s a cool calling. And I know that that’s what the good Lord has called me to do.

Brad Means: Any advice. And I know you’ve given a ton during our time together, but any advice for people out there who are running an office and trying to make sure it’s the best place possible for younger people, younger people are different from older people. That’s not just me being a get off my lawn person. I’m just asking you, how do we make sure that their needs are met?

Deke Copenhaver: It’s that that’s in every industry. So my coaching client in Atlanta is CEO of Ag Roads, which handles three nursing homes in Atlanta difficult environment to recruit workers into as it is, but younger workers. So you need to get input from what they want the workplace to look like, which is of counterintuitive. And it’s not an easy thing, but we’ve always done it this way, but I’m like time changes. And to recruit and retain the best and brightest in businesses in communities they need to have a voice in what the culture looks like.

Brad Means: That’s a good point. Probably my last question. We talked about the pandemic and it’s impact act on the workplace and on leaders being able to connect with people when you’re just doing it by Skype. What about the cancel culture that’s out there and perhaps an employee or more likely a leader being very apprehensive to make a move because they think they might make a misstep and get canceled.

Deke Copenhaver: And that’s the cancel culture is ridiculous. It’s just-

Brad Means: But if you say that in an office you’re gone.

Deke Copenhaver: Yeah, well I’m not in my office. But I just think it’s, we are letting the tail wag the dog and we’re giving in to the vocal minority. And I tell people, if you constantly gave into your kid, when they threw a tantrum, what kind of childhood you raise. And if you do that as a business leader, or as a person in office, what kind of business you are you gonna build? Or what kind of community are you gonna build? So it’s there, it’s a thing. But my buddy Dove and Vancouver said “I look at America and I don’t see extremists.” “I don’t see a country divided.” “I see most people feeling” “as though they’re politically homeless.’ He said, “I’ve got friends” “that are Democrats that are like.” “I’m a Democrat,” “but this cancel culture thing is ridiculous.” “Or I’m a Republican,” “but the far right is just driving me crazy.” So somehow we’ve gotta get it back to everything I do is targeted at the middle of the bell curve. ‘Cause I think that’s where the largest audience is, but we just give into the extremes. And now in politics, in a lot of the mainstream media, not Channel 6.

Brad Means: No.

Deke Copenhaver: But-

Brad Means: You’re talking about like national media.

Deke Copenhaver: Yeah, and social media, all we see are the extremes. I’m like I’m trying to reveal with my podcast, people doing great things in the world, people that want to work together to do positive things in the world, ’cause they’re out there and you know, God makes rivers in the desert, but those rivers in the desert might not make it on to the news at night or to, but I’m trying to show those rivers in the desert cause he’s still doing it.

Brad Means: Amen there’s so much positivity out there that deserves the spotlight. Deke Copenhaver the podcast is called “Leadership is a Team Sport.” Please subscribe to it. Just punch in leadership is a, and I think that your search engine will guess the rest of it, team sport.

Deke Copenhaver:

Brad Means: Got it. Thank you for being here and thanks for all you do.

Deke Copenhaver: Absolutely. Thank you, Brad. It’s always a pleasure.

Brad Means: Me too, Deke Copenhaver our special guest today on the Means Report.