Make-A-Wish CEO Davis: Create Bonding Moments

In this edition of our Corporate Competitor Podcast, Maxwell Leadership Speaker Don Yaeger sits down with Make-A-Wish CEO Richard Davis to discuss how business leaders can use powerfully memorable events to turn a group of individuals into teammates for life. 

When Richard Davis was young, his high school concert band was good enough to compete in the California state band championship. Thirty seconds into their piece “Symphonia,” a difficult song for a 200-member band to play, the lights in the auditorium where the competition was held went out. For the next 56 seconds, the band played on in absolute darkness, relying on memory and their practice together to perform.

When they finished playing, the only sound came from the six judges who were giving them a standing ovation.

That experience is still emblazoned in Davis’ mind, not because they won the competition but because it taught him what allowed a team to become something far greater than a collection of individuals. “In business, you need a moment,” said Davis. “It can be a crisis or a celebration, but it’s a defining moment that takes a group of well-intended individuals and gives them permission to say, we went through this together. Until that moment happened, we were not a team. But once it did, we had something that only we will share and remember forever.”

Davis has carried his belief in “creating moments” from U.S. Bank, where he served as the executive chairman and CEO, to Make-A-Wish America, the organization that grants wishes for children with critical illnesses. Since 2019 Davis has served as the charity’s president and CEO. “There’s nothing I love more about our meetings than the moments in which we give ourselves permission to remember what it is we do,” said Davis, referring to his organization’s practice of sharing life-changing moments.

Davis has many such moments of his own, including using the challenges posed by the Covid pandemic as a rallying cry for the Make-A-Wish—making sure that everybody was on board and was traveling together to be able once again to feel the impact of their work. In the podcast, Davis shares his own heart-warming story of being pulled aside by a brother and sister, whose sibling’s wish was to visit Disneyland, and being told that this was the first time they’d seen their parents smile and laugh in many months.

Listeners to the podcast will offer some smiles and shed a few tears of their own; but they’ll also learn how a leader’s leader goes about the business of motivating himself and his teams, including:

• Why leaders should stay focused on “direction” setting rather than “goal” setting of their teams.

• How to apply the three elements of successful leadership transition in your organization.

• How to develop a greater curiosity quotient (CQ) in yourself and your team.

A tennis and basketball player as well as a champion musician, Davis is a strong advocate for making oneself versatile as a leader. “I’ve always believed that putting your hand up to do something demonstrates curiosity,” he said. “And then, if you do it well, it demonstrates competency.”

Check out the full Corporate Competitor Podcast interview archive and subscribe to new episodes.


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