Season 1, Ep. 9: An Interview with Artis Stevens

Do you want to know the story of Artis Stevens, President and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America? In this episode, Artis shares how mentors throughout his own life positively impacted who he is today, helping him to find his purpose and build resiliency. Now, he leads an organization serving thousands of children across America through one-on-one mentoring relationships. Check out the conversation between Daniel and Artis as they discuss purpose, vision and culture—plus you’ll even get a few parenting tips!

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(We use an audio transcription service so please disregard any errors below.)

Daniel Harkavy (00:02):

Hey everybody, Daniel Harkavy here. Welcome to the Questioning Leadership Podcast produced by our executive coaching firm, Building Champions. For the past 25 plus years, I and my team have been helping top business and organizational leaders to improve the way they need and live. The purpose of this podcast is to be curious, and to really unpack what it means to be a great leader. And we had to learn from some of the best leaders in diverse industries throughout the US and around the world. And in this episode is no exception. It’s a fantastic, fantastic conversation with an amazing guest, Mr. Artis, Stevens, who serves as the CEO and President of Big Brothers Big Sisters. I so enjoyed this conversation and I am confident you will, as well. We recorded it a little earlier today, and there are so many nuggets with regards to vision values, culture, purpose, and then there’s some parenting tips that come at the end with regards to being smart, being strong, being kind and being you. So regardless of where you are in your leadership in life journey, this is one that I am confident will help you to be a better version of you. So sit back, get up that journal of yours and enjoy my conversation with Artis Stevens.

Daniel Harkavy (01:30):

Okay, everybody welcome to another episode of Questioning Leadership today. I’m really excited about this conversation that I’m about to have with Artis Stevens. You’re going to learn a lot about artists as a man and as a leader. And I think the conversation we’re about to have is going to be one that will leave you inspired and better equipped to lead all of those that you get to lead and serve. So Artis, it is absolutely great to have you with me.

Artis Stevens (01:57):

Daniel, it is my pleasure to join. Thank you for having me on.

Daniel Harkavy (02:01):

My pleasure, but you’ve got a great personal brand and reputation. Your name was brought to my attention several times by different people out in your part of the country. And I really enjoyed our last conversation and I’m very much looking forward to this one. So Artis let’s jump into it at building champions. We absolutely believe that better humans make for better leaders. And, and I always like our listeners to understand who are you before they understand what it is that you do. So maybe you could share three to five things about you that will really help us to get to know who Artis Stevens is.

Artis Stevens (02:35):

Yeah, absolutely happy to. Well, the first place I always love to start is I’m a father, I’m the dad of two girls, at least an artery. And, you know, they are, they’re my joy. And I learned so much from them as well as being a husband to my wife, Erica. And I tell you, I learned extraordinarily from her every single yeah, absolutely kind of wisdom. That’s right. That’s right. That’s what I take of that is you’re absolutely right. I I’ve I grew up, so it was just, just a little bit just for, for your listeners here. I grew up in the south. I grew up in a small town called Brunswick, Georgia. I’ll put a pin in that. I’m gonna come back to that in a second. I grew up in a town called Brunswick, Georgia, a large family. And my mom and dad used to always say to us, right, we don’t, we didn’t have a lot of means, but they always share it with us that we were rich in relationships.

Artis Stevens (03:28):

Right. And it was so true cause it was that connectivity, right. Connectivity we had in our, in our family, but it was also the connectivity in our community. Right. And that’s why I always talk about determined the village because it, the way I grew up, you were not just raised by your parents. You were raised by this broader community that looked out for you that watched out for you, that nudged you, that God, it was part of that element. And I’ll tell you something else that let’s just really important to. My story is my dad is was a pastor. My granddad was a pastor and all of my brothers and sisters had musical talent. And for some reason, God decided to skip me. So I always remember it because at some point people started to look at me and I became, oh, he’s going to be the preacher like his dad, right?

Artis Stevens (04:16):

He’s the one that’s going to be a preacher. Not it doesn’t have a musical family, but he’s going to be the preacher. And I remember going to my dad was seven years old at the time. And I remember going to my dad and asked my dad. I said, so everyone’s saying I’m going to be a preacher like you, is that true? And I’ll never forget what my dad told me. He looked at me smiled. He said, son. He said, everyone has their ministry in this world. You got to find yours. And the reason why that was so important because it was, it was like the definition of finding my purpose, right? The discovery, my purpose, the empowerment that my purpose. And it’s also showed me that I wasn’t boxed in to expectations people, expectations, generational expectations the community that was in the block that I lived on, that I wasn’t defined by that.

Artis Stevens (05:00):

And that was important. I didn’t know it, that, that, that explicitly at the time, but it was important for who I was. And it was that type of coaching that as I went through my life, right, playing recruited for high school football and suffering a major injury that basically ended my football dreams and my football career and thinking that was my pathway to college, but being coached and supported to say, Hey, at the same at work ethic, the same time, the same energy that you put towards that is the same focus, time task, determination that you can put towards other things in, in educational pursuits and still ended up going into my college of choice, University of Georgia just when academically right first in my family to go to college and graduate that wasn’t by chance, that was by intentionality. That was by the people that were around me that supported me and coach me both in my high points, but also in my low points.

Artis Stevens (05:53):

But it was reliant on that sense of mentorship. And that sense of, to who I was, you know, that line, you know, whether it was working throughout a 25 year career, whether it’s been personally becoming a dad that line of, of understanding resilience, understanding what it means to be resilient, to be emotionally steady, to have focus in, to rely on people as your connections, as your build, and as the way that for you to grow and develop has always been critical and key. And that brings me to, to, to last year, and this is the way I’ll sum it up in terms of, you know, your question last year I was at this point where all of us, right, going through a pandemic, seeing what was happening in our country, as it relates to social injustices and the elevation that, that so many of us have seen in the conversations around our country.

Artis Stevens (06:44):

And it was this name, Ahmaud Arbery, and I’m coming back to that town. I grew up in Brunswick, Georgia, Ahmaud Arbery for your listeners who would probably know that name was murdered in the street of Brunswick, Georgia. And for me, it certainly hit a nerve in terms of everything that’s been going on historically in our country when it comes to race when it comes to issues of social injustice. But it was very personal because it’s where I grew up. It’s I knew and had connections to people in that community and people in his family, the street, he was murdered on the street that I walked on many times as a kid. And it made me question that if I was in the right ministry, like my dad had shared it with me, but if I was doing it enough and it was at that point that I had the conversations with my family, with my friends, you know, really reflecting in life in questioning. And it wasn’t too long after that. Daniel where this opportunity with big brothers, big sisters came along. And when I saw this organization and I started learning more about what this role and what this organization was looking to do, I saw myself, it was like looking in the mirror. I saw myself and it’s that trajectory. It’s that pathway that I find myself on today in Virginia, that I’m taking them one that I’m proud to be on. So good.

Daniel Harkavy (07:59):

So I ask you one question and you drop about five beautiful nuggets and truths, which I appreciate. I love that line that your dad shared with you, that everybody needs to find their own ministry and the way that you interpret that everybody needs to understand they were, they were created for a purpose, every single human, and we are here to make a difference in the lives of one, another, a huge truth. Well, it connected you and I was the fact that you are president CEO of one of the most recognized organizations in America, Big Brothers Big Sisters, you’re the leader of it. You get to serve it. And it’s a hundred year plus old firm. If my intel tells me correctly, you’re the first black CEO and for you to share the story of Arbery that’s powerful. And I think there is a lot that we can learn from you.

Daniel Harkavy (08:53):

And you know, Big Brothers Big Sisters was birthed out of a passion out of a burden to make a difference in the lives of young people. And that connecting point for you and me as I’m now launching another organization set path where we’re here to transfer hope and belief into not just America’s young adults, but it’s built on this framework that I shared in a book I co-authored with Michael Hyatt a few years back living forward. That’s now in 23 languages. So listeners, you don’t see this, but behind me, I’ve got a stack of books. And our dream for that organization set path is that at some point we’d be doing this around the world and all the languages where that book is spoken. So that’s the connecting point. Let’s get into your career artists. Maybe you could give us kind of a five minute overview on your leadership journey, some of the highs and lows. Yeah.

Artis Stevens (09:43):

Yeah. Well, I will tell you part of my leadership journey, you’re going to hear a constant thing because a lot around my leadership journeys around mentorship, I can look back at pretty much every moment that I’ve had since I started my journey, I mentioned the one with my dad that there’s been someone who who’s been either a door opener, who’s been a connector. Who’s been someone that I learned from, and then someone that, that I’ve hoped to contribute and support, right? Because I believe mentorship is reciprocal. It’s not a one-way journey, but what I will tell you is that here’s what I learned and also break it down in this way and I’ll break it down. So live in points in, in my life, when I graduated, I was, I was pre law. I was going to law school. I graduated college, right? At least I thought that’s where I was going.

Artis Stevens (10:34):

And so I had the path, man. I had the path laid out just like I had the football path laid out. Right. I knew what I was going to do. I had my plan. So then I called myself going to interview for a job just so I can get some interviewing skills. I interviewed for the job. I meet this guy and his guy interviews me. He says, Hey, let’s go on a ride. Right? So I get in the car, we go on a ride. He takes me to a public housing community and he takes us to this public housing community. And then we get out, we stopped, we step out in the public housing community and he says, tell me what you know about this community. And that just started smiling and laughing. And I said, this was the community that played in as a kid.

Artis Stevens (11:13):

And he said, son, I did my homework. Right. And he said that you can always go to law school, but you can’t always come back home and change your community. Right. And he was a good sales person because I never went back to law school with Daniel. And my point to that story though, which is, which is like still resonates with me today is this idea that the journey that you’re walking, sometimes you think, you know what it is, but it’s not, it doesn’t always work out that way in terms of your plan, right? It’s the experiences, it’s the things in terms of what you’re dripping to do and what you’re engaged to doing. You find that sometimes along the way, and it’s the ability to that. It’s the ability to sometimes to be flexible and to pivot and those circumstances. But it went from there to mentor who introduced me to my next job at boys and girls clubs of America, where I worked for 13 years helped to transform the organization, marketing and brand building hope, the last largest fundraising campaign.

Artis Stevens (12:12):

And probably the biggest accomplishment that I had there is that I met my wife there. So, so I got a lot to thank for that organization in terms of empowering me. And it wasn’t too long after being in that organization, that I met someone who worked in the organization, that we did some great things together who became the CEO of 4H and call me up one day. And again, it was a mentor. It was a connection that I ended up becoming the chief marketing officer at [inaudible] and worked in that organization and help that organization to transform itself from an organization that was in the red. When I started to an organization that was far in the black, when I left and also helped to recruit 1 million alumni that engaged in the organization and ruin the organization every step along the way. And even the one that I’m in right now, it’s the, it’s the same thing.

Artis Stevens (13:05):

It’s the same thing with understanding your purpose. It’s the same thing with being resilient when you feel like you, you, you know, because understanding your purpose, doesn’t always mean, you know, what the path is. Those are two different things. And it’s understanding that in the purpose, sometimes the path is unknown, but you got to walk the journey and have a journey of the resilience of when you get knocked down or knocked off track, or when things has happened in life, when they do, and they’re going to happen in life and you’re going to fail, but failure is not the term of failure. Failure to me is the term of learning, right? And that you’re learning and you’re developing. That’s really what failure is. It’s learning, it’s learning opportunity. And how do you take that and grow from that? So my path is one of imperfection, but it’s also one of saying resilient in using that imperfection to hopefully get to a place that I’m continuing to grow and develop and to contribute to others.

Daniel Harkavy (13:56):

I had a mentor for a decade and he would meet with myself and some of my colleagues every Friday morning and our office back, you know, probably 20 years ago, 25 years ago when we first started Building Champions. And he would always say that your purpose very rarely will change, but the vehicle you’re driving can change a few times in your life for some people that changes more, but your purpose is always the same. So today your vehicles, big brothers, big sisters of America, but you’ve had other vehicles in the past where you’ve lived out that purpose. And I think that’s a really good thing to know. And, you know, in my work as an executive coach with leaders of organizations around the U S and we’ve had the privilege around the world where leaders get in trouble, artists is where they believe that their identity and purpose in, in that organization are one.

Daniel Harkavy (14:47):

And if that ever changes or the fear of losing that can be so powerful that it actually creates some funky behaviors for them as leaders. And it can be really devastating, should anything change. So, you know, I think as I listen to you, I’m thinking about who do I want to really make sure here’s this conversation? And of course, it’s all of the young adults you know, teenagers on up. I want them to hear this, but I also want our more seasoned, higher exact listeners, because what we’re talking about is purpose and identity. And you need to be comfortable that you’re the right guy, the right gal for the job. You don’t need to know it all, but you have to be passionate about the difference you can make. And that in itself is one of the key attributes of all legacy impacting leaders.

Daniel Harkavy (15:35):

It’s like that desire to be used. However, you can allowing the outcome to be what it may be, but your desire is to be who you can be in the lives of other people, and to serve that organization in a way that brings purpose and mission. So really good stuff, buddy, I do want to elevate the conversation, you know, unquestioning leadership. I’ve had board members, chairman of Delta, other great neighbors of yours. I’ve had some mutual friends of ours on here, but I would love to know from you, what role has the board played at big brother, big sister in this past year, your year of onboarding in the midst of absolute chaos for your, you know, your primary client, young adults, the recipients of all your good work, how’s the board helped you? What have you experienced?

Artis Stevens (16:21):

Yeah, that’s an awesome question. And I’m such a believer in strong boards, right? And either one of the first things I will tell you, and I can’t stress this enough was the transition between my predecessor and right. The board being very responsive, being very proactive in ensuring that happens. So it’s one thing to select a CEO, right? There’s another thing in terms of bringing that CEO on board and helping that CEO to ultimately be successful it started with our board chair, right? So our board chair was at the step and at the process, every single along the way, whether it was the search committee to the point where the selection was made to the point of, you know, my connection to him with the previous CEO who by the way, was great as well and, and hoping the transition to take place. And one of the things that we did was we mapped out, right, our first meetings, the first few meetings that we had, we mapped out one, how are we going to work together?

Artis Stevens (17:18):

Right. And how were we going to engage together effectively? And then what does a real clear sense of, you know, the role and responsibilities and success, right? Were where were some of the quick wins we wanted to get? What was on the long term things that we wanted to do? And here’s the other big thing that we talked about, and this was with more so the entire board, what kind of board did we want to be? So when I came into the organization, the board was much more focused on board governance as the primary instrument of what the function was, right. And again, the Juno, we’re never going to move away from board governance. That’s always at the core of what we do, but where we were not thinking about or not as focused on at the time was some of the other elements that the board needed to grow in to develop, which was around.

Artis Stevens (18:03):

How do we think about, you know, our strategy for fundraising and margin and it becoming more of an aware organization in fundraising? So one of the biggest things, Daniel, that the board did was the board took it on themselves with my partnership and collaboration to say, we need to change philosophically our structure and our approach as a board, right. And start it philosophically around what we want it to do, how we want to do, where we want to spend our time. And then what does that mean for our culture as a board? What does it mean for the structure of the board? What does it ultimately mean for the strategy and the vision? So the last 18 months has been evolving and enhancing to that strategy as a board, bringing on new board members who fit that profile, really looking at our existing board members and saying, Hey, here’s what I want to do.

Artis Stevens (18:48):

Here’s how I want to operate and engage and having the tough decisions at discussions about what maybe hadn’t worked as well as we wanted it to in the past. And what has, and how do we get there? And then being very clear with me as a CEO is delineating the role of here’s, what we’re expecting. Here’s how we need to think about it. And here’s what I’m expecting as you as a board. So it was sort of that relationship that I think over the last year or last eight months, I should say that we’ve spent a lot of time building develop. And we’re seeing the dividends. I should say of that because what’s happened now is we’re opening up doors to opportunities and connections that are driven by our board. Not so much by our staff, not by other people it’s coming from board and board leadership, per se. Yeah.

Daniel Harkavy (19:35):

That’s how you and I actually met was one of my board members and connections. And it’s one of the greatest gifts board members can bring to the organization is that Rolodex their influence, but they need to be advocates. So selecting the right board members is just key and being clear on the why on that. I want to I want to get a few data points for our listeners. How many board members do you have?

Artis Stevens (19:58):

We have 20.

Daniel Harkavy (20:01):

It’s a big board.

Artis Stevens (20:02):

Well, relatively speaking versus some of the other organizations that are in our space. It’s not. Yeah. So you’ll find the organizations that, you know, go from anywhere from 25, some 40 yeah, even though across our network, we have, you know, a set of larger boards. We, we made a decision to intentionally keep our board we did increase the size. We said we wanted to move from 16 to 20, right? So we were originally a 16 member board. We moved to 20 because we thought it was going to give us more opportunity to recruit some of the board members that we want to recruit. We also want it to have a very strong focus on diversity, equity and inclusion within our board. So we wanted to make sure that we were looking at how we increase that diversity through new membership, but also looked at some of the things that we were doing around the board to help support that. But the, the 20 number for us is a really strong number because it allows for us to build the extensions in our committees and the work that we want to do with fundraising very effectively.

Daniel Harkavy (21:06):

All right. So, you know, I could easily selfishly hog a conversation with you and it would all be to serve the needs that I have over at SetPath and my learning journey. So I’m going to schedule more time with you because I want to talk board I want to talk executive director and all of that, but let’s do that outside of a podcast. Love it. Give us a few more data points. Big Brothers Big Sisters. How many are on staff? How big is your leadership team?

Artis Stevens (21:32):

Yeah, so we have, right now, we have about close to 60 on staff, nine on our leadership team in various capacities. We are about, let’s say about a little bit over 5,000, maybe 5,000 staff across our network, $250 million budget enterprise wise. We have an active roster of about close to a million volunteers that, that engage in some form or capacity with us as well. And we have over anywhere between where estimate, we’re trying to get into more, a defined number around it about between 10 to 20 million alumni that’s out in the marketplace.

Daniel Harkavy (22:15):

It’s huge. It’s huge. I’ve always had the belief that when you’re a leading a, a volunteer army, your leadership efficacy is tested. It’s a lot easier to, to, to lead an organization where everybody’s on payroll. You know, the real, I, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with my most recent book, but I say a leader’s effectiveness is determined by just two things. The decisions they make and the influence they have. And when you’re leading in a volunteer army, like you are, boy, that influence side you.

Artis Stevens (22:46):

Man, listen, you just said something really big influence that, that word. I was just thinking it right before you said it it’s a key word in particularly when you think about like who we serve and growth, right? We’re in all 50 states, we serve 5,000 community, hundreds of thousands of kids. And to do that, all of our organizations, our own 501 C3 organizations, their own boards, right? It’s a federated organization. So it’s not, we don’t demand. They have charters with us, but we have to use influence to really support and collaborate and partner in terms of direction. So when we think about how we serve kids, the growth that we want to have, how we think about our fundraising, you know, the messages we want to do, how we protect our brand, all of those things are shared. And to your point, the influence part of the work comes in incredibly strong there to do it effectively. Okay.

Daniel Harkavy (23:34):

So let’s go off course here and have a conversation around influence. I absolutely believe decision-making and influence are the two primary requirements for a leader’s effectiveness. And here you are. And the most influential role in the organization, you know, you and the board influence a lot, but as CEO and president for our listeners, I think decision-making, that’s the smart stuff. It’s the chops, it’s strategy, it’s yeses and no’s and understanding who should be making those yeses and no’s the influence. Side’s a bit more mysterious. So what comes to mind for you with regards to leaders who are really smart, but they just have not developed the influence. What do you need to do in order to grow influence?

Artis Stevens (24:23):

It’s learning. It’s like, it’s like so, so much, right? Even with, you know, we’ve had conversations in previous previous talks, Daniel, about our kids, right? That you wish there was a manual that came with this thing you wish you could program sometimes and say, Hey, here’s what you need to do. And as much as you tell and teach I’m thinking about like with my daughters right now, it’s the sense that somethings you have to experience, right? And you coach you coaching, you give guidance, but it’s a lived experience that you go through and you understand how you saw the operational laws and build and feet and process in those types of situations influences the same way, right? It’s a field and they get an understanding. I think first and foremost is to understand who you are and your authentic self and how you connect and relate to people.

Artis Stevens (25:16):

I think it’s also being empathetic as well, because a lot of people think about influence and they, and this is one of the things I think sometimes as leaders, we all do it. We all have these moments where we confuse influence with power, right? And I think that can, can like, can steer us down the wrong road because we use that as okay, influences I have the power to do something. That’s not really the, the, the, the real meaning and effectiveness of influence right. Influence in my book comes even more from the standpoint of listening and engaging with people and really making people part of the process. Because when they see that that is happening, that they have that level of investment, it’s really influenced. It’s not about what you say and how you direct people in God and command. It’s more about how you as a leader is helping to navigate and bring folks around decisions to make decisions happen in the most affirmative and positive way. That to me has to be at the core. And I think that at the core, for me, it’s always been a process of listening, engaging authentic self, and ensuring that I’m engaging people in that process in a very inclusive way. Yeah.

Daniel Harkavy (26:24):

Yeah. Spot on you. And I see it the same way in the seven perspectives. I say, you need to bring intentional curiosity into every moment into every conversation so that you can learn and that you can engage with the heads and the hearts of your teammates and those you serve. And even in that conversation influence, right. But you have to take action on what you learn. So it’s not just listening. It’s the listening. Then the action influence grows, you know SetPath was birthed out of last year’s social injustice moments. That’s when my board said, Daniel, what can we do? And I, I was in so many conversations artists last year with leaders, as we were watching our country fall apart, as we were watching just some atrocities that it was like layering, you know, a fog set in, and for leaders that was just absolute confusion.

Daniel Harkavy (27:15):

You could not see through the fog. And many leaders were saying, okay, what can we do? What can we do? What can do? It’s just a great starting point. You know, you have to ask, I’m going to ask you CEO, big brothers, big sisters first year in the, the seat with your background. What do you think business leaders need to know or be aware of to be most effective leading their organizations in these times, here we are recording this in September of 21. What do they need to know or be aware of in order to be most effective?

Artis Stevens (27:47):

It is it’s, it’s interesting. You asked me this question. I’ve been having this conversation with, with a few leaders across various industries as well. And it’s been an interesting one, my perspective, but also just how some of the other perspective of other losers I’ve talked to one, I believe it’s this sense of being authentic to your values, right? Having a very clear and established values. And the reason why I think that’s so important is because no matter where the wind blows, you have to have something that’s carrying you through it, right? And that doesn’t mean that you don’t, you’re not flexible and you’re not, you know, understanding the various climates and dynamics that happen whether it’s the market, whether it’s other factors that you’re weighing in as a leader. But I think it’s really important that we lead through values, right? When, when you leave that as a, particularly any group of people, company, organization, educational institution, nonprofit, I mean, you name it that the sense of knowing what our salvage values are and what values drive us to make decisions, right.

Artis Stevens (28:52):

To ultimately end up engaging, how are we going to treat our people? How are we going to work with integrity? It’s those things I think are fundamental. I also think that we’re seeing an increase intensity, and it started long before the pandemic and social injustice, but an increased intensity towards transparency in our country and in the world. Right? So I think the channel of companies saying, how am I connecting them with my consumers? How am I providing the level of access how I’m allowed a level, level of empowerment management in terms of the, the organization, the brand, the way they experienced and connect with the brand. I also think the employees is another aspect. And I think that’s probably one that we’ve seen more in media headlines because of what employees are demanding. We see that even when you read about the great resignation, right, that’s not coming from just nowhere.

Artis Stevens (29:45):

Yes, there all these, these, these environments, but it’s also people saying they’re willing to change the paradigm in terms of how they work and how they operate which I think is incredibly important. And then I want to go back to purpose, right? I think that the, and the sort of aligns with that values statement that I said in the beginning, but I think that having a true sense of your why, right. And we know, so the elements of purpose, right? It’s not simply the idea of, oh, Hey, I’m meeting the bottom line, but I am, I’m meeting why my company, why my organization exists to make a better improvement on this world to create an advance. And I think companies and leaders who truly understand that, who know how to then develop it, operationalize it, express it, bring others around that type of idea.

Artis Stevens (30:34):

Envision are some of the groups and the organizations that you’ll see continue to thrive because they clearly understand it. And then one will say one last thing. And, and, and I’ll end on this. It is being vulnerable enough, which I think sometimes is a challenge in the leadership because we still have at, in some aspects of society, that sense of being vulnerable can be equated to weakness. That being vulnerable enough to admit when you got it wrong, when you have, when you’ve made that mistake and being able to be vulnerable to both admit it, but then not just admit it like what you just said earlier. Right. Then action. Right. It’s it’s yeah. Admit it. And I said, but I got to do something action that says, Hey, either I’m trying to correct this in some way. I’m trying to sort of figure out how I bring others to help solve whatever is that issue at hand. And I think that’s a really important aspect to the leadership journey to

Daniel Harkavy (31:34):

Artis, many of our listeners have been clients of ours over the past 25 years. And they’re hearing, they’re hearing you share truth that they’ve been coached on for years. I don’t want listeners to miss the weight of what you’re saying. At Building Champions for the last couple of decades, I’ve said, values are good, but convictions are better because people value a whole bunch of things that, that don’t affect different behaviors. People can value great health, but they treat their bodies like crap. They can value having a great marriage, but they are their worst self when they’re with their spouse. And, and you’ve seen all of the different case studies on organizations that had the most beautiful values on their lunchroom walls. And, and then, you know, their leaders go to jail. So you know we’re saying the same thing, but in our language we say convictions because convictions are worth fighting for.

Daniel Harkavy (32:27):

So we say that organizations that are crystal clear on their convictions, then have clarity on how to make decisions, especially when times are difficult. And then we, you need convictions and behaviors. And we walk organizations through these exercises so they can gain clarity on purpose convictions and behaviors. And as a company that has been doing what we’ve been doing for the last 25 years, my team will tell you, they’ve never missed a Monday morning where our vision, our convictions, our purpose, we say vision, is it, it answers three B’s, what do you belong to? Who are we going to become? And what are we going to build? And we share that every Monday morning with the entire organization at 7:30 on Mondays and have for two and a half decades, what you’re talking about leaders, you need to understand this is powerful, especially in, in times of the great resignation, especially when people are feeling disconnected from the work and the real purpose.

Daniel Harkavy (33:28):

If you’ve been listening to Questioning Leadership, you know, Phyllis Campbell, Chair of JP Morgan Chase up here in the Pacific Northwest, she was emphatic on the same point. Organizations need to be crystal clear on their purpose. We need to get back to purpose. We need to understand the real value of the organization brings to society. If we think this is soft stuff and it’s marketing, and it really doesn’t matter. We’re missing the point like this is what matters. People trade in the majority of their waking hours to be connected to our organizations. And people want to make a difference. Humans innately want to be used to make a difference. And when you answer the questions of purpose and values or convictions and behaviors, and you connect the work that’s being done in the cubicle or in the home office or on the manufacturing line or in the streets or wherever it may be when you connect, people’s work to that purpose and you help them to understand how we make decisions in difficult times, you bring real organizational clarity and value, and people are going to be more attracted to your culture.

Daniel Harkavy (34:31):

So Artis, spot on. Along, riff on your, on your nuggets of truth. So thank you. Thank you. You’ll be interested in knowing we wrestled for almost six months with adding a sixth conviction at Building Champions. And I’ve got a morning routine that most of my listeners know about where I go face down. I pray and I have the same prayer every day and, and it made it into a conviction and I was wrestling. I had two teammates. Thank you, Katie. Thank you, Lynne and Genena. Thank you. For really challenging us on adding another conviction. And what we added was a conviction that for many will seem soft, but it is love people. We see love and serve people because each person has unique value and worth, and that’s a conviction we’re worth fighting for. And right now we’re establishing those behaviors. So spot on Artis, you’re nailing it. You’re a wise wise leader. And yeah, you’re affirming everything that, that my firm’s been talking about for a couple of decades. So thank you.

Artis Stevens (35:27):

What are you all talking, great stuff.

Daniel Harkavy (35:29):

Yeah. You, you and I, we’re going to have a lot of fun and, and future conversations. I know we’re, we’re really at the mark where we need to end this because of a other time commitments, but you’ve covered so many great things. I want to ask you one last question. And it has to do with your day. I want to go tactical, give us a glimpse into what does a day in the life of Artis Stevens look like non-negotiable disciplines, where you focus your attention, how are you doing it?

Artis Stevens (36:04):

Yeah, it is every morning that I get up, you know, I, I, I start with what I told you about what defines me, right. Every morning I get up, you know I’m dedicating my mornings to my children, to my kids, right. And the time that I spend with them making sure that they’re ready to go and that doesn’t just mean putting on clothes, right?

Daniel Harkavy (36:29):

11 and 13, Artis’ two daughters, you’re doing the right thing. You start every day off with them. As a guy who has older daughters and sons.

Artis Stevens (36:38):

We started off and something we do is ritualistic. You know, I’m a big believer in faith and of course there’s prayer before we leave the house, right. Not just for ourselves, but for our community, for the country at large, for the world. And we all take turns, right? Giving you that and then expressing that. But we also have a, a line they’ve we’ve been saying it since they started school when they were in kindergarten. And that is, you know, be smart, be strong and be kind, be you, right. That is the, the values that we all leave the house with. And the reason why I share that is because, you know, they leave the house with that. But I go into my job with that. That for me, the time that I spend, you know, each day is, is thinking of those family values and how those things represent into the work that I do and everything of how I treat people.

Artis Stevens (37:31):

And, and for us, when I say this, this idea of being smart, and it goes back to what you were saying, this idea of, of not academically smart decisions, right? How you, you make wise decisions and use judgment in what you do. You know, the idea of being strong is this idea of the sense of character resilience, right? Integrity in the way that you do things and having that type afforded to the sense of being calm as being kind to one, another being kind to the people that you meet, being time to yourself, having self-love and having love for those that are around you and being used as about sense of being authentic and being authentic in the nature of how you operate, showing your true self at a shared about the vulnerability, being able to be transparent and to have the vulnerability. Those are the things that I reflect on.

Artis Stevens (38:18):

Those are the things that I think about me and my wife typically, now that I’m at home a lot here, I enjoy it. I’m not sure how much she enjoys it, but, but, you know, we try to make sure at least, you know, three to four times a week that we’re spending lunch together, right. Just talking and engaging, right. Because we are having that moment that we have to with each other. So I’ve come in that practice of saying to my team, and this is what I expect my team to do as well. Right? Detect the times, detect the moments for yourself. I take a lot of time meditating. I always sort of recap my day is another important thing for me, recapping the day, getting your themes and your summaries from the day, and then taking a moment to breathe and decompress.

Artis Stevens (39:01):

We have sort of a guideline. I was, I’ve been very clear and there always, when there are emergencies, we get it. But for the most part, our goal is, Hey, there is a stop time for us, right? So when you get past around 6:30, we don’t want to see emails crossing. This is not about continued work. This is, you know, finishing up the day and then weekends, we hope weekends precious, right? Weekends are precious to us. So, and I have to model that, right? I’m not always perfect. I won’t even, I was, I’m always perfect on that, but we try to cherish our weekends to give ourselves and our people time with their families, because we know that that’s critical and important to be balanced or finding whatever type of balance you need for your life, as well as being, coming back and having fresh perspective and giving your best sleep. So folks need that.

Daniel Harkavy (39:51):

Artis in today’s times where you have overall mental health and wellbeing in I think the most precarious of places that I’ve seen in my career it’s a real workplace issue and leaders. You need to understand the impact of what Artis is sharing with regards to a hard stop at 6:30 weekends being sacred, encouraging modeling, lunch dates with spouses partners, that time to connect with family. This is Living Forward stuff, and we need to model it. We can’t say it and then not honor it. So Artis, those are great, great nuggets, thanks for the window into one of your days. Thanks for a great conversation. I really do wish you and I had had more time for this podcast because as you know, I’ve got a ton more questions, but let’s save those for another day and I’ll follow up with you. We’ll schedule more time to talk Building Champions, SetPath, Big Brothers Big Sisters, common friends, partnerships, and all that good stuff. You’re amazing. It’s been a privilege to have you here with me and my listeners today.

Artis Stevens (40:54):

Daniel, thank you so much for having me and just really impressed with the work that you’re doing at Building Champions and SetPath. I think it’s extraordinary. I think you’re setting incredible model for so many leaders and I’m honored to have the opportunity to talk with you and connect with you and look forward to our conversations in the future, my friend.

Daniel Harkavy (41:13):

All right, buddy. Well, you have a great one. When I’m in Atlanta again, I’ll let you know.

Artis Stevens (41:17):

Yes, sir. Look forward to it, my friend.

Daniel Harkavy (41:23):

So here we are 25 or 30 minutes later. And I hope that I was accurate in my promise at the beginning of this episode. Thank you so much Artis. You added immense value to me and I am confident you did so for all of our listeners. And listeners, if you enjoyed this episode and you want to learn how you can leverage your influence and increase your own leadership effectiveness, reach out to us here at Building Champions. I think most of you know that for the past few decades, we have worked with thousands of leaders and we have helped them to better lead themselves, their teams and their organizations. If you’ve got questions, you can shoot us an email to and our team will be in touch. We’d also appreciate you sharing this episode. If you enjoyed it, subscribe to our podcast, wherever you have access to your podcasts. And ratings are always appreciated. If you’re liking it, let us know. And if you think there’s some things we can do to improve, please share. We want to bring the most value we possibly can. And then finally, if you want to learn more about Artis, I follow him on LinkedIn, Artis Stevens. You can follow him there. He does share some fantastic nuggets. Alrighty, y’all I hope you enjoyed have a great day.

In This Episode

Artis Stevens
President & CEO, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America