One of leadership guru John Maxwell’s key principles is that real leadership begins with “self-leadership.” Before we can influence others, we have to be able to influence ourselves. He encourages leaders to continually strive to improve themselves through intentional learning and growth. Drake Bassett, president and CEO of the Palmer Home for Children (Palmer Home), certainly lives out this idea. He shared with me that, “Leaders should push themselves to get better.
We never know it all and it’s easy to become complacent.” He has observed that great leaders are always “doing a little more, reading another book, asking new questions or building new relationships.” Bassett encourages leaders to study the life of Winston Churchill. Bassett shared a story that when Churchill was a young soldier serving in the desert that he would spend his time reading and writing while his fellow soldiers relaxed or played cards.
Bassett, who grew up in Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio, is a student of leadership. He graduated from the University of South Florida where he majored in history and Russian language. To this day, he enjoys reading and studying history. Before joining Palmer Home, Bassett enjoyed a 20+ year successful career in the information services industry including work at IBM and the Nielsen Company where he served as president and CEO of Claritas, the industry leader in market research and consumer insights. For those that may not be familiar with the Palmer Home, it was founded in 1895 and is a Columbus-based ministry serving children in need. Palmer Home provides long- and short-term residential care and foster care as well as counseling and educational services.
Bassett shared that his leadership approach is built on three simple points: Great people, simple processes and measurable results. He noted, “It’s not very complicated, but I think that any successful organization probably has a leader who cares about these three things.” “Great people” to him are those who have natural leadership, excellent character, and a passion for the mission of the organization. He emphasized that great people can be found anywhere in the organization, and they should be found, rewarded for performance, and challenged to do more. He encourages leaders not to simply delegate this responsibility to HR, but to personally be involved in developing people within the organization. I really like his emphasis on simple processes and measurable results, as well. I find that too many organizations don’t even really know their own processes or what needs to be measured and tracked. Establishing clear and simple processes and creating and tracking key metrics is a game changer, I believe.
Coming back to Churchill, Bassett pointed out that Churchill’s lifetime of continual learning and growth prepared him for his moments of great leadership. Bassett noted, “You never know when that moment will come, and you cannot learn leadership in a day.” He also emphasized a related point that leaders do not shy away from responsibilities. Bassett encourages leaders to “take risks and avoid being one dimensional.” He has observed that great leaders usually have a very diverse background. He shared a personal example that he was leading one part of a business when the president of his company asked him to head up human resources. Bassett said, “A good leader himself, he was stretching me and it turned out to be one of the best learning experiences I ever had. It helped me be a more complete CEO.”
I was inspired and encouraged by Bassett’s insights on leadership. His lifelong study of history motivates me to take more time to study the lives of great leaders. I know that the Palmer Home and Mississippi will continue to benefit from Bassett’s leadership.
Up Close With Drake Bassett
Title: President and CEO, Palmer Home for Children
Favorite Books: Watch For Me On The Mountain, by Forrest Carter. “It’s a narrative biography of the Apache warrior Geronimo. A great lesson in resilience.”
First Job: “I worked a cold winter on a horse farm in Ohio.”
Proudest Moment as a Leader: “I’ve had many good moments, but they all share a common theme: the success of a team that I’ve coached or developed. Nothing pleases a leader more than having his team enjoy success. ”
Hobbies/Interests: “I’m blessed to have a great family and we enjoy time together. My wife, Kelley, and I celebrated our 25th anniversary this year. I have a strong faith in God and I enjoy Bible study. I love to read history and I’m always itching to play a round of golf.”