Rotary International has been a flourishing community that stretches across several countries. And for Barry Rassin, the secret to its lasting success lies in the burning desire to serve others selflessly. He sits down with Steve Farber to share his leadership experiences as the club’s former president, the lessons he learned in pouring out their heart in service of the people through philanthropy work, and his takeaways in traveling the world and meeting various leaders. Barry also discusses his focus on empowering the youth during his tenure, particularly on elevating Rotaract members to become full-fledged Rotary International members.
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Diversity, Equity, And Inclusion In The Expanding World Of Rotary International With Barry Rassin
You may not know this but this show, by some startling coincidence, is also the title of my book, which is called Love Is Just Damn Good Business. If you’ve been enjoying these interviews. I’m sure you’ll love the book. You can find that on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or wherever it is that you acquire books nowadays. My guest is Barry Rassin, and there is so much that I can say in the introduction to Barry. I’m going to do my best. Barry is known around the world. Let’s start out by acknowledging that a lot of people nowadays claim to be known around the world like podcasts. I had a download from Lithuania so I am known around the world. That’s not what it means in Barry Rassin’s case. He is quite known around the world.
Barry is a past President of Rotary International in the years 2018 to 2019. Rotary changes its leadership as presidencies all the way from the top down to club presidents every year. He was the president of the whole shebang. Every year, the new Rotary president chooses a theme for their tenure, and Barry’s theme was Be The Inspiration. An appropriate theme it is for Barry. A little bit about him. He comes out of the healthcare industry. He’s a Bahamian. He was the first fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives in The Bahamas.
He retired as president after 38 years of the Doctors Hospital Health System in Nassau, Bahamas. He’s still the director of that organization. They’ve seen that organization grow from 11 employees to 600. It’s a thriving healthcare business still in The Bahamas. His work around the world through Rotary and also significant relief efforts, for example, if you remember the notorious earthquake in Haiti, he coordinated $6.5 million worth of Rotary efforts and 105 projects in Haiti after the earthquake. He continues to assist with disaster relief efforts in Haiti, Houston, Puerto Rico, The Bahamas, Mexico, the Caribbean and other places around the world.
In his native land of The Bahamas, he was awarded by the government as an Officer of the Order of Distinction of The Bahamas. I don’t know exactly what that means, but it is impressive-sounding. Rotary itself awarded Barry with the Service Above Self Award. As you may recall, The Bahamas was hit with that devastating Hurricane Dorian, which decimated two major Northern islands of that country. Barry has been very much involved in the ongoing relief efforts there as well. He’s a humanitarian, a philanthropist, and an incredibly inspiring leader.
Barry, welcome to the show. It’s an honor to have you with us.
Thank you, Steve. It’s good to be with you. I appreciate that very kind introduction.
It’s my pleasure. There’s so much more that could have been said but we’ll get to a lot of that. I want to have our conversation, it’s not going to be all about Rotary, but Rotary is a big part of who you are and a big part of your opportunity to lead in a multi-generational, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural way both during your tenure as president but also before and since. For our audience, Rotary has a certain image. I’m not a member of Rotary as of yet, but I’ve learned a lot about the organization because I spoke at the International Convention in Hamburg, which you kindly invited me to come to. I got a good immersion with 25,000 Rotarians from around the world, taking the stage in front of those folks, hanging out for a few days, and having a lot of conversations with a lot of people.
I had this certain preconceived notion about what Rotary is, and I can summarize it like this. I always pictured Rotary as a club of middle-aged guys getting together once a week at a Steakhouse and hanging out smoking cigars. That was my image of Rotary and was I off. I know I’m doing a lot of talking so far. I promise to turn it over to you in a second because I want to give the context of what Rotary is for people who are not familiar with the organization.
I’m going to read a couple of things from the website Rotary.org from their Who We Are section. Here’s what the organization says about itself, “Rotary is a global network of 1.2 million neighbors, friends, leaders and problem solvers who see a world where people unite and take action to create lasting change across the globe, in our communities, and in ourselves. In terms of what we do, Rotary members believe that we have a shared responsibility to take action on our world’s most persistent issues. Our 35,000-plus clubs work together to promote peace, fight disease, provide clean water, sanitation and hygiene, save mothers and children, support education, and grow local economies.” The mission it says is, “We provide service to others, promote integrity, and advance world understanding, goodwill and peace through our fellowship of business, professional, and community leaders.” The vision statement is, “Together, we see a world where people unite and take action to create lasting change across the globe in our communities and ourselves.”
One more thing I want to add because I want to talk to you specifically about this. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are a big deal to Rotary, and here’s the language, “As a global network that strives to build a world where people unite and take action to create lasting change, Rotary values diversity. It celebrates the contributions of people, of all backgrounds, regardless of their age, ethnicity, race, color, abilities, religion, socioeconomic status, culture, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.” That is what Rotary is about. That is what attracted you to Rotary, to begin with. I’d like to start with your story, Barry. Tell us a little bit about your journey in life and what led you to the work that you do in Rotary.
That’s a long story. I was born in London, England. My parents moved to The Bahamas when I was three weeks old. My dad was the first surgeon in the country and my mother was a nurse so they were always busy. By the time I was ten, they asked me, “Do I want to go away to school?” I figured, “They work all the time anyway. There’s no point in being home.” I agreed to go to a boarding school up in Massachusetts to get my education up there. I never was a particularly good student but I managed to get through it. I ended up getting a Bachelor’s Degree, Master’s Degree in Hospital Administration. I worked at Mount Sinai Medical Center for about five years to get my healthcare background.
During that time, one of my doctors asked me if I would join the Rotary. I had no idea what Rotary was. Much like you, I’m thinking. When I looked at the club, I saw everybody about 30 years older than me, and I said, “I don’t think so.” I didn’t join Rotary when I was in the US. When I came home to The Bahamas, my dad was getting on age and the building he had been using was getting run down, so I came home to try to restart and create a private hospital in the country. I was excited about that. I learned quickly that just because I’m excited, it doesn’t mean anybody else is. It took me a while but I worked hard to develop a core group who helped me to develop the hospital into what it is now. It’s the one that’s recognized as the leading hospital in the region.
The only accredited hospital in this part of the world for a long time. I think there’s one in Belize and accredited through in American Group because we set our standards based on US standards since in The Bahamas, they didn’t have any hospital standards. I wanted a good standard. My first year in is extremely frustrating. It’s like hitting my head against a wall, and I was breaking the wall and my head at the same time. I have three kids. They were young when they came here. It’s a big adjustment for them and my wife.Do everything authentically, and your team will do everything for you. Click To Tweet
I remember we were at a horse show. I was watching my two girls ride the horses and I’m the only one in the bleachers. I see over to my side this group of guys hanging out, selling hamburgers, hot dogs, and drinking beer. They’re mostly drinking beer because I was the only one there who would buy any of them. As I’m watching my kids ride, one of the fellows came over to me. He recognized that I was here, who I was, and I was starting this new hospital. He asked me, “Why don’t you come to lunch with me?”
I’m an introvert, I’m very shy, I’m not sure I can do this but on the other hand, I’m in a small country, I’m back home, but who knows me these days so I need to meet these people. They are the movers and the shakers in the business world in the country. I need them to know what I’m doing because I need their support. I said, “Okay.” He took me to the next week and took me a few times for them to get to know me and vice versa. I asked him for a list of all the members of the club. It was over 100 to 150 members back then.
I asked him for a list because the only way I’m going to do this with my shyness is to make a list and consciously meet at least two new people every single week. That’s exactly what I did. That was 1980. One of the things we do in Rotary is a new member stands up in front of the club and usually, it’s a 3 to 5 minute, “Who am I?” Since I was starting a business, they asked me to do a speech for twenty minutes. I have a Master’s Degree and I was assistant director of the hospital but I never made a speech in front of a bunch of people, so I was petrified. I remember I wrote my speech and it’s sitting on the lectern. I got to the bottom of the first page.
I was so nervous. I couldn’t let go of the lectern to change the page. That’s how it all started. I remember I fell in the back of the room, stood up to ask a question at the end because I want to know one thing, “Why did your dad fire my mother?” That was a learning lesson to be in Rotary. You’re going to get a lot of cracks. You’ll get a lot of things but it’s all in good humor. I learned that lesson quickly. For the first couple of years, I’m a member of a club, I’m networking, I’m getting to know the right people, I’m helping grow my business, and I didn’t still understand Rotary.
In about two years, I was chairman of the community service which is the committee that helps to develop the local community. They came up to me and said, “There’s a lady by the name of Rosebud Bell. She’s in a wheelchair, has diabetes, needs eye surgery, and we need to get her to Florida because nobody in The Bahamas does this kind of eye surgery. You’re the Community Service Chair, get her to a hospital there to get the surgery. She needs to restore her sight.” I said, “How much is my budget?” He said, “There is no budget.” What I did, we have a directory for Rotarians around the world. I looked up to Rotarians in Miami. Bascom Palmer is a fantastic Eye Institute. I knew about it because I worked over there. I called a Rotarian out of the blue. I tell him what I was doing.
He said, “No problem. We have a member of the club who works there and he can help you.” I called him. He said, “No problem. Bascom Palmer will waive all expenses. You just got to get her here.” I said, “Can you refer me to a doctor?” He said, “Sure. I know a doctor in another Rotary Club.” He gave me his number. I called him. He said, “I’ll do it. No charge.” I got to the hospital and the doctor. I said, “Do you happen to know anybody who works in a hotel?” He’s like, “Yes. There’s a hotel right across the street. The manager is a Rotarian.” I said, “I need his number.” I called him. “Of course, no charge. We’ll give you two rooms, one for the mother, one for the daughter for as long as you need it.”
I need to get her there, so I go to my local airline, Bahamas Air, “Can you help me?” “No problem, no charge.” This was a Rotarian who happened to work at Bahamas Air. Within 24 hours, I was able to get a completely free ride for her. We gave her some money for food so that she could go over, have surgery, save her eyesight, and get her back. It was just a few phone calls. I suddenly realized, everybody in that book is now a friend. All you have to do is call them and ask, and they’re going to help you. That opened my eyes to what this organization is all about.
The network of members of Rotary that’s fairly close to The Bahamas, Florida or wherever, they’re in that organization in order to do that very thing, to be called upon to help people in times of need. Is that the way the whole organization works around the world? Did you find that initial formative experience for you? Does that hold true? Is it fairly consistent?
Absolutely. I’ve talked to a number of people and they could tell me a very similar story in various parts of the world. I can share a number of those stories with you. That’s one aspect of what Rotary is all about. On their own, without those phone calls, they’re already looking at their community and doing projects in their community. One thing we ask every club to do is to do international service as well as local service because we are Rotary International. Most clubs get involved with another club in another part of the world and they partner in doing a project together. We do a lot of that thing as well.
Your initial experience was, “I’m going to be a big deal on this local hospital. I need to be connected to the local community.” Rotary is a good place to be connected. They get together, they cook burgers and they drink beer. That brought you in. You then started going to meetings and then you had that opportunity to be of service. You saw everybody coming together in that way. This is going to be a real fast-forward question. That drew you in and kept you there. You are in The Bahamas. It’s a tiny little country and it opened your eyes to what’s the possible impact you can make on the global level. Eventually, you are in line to be the president of the whole international organization. What was it that you saw that inspired you to step into that role, which is a massively important role?
I never had the ambition to be the global president of Rotary International. I never even dreamt it possible. As you say, I’m just an island boy from The Bahamas. Who am I to think that I can accomplish that? My entire journey was about doing good service with every chance I had, whether it was local or international. You heard about Haiti. I did a lot of projects in Haiti as part of my district. We have our own club in our own country but our district has ten countries, so we all work closely together. I get to know the district. I’ve got ten countries, so it’s already international. Some of our meetings were in the US, so I got to know a lot about them. It was a matter of doing good in the world which was what we’re all about and enjoying every minute of it.
When you realize the people you help, not only the ones that I helped, the ones that other people in the organization help, and you see what we do every year, it blows you away. I loved being a part of that. It took a lot of years later when people in my district are coming to me and say, “Barry, you should put your name in to be president.” First, I laughed. My wife told him, “Go away because he doesn’t have time. You’ve got to be kidding me,” but I heard it over and over again. I looked at the system of how it worked. I got myself on the nominating committee for president 2 or 3 times so that I can see the process and they kept telling me I should do it.
I said, “Let me try it.” I finally put my name in and eventually, I managed to put in the position. It was a shock but awesome. Part of my drive to do that was I could make a difference. Here’s an organization that’s changing the world but it’s 115 years old and it needs to change. We’re getting a lot of traditionalists to be president. They may not want me because I’m not a traditionalist but if I managed to get there, maybe I could make some changes in how the organization works. That was my personal drive to do it.
What is the so-called traditionalist approach look like versus the approach that you wanted to bring?
Part of it goes back to what you were saying. We have these older members and many clubs. The average age is 65 to 70. We weren’t pushing for younger or gender equality. We were successful and the danger of success is you rely on doing the same thing over and over again, whereas I like to think we should do things differently because you can build on our success. I believe we should be double the number of members we have. If we just tell the world what we do because they want to be a part of making the world better. We talked to ourselves, we have district conferences, we have conventions, we do fantastic, we give great leadership speeches, but we’re always talking to ourselves. We need to do what we’re doing right here and talk to people who are not Rotarians so they understand better who we are, what we do, and why they should be a part of this organization.
Your emphasis was going to be on how do we bring in more of the younger generation of folks like Millennial, Gen Z, and there’s another related organization called Rotaract, which is specifically for that. That was a big part of your emphasis as president. I’d like you to address that, but also tell us a little bit about your experience in that presidency because then all of a sudden, you were traveling all around the world to meet all these folks in all parts of the globe. I’d love to know a little bit about your experience there, and also how you reached out specifically to youth and diversity of religion, ethnicity, gender and all of that.
We have a number of youth programs. One was Rotaract, which is 18 to 30-year-olds. One is Interact, which is 16 to 18-year-olds basically high school. We even have an EarlyAct which starts in primary school. We have a Rotary Leadership Program and Youth Exchange. We do a lot of programs for youth. In my personal opinion, we treated them like kids. Some of them are but when you get to Rotaract and you got a 28-year-old who’s finished college and working, or not even going to college but working, being part of the local economy and doing service on the economy. I’m saying to myself, “Why are we not treating these folks like equals?” These 18 to 30-year-olds as special. They’re Rotarians. They’re doing what we do, they’re just doing it differently which by the way is a good thing.
I went to our council legislation and asked to change our constitution from a program so the Rotaract Club would be a member of Rotary International like a Rotary Club is a member of Rotary International. We talk about this as elevating Rotaract. We elevated them to equality. Now, you’ve got these 18 to 30-year-olds who were excited because finally, we’re respecting them. That’s all they were looking for. They made it very clear to me that they don’t want to go to boring meetings and spend a lot of money on dues, and things like that. It’s difficult for them to come into a club that they are the youngest by 30 years, however, they want to change the world like we’re changing the world.
They love what we do with service. They want to be a part of it. After changing the constitution, which was a serious challenge. The 538 delegates have to vote. Most of them are traditionalists so they’re thinking, “Why do we need to change?” They voted it down the first time. I love social media which a lot of my friends are now picking up that it’s important. I sent the word to the Rotaract members around the world, “I need your help. Call your representative of the council legislation. I’m going to go for another vote tomorrow. Bring it back.”
They did, we brought it back on the floor, and they voted for it this time, so we changed the constitution. That was April of 2019. From that time, we’ve been changing policies and procedures to bring them. We now have Rotaract on international committees and local committees. We treat them as equals. They are on the books. They’re like a Rotary Club and because of that, they’ve grown by 3,700 clubs which is incredible. The challenge is to change the culture.
As you know, changing the culture is the hard part. I do a lot of speaking engagements, both the Rotary Club and Rotaract Clubs to change the culture. We moved together. You saw on our vision statements. It’s about togetherness and we can get Rotaractors to get to know Rotarians and vice versa. They create relationships then they want to work together. In that, 250,000 people in Rotaract join Rotary, we’ve grown our organization for the first time in many years.One of the challenges of many leaders today is the inability to listen. Click To Tweet
What I hear in that is it’s one thing to say, “We should treat the Rotaract kids more as equals. Let’s do an attitude change and have a different perspective about who these are.” That’s one way of doing it. What you did was is work to change it systemically by literally changing the constitution of the organization to elevate them to full membership. There’s a huge difference between the talking and the deep systemic changes. That is oftentimes get overlooked when we’re looking at changing culture.
You are changing the culture. That’s a significant change in the culture, but you say there’s still more culture change work to do. What I’d like you to focus on for a little bit because I’m fascinated by this. I read those words from the Rotary website about diversity, equity, and inclusion. This idea of diversity and inclusion has always been there for Rotary, hasn’t it? It is 115 years but I have a feeling that diversity wasn’t interpreted the same way 100 years ago as it is now.
It certainly wasn’t. We started as a men’s organization. Four guys got around the table and they started the whole thing. That was about fellowship and networking, and they grew into service. It was known as a men’s organization. Our bylaws and constitution state that every Rotary Club should represent their community. When you think about that, if we represent our community, how come we’re all men. By the way, we’re getting older by now so we’re all old men. That’s not representing our community.
We started a number of years ago with the gender difference. In ‘89 was when we first officially started allowing women to join Rotary Clubs. It’s grown where some parts of the world were 50/50, some parts of the world were 35% female. There are a couple of countries that are only about 11%. There are some cultures where women don’t get to do that. We’re trying to change that as well. We’ve grown a lot in gender over time. Now let’s hit the age and we’ve grown a lot with that. January 2019 is when we came out with our first diversity statement to DEI to remind clubs that you represent your community.
That means all aspects of the community and diversity is a major part of that. We’ve started with gender and age. Honestly, in some parts of the world, bringing blacks into our organization has not been as good as it should be. We need to address race and ethnicity the next I believe. The sexual orientation and everything else. We’ve talked about disabilities, which should be addressed as well. It’s a journey we’re on but we’re making some good headway.
In the early days of Rotary, was diversity specifically spelled out as one of the organizational values?
It was. When you came into a Rotary Club in the early years, you would represent your profession or your job classification. I represented the hospital administration. Back then in a club, only one person could be from a classification. Our diversity was professional. We have a plumber, electrician, businessman, banker, lawyer, and accountant, etc. That was our first definition of diversity. We’ve had to change from that and get into the real world of now.
If somebody back then got in a time machine and landed at the end of 2020, the beginning of 2021, learned about the internet and said, “There’s a thing called a website.” They went to the Rotary website and they read the following words, “Rotary values diversity and celebrates the contribution of people of all backgrounds regardless of their age, ethnicity, race, color, abilities, religion, socio and economic status, culture, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.” They wouldn’t know what the hell you’re talking about for one thing. What’s obvious here is that as an organization, you have redefined or expanded the definition of a value that has always existed to be relevant and important in nowadays world, versus assuming that people will know what that means.
We wanted to make sure we put it right into the Rotary Clubs so they see that this isn’t something coming out of the bylaws. This is real, this is now, and you need to be proactive with making those changes.
Tell us a little bit about your adventures around the world. I’m sure there were many but were there any particularly poignant moments or lessons that you learned in your travels as president?
It was an absolutely awesome time. Normally, it’s a three-year journey. You’re president nominee, president-elect, and president because as soon as the presidential nominee became president, the elected passed away which was very sad for the Rotary world. Somehow, I ended up being asked to go in at that point. I’m president-elect, president for two years. I had a month to do the planning of what I was going to do for the year. You have to come up with your own theme for the year, be the inspiration, what are your goals, what do you want the clubs to accomplish, how are you going to award and reward individuals and clubs, and what are your major programs, those things.
There were a number of big meetings like the convention you went through that the president has to plan. You have to get ready for all of that early on in time. Within two months, you start traveling. Clubs and districts invite you to this meeting and that meeting. You start talking and listening. One of the challenges of many leaders is they don’t listen. I wanted to hear from Rotarians what do they want from Rotary, and what do they want us to do differently. That was a fascinating opportunity to here. I went to 60 countries in a year and a half.
Everywhere I went, I would ask to not only meet with the Rotarians but to meet with the Rataractors so that I can hear from them directly, “What is the challenge?” That helped us to focus on what we have to change first in order to get to where we want to be eventually. We were going from one trip, six weeks away from home. You start in South Korea. We went to Taiwan back to Africa for a meeting, back to Japan for a meeting, then over to England. Esther came home. She was exhausted. I went to Turkey to meet with a few districts. It’s insane.
I loved every minute of it. I’m not complaining because I got to meet good people. I have to tell you, I quote your book very often about The Radical Leap, especially because I go way back with that. The love that these people have for their communities, the world, and members of their clubs, that’s what drives all of us because we care about people. That’s what makes us unique. We’re not just out there helping people. We’re out there because we love people, we’re going to help them, and we’re going to make them better.
That trip I mentioned, one part of that was 36 hours to get to where we were going. We arrived at 11:00 at night and there are 150 Rotarians at the airport to meet us. That’s crazy. We’re exhausted. That’s no easy task to be smiling and happy. You have to because they’ve got out of their way to make sure that they take care of you. They’ll walk you through customs and immigration. They help in any way they possibly can. One thing about Rotarians in these countries is they were well connected. They can call somebody in government and get help for whatever they need.
If we’re going to do a big project, they can meet with the prime minister and say, “We’re going to do this. Can you work with us?” In the 60 countries, I went to, I met with 45 presidents and prime ministers where I could talk about Rotary and asked them to support their local Rotary Clubs. It’s about togetherness and partnership. If we’re working well with the government and other NGOs, there’s so much we could do because we’re together and not sitting in a silo. A spinoff from this after the presidency, when I come home, the governor of the country asked me to chair this thing called Volunteer Bahamas. He wants me to bring volunteerism as a new part of the culture, so I’m working with all the NGOs and bringing them all together and they’re coming.
They want to work together too. I remember in Kenya, the Rotaractor said they want to meet with me too, but they don’t want to meet in the conference room. They want to take me on a 2-mile walk through the Karura Forest. We walked in 2 miles, out 2 miles, and have a Rotaractor on each side. They tell me about their life, their ambitions, Rotary, and Rotaract. When the people behind them thought they’d had enough, they pushed them out of the way and they had two more. What an incredible experience to hear about young people from all cultures in all parts of the world on what they want to do to make our world a better place. It was a special time in my life.
Was there any particular common theme or themes that emerged particularly from the Rotoractors, the younger folks that you met regardless of where they were on the planet?
The common theme was, “We’re frustrated. We don’t join Rotary Clubs because we don’t see a Rotary Club that is adaptable to younger people, but we want to do a service.” It was consistent in all cultures. That’s why we set about making the changes we did because we were only having 4% of Rotaractors move into Rotary when they finished Rotaract. What a waste? We’ve got these people who want to do service and Rotary, who know who we are, and they leave us because they don’t want to do it the way we do it.
My message to Rotary Clubs is, “Ask them what they want you to do differently, adjust and be adaptable.” We have to be relevant to our young professionals in this world and they’re doing it. It’s all Zoom these days but I’ve been to at least ten meetings in Brazil with Rotaract and Rotary talking about that one issue. They’re working hard to make it happen and make it work. It’s happening, which is exciting to see something in an organization to change that quickly.
As we’re having this conversation, we’re in the long middle of the pandemic. You’re still traveling around the world from your home and in The Bahamas. How many international meetings do you find yourself doing in a single day nowadays?
I do 7 or 8 Zoom calls a day all over the world. I’ve been to 25 countries in the last three months. Numerous times, in the case of Brazil. Africa too, I go there quite often. The Rotaract especially wants me. The Interactors were saying, “You fixed Rotaract. Now, we want you to help us.” I talked to some of the Interact groups around the world.
That’s the high school-age kids. That’s a huge opportunity and a big passion of mine.Changing the culture is the hardest part of leadership. Click To Tweet
When you start inculcating that spirit of volunteerism in a young kid, they’re going to grow up wanting to do it for the rest of their life. That’s where you got to start with these things. That’s exciting to me to get them so pumped up. I now have a reputation in most of these places I go from the Rotaract. They call me Uncle Barry. They are very complimentary. It’s wonderful but they’re the ones doing the work.
Your theme for your presidency was Be The Inspiration. We all know the power of leading by example. If you’re going to ask other people to be inspiring, it better be starting from the top. You better embody that inspiration yourself. This is all anecdotal. I didn’t do an official survey or anything like that but, in my experience of talking with Rotary folks around the world, which I did not only at the conference. Since then, virtually, whenever your name comes up, it’s always couched in such a warm feeling of love and admiration for who you are and what you do.
If I can inject a personal note because you mentioned it. The way you and I were connected, this is the way I remember it, was when you were putting together the conference in Hamburg. We got a call or an email one day at the office saying that The President of Rotary International, Barry Rassin, would like to invite me to come and speak at the conference. I was like, “That’s cool.” There are all of my perceptions about what Rotary was, so I started to do a little research. We talked on the phone a couple of times as we were putting this together but I hadn’t met you. I did a little research. I went online which is how we do it. I found something online which was a PDF. It was your interview questions that you are asked when you were being considered as president. You went through an interview process where you had to ask or answer several questions and it’s online. I found that on a PDF online through a Google search. Do you remember anything about what your answers were to some of those questions?
I’ll share one of your answers. I’m going to paraphrase it. I don’t have it here in front of me. You were asked to describe your leadership philosophy and you said something like, “My leadership philosophy is based on or influenced by the work of Steve Farber from his book, The Radical Leap, which stands for Love, Energy, Audacity and Proof.” I’m reading this and I’m telling you, Barry, for me it was like, “That’s why I do this,” because it was so profound for me. You know this because you see the influence of your work.
Oftentimes, I don’t see the influence of my books because people pick them up and read them. Some are inspired by them and I’m sure others are not. It’s like anything else, but to see that those ideas had an impact on you, influenced the way you lead, and the impact that you have on the world, I didn’t even know that you existed when that was going on. The fact that you reached out to me and inspired me to learn about who you were was so personally fulfilling for me. Anybody who writes a book, that’s what we all hope for or who writes numbers of books. We hope that we have an influence.
I was so moved by that. When I got to know you, see you in action, and see what you’ve done, I know that the LEAP framework was nothing more than a confirmation of who you already were and what you’re already doing. It brought relief for you. It wasn’t like the installation of some new operating system in Barry Rassin. It was an articulation of the kind of person and leader than you already are.
As soon as I read that book, I said, “This is it. I need people to know this is what they need to do.” I’ve been teaching it. I apologize to you at the conference for quoting you so often. I always gave you the credit for it. I use The Radical Leap in any leadership speech I ever give because those four values are critical to a great leader.
You never have to apologize to an author for quoting their work. That advance which I referred to quite a bit on this show series, happened right before the pandemic at the end of February in 2020. One of the other speakers at the conference was a guest on our show, Frank DeAngelis who was the Principal of Columbine High School. One of my great joys was seeing the two of you connect because you guys have that similar quality of the heart. It’s all about service and particularly your interest in youth. It was a touching moment when you got up and you awarded Frank with a special Rotary designation after his presentation. What was that?
Paul Harris Fellow. We have a way to say thank you to folks. We raise money by doing this. We donate $1,000 to the Rotary Foundation to get a Paul Harris Fellow. You can give that to whoever you put in for. After hearing him speak, normally you can’t get it quite as quickly as I did, but there were two Rotarians in the room and I said, “You’re local. I’m from a distance. Is there any way you can get this for me quickly?” We were able to do it and give him a Paul Harris. I didn’t get the pin in time but I did send it to him so he should have it by now.
Seeing two great leaders that I admire so much connect with each other like that was remarkable. You’ve touched on this already but I want to invoke the great philosopher Tina Turner who asked the eternal age-old question, What’s Love Got to Do With It? As you reflect on the great work that you’ve done, as you look to the future, and the things that you have yet to work on and accomplish, how would you answer that question from a leadership perspective, what’s love got to do with it?
It’s all about what we do. It’s about caring for people whether you’re an employer, you’ve got to care about your staff. You can’t expect them to do anything you want if you don’t care for them and they know you don’t care. They’re smart. You’ve got to care for them. When you do, as a leader of a company, and they know you do authentically, they will do anything for you and your company will boom. That’s the reality. I see it in every facet of life. I see it in our Rotary Clubs. You have a president of a club who cares for the members and calls them when they miss a meeting and say, “Are you okay?”
It makes a difference. It’s the little things that show you care. When people know you care, not only them but about people in general, and you care about animals even. When they know that’s the kind of person you are and you, at some point, need them to help you with something, they don’t even hesitate. They say, “We’ll do it.” That’s what it’s all about. Being authentic, being real, being yourself, and caring for people in a real way, that brings back so much to you in order to get things done to help people. That’s a circle of love. It does work in all facets of life.
The nuance to that is you can tell when somebody is “caring” for you or says the right words about love, respect and care. You can tell when that person is doing it because they want something from you. What you’re saying is if you come from that authentic place of love and caring, you’re not doing it because it’s not a quid pro quo. You’re not waiting for that return in productivity and energy and all that in order to decide whether you’re going to continue caring and loving for that person. You’re doing it because you do. I love it because it’s the right thing. If there was ever a very clear example of love and action, it’s the work that you do and it’s the work that that Rotary does as an organization. It’s also a reflection on the kind of people that the organization attracts. I’m going to assume you’re not going to get a lot of people who don’t already feel like it’s important to make a difference in the world. I imagine you get some people that are there to network.The danger of success is just relying on doing the same thing over and over again. Click To Tweet
They don’t last. Within two years, they’re usually gone. If you find somebody who’s been in a Rotary Club for 3, 5, 10, 20, 30 years, they care. Pure and simple. It always amazes me. I say it can come back to you. I think of when Hurricane Dorian hit The Bahamas and I’m on a committee for Rotary to do whatever we can. Two islands were completely devastated, wiped out. We’ve got to start from scratch. I’ve got to get help. I’ve got responses from 45 countries around the world, “What can I do to help?” That’s what I’m even asking. It brings it back to us. You’ve got to show you care and other people also care, and they’re going to want to help you when you have those issues.
When you’re tied in around the world, what an amazing opportunity that you personally have and that we all have nowadays to build those relationships with no geographical borders because we’re connected virtually. If there’s an upside to the pandemic, I suppose that’s it. The fact that you visited 25 countries without getting on an airplane. By the way, I love the language that you’ve said, “I’ve been to eight different countries.”
I tend to confuse people with that language because that’s what I use. I’ve told somebody, “I’m in Brazil tonight so I’m not sure I’d make it tomorrow.” They took me seriously.
Emotionally and even experientially on some level, that’s the truth. When you’re looking at somebody even through a computer halfway around the world, for that moment, in some significant way, you’re in the room together. That’s a beautiful thing. I love that you’re using that language to describe it. Barry, people that want to learn about a Rotary can go to Rotary.org or check out the local clubs in your area. I am not at this juncture a member of Rotary, but I get closer to it every day the more time I spend with people. It’s an odd time but there are some great clubs here in the San Diego area and I’ve met quite a few people. I’m getting that sense of community already. I suspect that I’ll be diving in with both feet but that’s more jumping in.
If you ever want to join my Rotary Club, I could send you a Zoom connect and you could join us every Friday at 1:00.
For folks who would like to connect with you, have a correspondence with you, or connect in some way, what’s the best way for them to do that?
Email is the best way, BarryJRassin@Gmail.com. If I’m not in a boring Zoom, I’ll be doing email. If I’m not on Zoom, normally I am catching up on my emails. When I was president, I was getting 500 or 600 a day. Now I’m down to 100, so it’s not too bad.
I will say that you are quite responsive. You didn’t put me to shame.
I have a philosophy on that, “You should never take more than 24 hours to answer an email.” If you don’t have the answer, you write back and say, “I don’t have the answer.” You should always respond. There’s nothing more frustrating than sending an email and hearing nothing. I don’t want to be one of those.
On a personal note, you are leaving me at the end of this episode with an overwhelming feeling of guilt. I need to do a lot better. I’ve been very spotty at that. I’m going to make a commitment to work on that. I’m sure that anybody who takes you up on that offer will benefit greatly from your friendship. Barry, it’s been great having you on the show. Thank you all for reading. Until next time, do what you love in the service of people who love what you do.
Thank you, Steve.
- Love Is Just Damn Good Business
- Barry Rassin
- Who We Are – Rotary Section
- The Radical Leap
- PDF – Interview Questions
- Frank DeAngelis – Previous Episode
About Barry Rassin
As the past president of Rotary International, Barry Rassin is an inspiring and powerful advocate for youth leadership around the world.
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