Robert Rauch (University of Maryland Regent) on the Joy of Leadership Podcast

Welcome to the Joy of leadership Podcast on KMozart brought to you by Cobblestone Wine. I am your host Shar McBee. In a moment you will meet our guest Bob Rauch, a Regent at the University of Maryland.  

But first, today’s leadership secret: Enthusiasm. Enthusiasm enables you to inspire cooperation.  It warms the heart.

When you are honestly enthusiastic, people want to listen to you. If communication between workers and management is cold, your organization will fail to realize its full potential. Enthusiasm unifies people. 

Enthusiasm is a powerful force in business. Even the most well-run company cannot succeed without it. So, be enthusiastic, if you feel it express it, and your results can be magical. 

Our guest today is a Regent at the University of Maryland. A Regent at a University is a volunteer. They are not paid, but they make billion-dollar decisions. They appoint college presidents. They oversee all academic administrative and financial decisions. 

Professionally Bob Rauch is the president and CEO of a large engineering firm located on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, Rauch, Inc. 

I met him when he and his son, Casey,  invited me to be on their trivia team. I had no idea that he was an expert in leadership, but I learned.  Welcome Bob Rauch.

Bob Rauch:  I am very flattered and pleased to be here with you.

Shar McBee: Thank you, Bob. This podcast is for people who are new to leadership, so is there anything that is going on at the University of Maryland that you think could be helpful for anyone who has a new leadership position?

Bob Rauch:   I think developing a level of respect among the Board.  We not only have a wide diversity of expertise (from engineers to educators, to accountants, lawyers, you name it)  but we also have political diversity.  

We see it nationally in a lot of discussions on education, they seem to get wrapped up in politics instead of just education.  In my almost 10 years on the Board of Regents, I am so pleased and proud to say that we have never let a political position become involved. 

I think that that goes back to the level of respect that everybody has for each other.  We  hear all these amazing and interesting opinions and perspectives. And again, it works because of the level of respect.  I think that if you don’t give people respect, you are not going to get cooperation. 

Shar McBee:   Is there a way to create respect?

Bob Rauch:   From my perspective, the first step is you have to know how to listen. You have to listen to people before you start running your mouth. And I think it has to come with a level of humility.

The chest thumpers and the loud mouths – they get a lot of sound bites, but they don’t necessarily pull the support of the whole group. 

When I first got on the Board, I was so intimidated. I am looking at all these PhDs, lawyers and the like, and quite honestly my initial sense was a bit inadequate.  Fortunately, I chose to listen more than talk, and I was very flattered one time when one of the leaders said, “You listen a lot, but when you talk, we know you have  something to say.” 

That made an impact on me and made me very comfortable and pleased with that approach. If other people have good ideas, I’d rather support them than be the originator.  Then, if my ideas don’t come out,  I’ll bring them up. I think that humility helps and being thoughtful. You have to be thoughtful.

Shar McBee: Well, Bob, you did something for me once.  We were on a trivia team together and I was extremely intimidated because you and your son are brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.   I was new and I felt maybe the same way you felt when you got on the Board of Regents, I felt so afraid to speak up. And you said to me just say what you think don’t be afraid, and that helped me so much, Bob.

Bob Rauch:   Well, for the most interesting person I ever knew it was not hard for me to get you to say something, I’ll tell you. Sure that was one wonderful experience, and we so miss it because we made a great team together.

Shar McBee:   You did help me to see that even if I am afraid, I have to chance it and just say what I think.

Bob Rauch:  Well, you bring that up and you can pick and choose the stuff that I got to tell you but when you just said that about being afraid and you talked to me about possibly doing this interview, it made me think of leadership advice or experiences that could be helpful that I thought would be worthwhile sharing. And over my years I am comfortable with leadership and I don’t know that I consciously was comfortable with it, but you don’t become a great leader by simply picking the things that you already know how to do. I mean, that helps, but generally, you have people around you to know that. But I found myself in two situations over my career where working for the department of natural resources, as a 20-something water resource engineer, and finding a need at the state level to get involved in some very sophisticated water resource modeling.

And I went to the secretary to the director, and I said, you know we are the leaders in the entire state on water resources, and we don’t have anybody here that knows how to do this. He said, well, I guess you are it. So, they thrust me into the situation to do that, but prior to that, again, 20-something, I don’t know much of anything. And this was probably where the fear factor came in. That proved to be one of the most beneficial. They said we are going to make you the coordinator of the state federal flood insurance program. Wow, what a lofty title for a 24-year-old, I had to meet with every town and county in the state of Maryland and get them to develop rules and regulations to comply with this program. I had no experience in public speaking, I had no experience in taking that role and I could have said no, but I put the fear aside, and it was the most wonderful experience and that leadership came from not being intimidated and doing it. And I learned how to stand up in front of people and talked to them. I only had my life threatened two or three times in that they’re a pretty tough crowd sometimes. It was so amazing to swallow your fear and look out at that group and present yourself with enough confidence, whether you had it or not, that you had to look confident, and we ended up getting every town and county in the state of Maryland in compliance with this. I visited every square inch of the state and talked to groups that were threatening that were you name it.

And then following that level of confidence had the opportunity to become our county’s very first public works director and county engineer, 27 years old. I just had my license. I had nobody, I had nothing. So, to panic was one option, but chose not to take it and sort of took my lead from taking on the other situation, and I didn’t have any support. We were building a wastewater treatment plant, I took one course in college on water treatment plants. So, you either show your vulnerable underbelly, or you stand up tall and you forge ahead like you are in charge, and that confidence got me through that. And we ended up and built three wastewater treatment plants. We build a roads department and building department. I could not have done that without having had the experience to develop that confidence. So, fear is a really strong piece I think of solid leadership, but fear has to have confidence with it. And it has served me I would recommend that to anybody. If you back away from challenges you can’t be a leader. You have to face them all and you have to take them on. And I say it has served me for whatever good, bad, and different that is. And I just think I could tell anybody just don’t be afraid, trust yourself, taking many a job that they said can you do this? I said, yes, not a clue, but I had the confidence that we could figure it out. You have to have confidence in yourself, and confidence in your team, and that helped us do things that others might not.

Shar McBee:  Years ago I was invited to come to Mexico City and they were putting on these big events, and I thought I was being hired for my expertise in organizing big events. But then the message came, we want you for your enthusiasm.

Bob Rauch:   You have plenty of that.

Shar McBee:  And I mean, it surprised me, but also I’ve thought about it over the years, many times since, and the word enthusiasm means in the spirit, that’s where the word evolves from.

Bob Rauch:   Really? Yeah.

Shar McBee:  And when you are honestly enthusiastic about something, people get in the spirit, there’s a lot of fake enthusiasm, which turns people off.

Bob Rauch:  Pretty transparent isn’t it?

Shar McBee:   Exactly, but I was just wondering if you have any thoughts about that?

Bob Rauch:   Oh, well, I could not agree with you more, and it was one of the things that was in the back of my mind to mention, and you have to love what you are doing to inspire people, to have them trust you, and to keep you going for the next challenge. I mean, I love what I do. I love the projects we take on, and I could not agree with you more if you stand up in front of a group and you are kind of deadpan faking it, it’s so obvious. But if you are excited, you are going to get the people excited. And people say calm down, calm down. No, I am fired up, I am ready to go. So, I agree with you completely on that.

Shar McBee:   Bob, this is fun.  Thank you so much.

Bob Rauch:  Sure. I’d do anything for you and I miss seeing you, and we’ll find some trivia to do here soon.

Shar McBee:   Great. Thank you, Bob. This is the joy of leadership podcast on KZA art brought to you by cobblestone wine, I am Shar McBee.


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