The Primitive Podcast: Dan Pope

Posted by The Prim Pack | May 1, 2020

The Primitive Podcast: Dan Pope

Is a career in politics, or life as a politician, one of your goals?  For Mayor of Lubbock, Texas, Dan Pope, the answer was no. At least that’s what he thought up until he ran, and won, his seat in 2016. With feet planted firmly in Lubbock, Mayor Pope gets candid with Kade about staying balanced, taking risks, and welcoming failure.


Kade Wilcox: Hello, I'm Kade Wilcox, the host of The Primitive Podcast. On today's leadership episode, we had the privilege of having Mayor Dan Pope of Lubbock here in the studio with us. Spanning from 20 plus years in leading a business and then his time as Mayor, Dan had some really great insight into leadership and some really good things to share, so I was pleased to have him on our podcast. I think you will really gain a lot of insight from his experience in today's podcast.

Kade Wilcox: I really appreciate you being here and I know you're exceptionally busy.

Dan Pope: It's great to be here!

Kade Wilcox: So as your friend it means a lot that you would join us. I think most people listening to our podcast know exactly who you are because your leadership over the last four years as Mayor of Lubbock. But why don't you tell us about your background and maybe even some things like what motivated you to run for mayor. If that was something you always kind of thought about. Go into your background, where'd you grow up, how'd you get to Lubbock and how'd you end up the Mayor of Lubbock?

Dan Pope: Well it's good to be here. I'm a native Texan. In fact, eight generation Texan. My dad's side of the family came with Stephen F. Austin and were part of The Old Three Hundred. So I'm very proud of that Texas heritage. My parents met at Texas Tech in the 1950s. My dad was a first generation college student from Temple. My mom was a rancher's daughter from West Texas. They met here. So we bleed red and black in our house. And my brothers and I are all Red Raiders. Our dad joked that we could go to college anywhere we wanted, but he'd pay for it if we went to Texas Tech. So we all went to Tech. It was a great decision. I spent 10 years with Xerox corporation after college.

Dan Pope: And I had the best experience I could have. I sometimes joke that I probably earned two MBAs in that period of time. I was in Midland, Odessa, Austin, and Nashville, Tennessee. I got to do sales and sales management. It's funny, I joke about the MBA deal. I twice applied for graduate programs. I was accepted, but I got transferred before I could actually participate. But that was a great experience. I learned a lot. Xerox was, I didn't know it when I went to work for them, but they were struggling for their own life and went through the whole total quality management experience. They were early adopter of that from an American company standpoint. We won a Malcolm Baldrige quality award while I was there, which is a national quality award. And I learned some lessons that serve me every day of my life. In 1994, I had married my wife Denise. We'd met in Austin when I was there, got married after I had moved to Nashville and we'd lived a couple of years in Tennessee and decided that probably the corporate world wasn't for us and we're looking for opportunities. I had a chance to leave Xerox and become a Xerox partner. And they actually paid me to leave which I guess should have told me something. But we started a business in Lubbock called Benchmark Business Solutions. We operated it for just about 20 years and sold a few years ago. And staff stayed around to help with the transition. The business still does very well in Lubbock.

Dan Pope: We still remain close to the team there. I never grew up with being mayor on a list of life goals. But when Mayor Robertson decided to run for Congress after Representative Neugebauer's announcement to retire. And as you recall, we had 11 or 12 people run for that office that Jody Arrington ultimately won. It opened up the mayor seat in May of 2016. And we talked about it and I always thought that Lubbock apologized for itself way too much. And we didn't stress all the positives that were going on here. And also felt like the council had been part of the problem and maybe needed to be more part of the solution. And I thought maybe a different kind of leadership might serve us well. So I was fortunate enough to win a wide open race in May of 2016. And now am in the last months of my second two year term and have announced that I'm going to give it a try again next May. So hopefully I can convince the Lubbock citizens to give us two more years and keep working. There's a lot of work to do.

Kade Wilcox: What's been the biggest surprise leading as mayor? You come from the private sector where you owned your own business for almost 20 years. What from a leadership perspective has been a big surprise that maybe you didn't anticipate or you didn't expect? It doesn't have to be a bad thing, I'm just curious if there's some major differences between your role now and leading in the private sector for 20 years.

Dan Pope: There's several things that have been really interesting. First of all, everybody calls you mayor. You go from being dad to be a mayor, you get a new name. And there's people in our office down at city hall that I've known for a long time and all of a sudden my name changed. I thought that was interesting. You also sign a bunch of things. It's amazing how much you sign, I sign all the time. Those are just a couple oddities about it. I think probably the biggest surprise to me is you sign up to try to run, to lead the city, but don't really realize, I guess until you're in the position what that means. There's a lot of really cool parts about it, but there's a lot of things about it that are really significant kind of things.

Kade Wilcox: Big responsibilities.

Dan Pope: Yeah. I remember when Coach Spike Dykes passed away two and half years ago and I'd known Coach Dykes for a long time, but we weren't great friends. But I get a phone call wanting a quote about what he meant to our community. And that's not a huge deal, but that's what they expect the mayor to do. I think probably the biggest slap in the face when you realize it's for real was when in the summer of 2016. If you recall, we had five policemen killed in Dallas by a mad man, a murderer. The police were out providing security for a demonstration. As Americans one of the things we cling to most proudly is our ability to peacefully protest. And that's what happened in Dallas. And it was a Black Lives Matter type protest. There'd been some police shootings. At the end of the protest, this guy kills five Dallas policemen. And so the next morning I start getting phone calls from the local media and talking to our guys. And I think you realize it's for real. It's easy to talk about public safety and it's job number 1. And we're gonna vote for it on our budget and we're gonna do these things and we're gonna make sure we have got all the right technology and the right training and all the support. But you know, those men and women put their lives on the line every time they go to work. And so it's up that it's cool to be the leader. It's a great opportunity to help move our community forward.

Kade Wilcox: Moments where the realism of the situation is different than if you're a kind of an outside looking in.

Dan Pope: That's right. I enjoyed the economic development part of the job. I enjoy going out visiting employers. I enjoy cutting ribbons, but for every bit of that, there's a real brevity to some of the leadership. Some of the stuff's pretty heavy.

Kade Wilcox: Yeah. It makes sense. So what do you see your role as a leader? Let's think of your role as the mayor, right? Maybe it's not different. Maybe you see your leadership and your role and your responsibility at Benchmark the same way that you see it as Mayor. And if so then that's great. But talk a little bit about what's your primary role as a leader of your organization and how do you view your own leadership and what's critical about your own leadership and just how you approach your leadership?

Dan Pope: Well we could talk for an hour on that.

Kade Wilcox: Go for it.

Dan Pope: I think first and foremost effective leaders are good communicators. So you need to be able to define what success is and help your people understand what it will look like when you get there. That doesn't mean that you have to define every move. In fact, you want people that can figure out better ways to get there than you can as a leader.

Dan Pope: I think leaders spend it an inordinate amount of time working on culture. I think Peter Drucker first said that culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Culture is what you stand for. That's who you are. That's what's important. That is an organization or a family or a church. That's what you coalesce around.

Dan Pope: I believe that good leaders lead from the front. They're not going to ask their people to do things they're not willing to do themself. Now there's a fine line there. I mean if you study the civil war and you look at Stonewall Jackson there's an argument to be made that he maybe was a little too much on the front line and had he found a way to not always be on the front line. The war changed when he was killed and he was killed on the front line. You know what I mean? Cause he had to be right in the middle of it all. But you need as a leader, you need to be willing to put yourself in the middle of it all. And whether that's servant leadership or not, I'm not sure how you want to define that. I think leaders are good listeners. We talked about communication.

Dan Pope: I think leaders learn to listen and I think when you listen, you learn. And maybe I should end with that. And I think leaders are always learning.

Kade Wilcox: That's great.

Dan Pope: I think you sent me some ideas about what we may talk about and we'll get to talk about failure in a little while. Leaders, if you're not learning from the good and the bad and let's underscore the bad because the only reason you're not going to have failures is you're not out there enough. And so I think leaders learn whether that's the way they read, whether that's the people they associate with that, whether it's their ability to reflect back on their own experiences.

Kade Wilcox: That's really good. I'm fascinated and I would love for you to talk a little bit more about listening. Another one of our guests, Mr. Bryant, the Superintendent of Lubbock Cooper schools, talked a lot about listening as a leader. And I have to admit, it's not something you hear a lot about. When you read in magazines or listen to podcasts and you're learning about characteristics of leaders. I haven't run across listening as a characteristic of a good leader and it makes total sense when you hear it. So what does that look like for you and what are some of the ways in the past 20 years of your own leadership that you've been impacted by this idea of really listening as a leader? Could you unpack that a bit?

Dan Pope: Well, I think part of leadership and success is being able to build teams.

Dan Pope: People want to be on a team where their voice matters. So listening and engaging in that regard is a big part of it. The same way if you're out trying to develop clients, if you're in business, it's not about how smart you are. It's most often about how you understand their business or what their needs are. I think it's the same thing at City Hall we spend a lot of time listening. Sometimes it's via email, sometimes it's via citizen comments in a meeting. It's most often face to face when people come in with an idea or a complaint. But I think you learn when you listen. Years ago I was in some sales training and this trainer said, listening is not thinking about what you're going to say next. This idea about being an active listener.

Kade Wilcox: Versus sitting there preparing your remarks.

Dan Pope: That's right.

Kade Wilcox: Which is commonplace. Even thinking of that in my own leadership, half the time when you're listening, you're basically positioning what you're hearing for your next comment or what you're going to respond with. So that's challenging. That's a really good insight to talk about failure. You mentioned it a minute ago in terms of how failure can really impact your learning, but on a personal level whether it was as a business leader or whether it's as mayor, how do you personally approach and view failure?

Dan Pope: Yeah. Well, I think it's inevitable. I think we're human so therefore we will err. My belief is you take failure and try to learn from failure. I once read that experience is a sum of all the mistakes you've made. And I have reached that point in my life where I spend a lot of time reflecting about things that I've learned. But I think every morning when you pull out the driveway, you have to accept the fact that failure is a part of life.

Dan Pope: I used to coach team members at Benchmark, encouraging them to make decisions that would take care of their clients with the idea being that most of the time they would make the right decision. But even if they didn't make the right decision, we could realize that. So we would see there's failure, but we could pivot and we could get on the right path and often solve that problem faster than our competitor who was paralyzed in analysis. It's this idea, let's not make the same mistake twice, but let's be willing to fail if it's done for the right reasons. Now failure to get out of bed in the morning, that's unacceptable. But failure on this path towards trying to achieve something, sign me up for that.

Kade Wilcox: That's good. How do you pursue personal growth as a leader? How do you stay inspired? How do you empower your own leadership? In your position, things are always pulling, people are requesting time, people are requesting meetings, you're putting out this fire, or you're working on this opportunity or you're in meetings all the time. How do you prioritize your own growth and how do you develop Dan? How do you stay empowered and inspired as a leader?

Dan Pope: I think first and foremost, you have to take care of yourself. I'm not sure it's as much for my physical body as it is for my mental body, but for me that means a workout four or five days a week, most often very first thing in the morning so it gets done. It clears my mind certainly. And I'm a reader. Unfortunately the way this job is set up, most of the reading I do when I'm in town is work related. So that leads me to the fact that for me to really get time to work on personal development, it's probably time when I'm not in town. When things can get quiet and I can get away for a bit and read and often spend time with Denise or even time by myself.

Dan Pope: If I can do that and be quiet I learn a lot from that. I think the other thing is that I want to associate myself with other men and women that I think are successful. And I learn a lot from that. I learn from watching. I learn from asking questions. Sometimes I learn from the things they've done and their good ideas. So whether it's other mayors, whether it's business leaders, whether it's preachers or coaches, I find watching people like Chris Beard or Greg Sands or Matt Wells. I find that to be fascinating and how they build teams. I think preachers have a really difficult job in not only being men and women of faith, leading a congregation, but all else they deal with the counseling aspects of it. Unfortunately they're leaned on most heavily in times of difficulty and crisis.

Dan Pope: And so I want to be around those people that I think, make all boats rise and that's where I want us to spend my time, associate myself with that.

Kade Wilcox: Yeah, that's good. Good insight. So this is super practical and I don't exactly know how this works as mayor. And so if you want to answer this from your experience as a business owner, but how do you lead direct reports?Really practically how do you help them grow? How often do you meet? What does communication look like with them? So for those listening who are leading, four, five, six, ten, twelve people directly that report up to them and into them what, from your experience, have you learned about leading direct reports? Both philosophically and even maybe more importantly practically. What does that look like?

Dan Pope: Yeah, that's a great question. So that's one of the real challenges about being mayor and one of the differences about being mayor is that the city council operates much more as a board of trustees. We set strategic direction, we have the oversight function, we approve the budget, we audit, those type things. In fact, only three people work for the city council, the city manager, the city attorney, and the city secretary.

Kade Wilcox: I don't think most people know that. I know it's been the last couple of years where I learned that when you think of the mayor and the city council, you think they're kind of leading the whole city and all the employees and all the city staff. And I think that's probably new to most people.

Dan Pope: Not the way our charter is written.

Kade Wilcox: That's fascinating.

Dan Pope: In fact that's one of the real challenges is staying in your lane. What is your job? And so I do spend quite a bit of time with the city manager, city attorney, and city secretary but the reality of it is they work for all seven of us. The word accountability has become a bit trite. We all talk about accountability, accountability. I do think that as a leader you want to find the kind of people that have sort of three things. I want energy. I want people that can get out of bed in the morning and can go all day long. I want intelligence. Smart enough to do the job. Probably smarter than me. That's not a high bar to jump over. And then I want integrity. Someone that I can trust, someone that our client can trust.

Dan Pope: So I tried to build my teams with those three things in mind. And then I think you provide great training. I think you clearly define the goals. I think you make sure the resources are in place to allow your people to achieve those goals. I think you are there for support as needed. But for the most part you get out of the way. That's right. Because if we're at point A today and we need to go to point B and I hired you because of those things we just talked about and we provide you the training and everybody's always gone along this path to point B, but you find a better way to get to point B.

Dan Pope: That's what we're looking for. And so if it's so prescriptive that you only have to do it the way we've always done it, then we don't need you in the organization. So I want people that work with me to not check their brain at the door.

Kade Wilcox: That's good.

Dan Pope: We're not going through the motions.

Kade Wilcox: And a lot of times that can happen when someone's working for a strong leader. It's almost like the leader really takes precedent, you know? And even the space to collaborate and talk, it's like the leaders always driving that. And so that's a fascinating statement.

Dan Pope: Well that's what I believe. I think you want to hire people that are smarter and always more talented than you are if you can find them.

Kade Wilcox: Who are some of the people who have had the greatest influence? Sounds like you're well-read. So this might be a hard question, but whether it be from your background or people you've led and followed from a distance, who someone who's made a great influence on your leadership and what are some of the things you've learned from them?

Dan Pope: I've got a lot of role models when it comes to that. My parents remain strong role models for me. They're very principled people. Their faith and their value systems are remarkable. And I was fortunate enough to get to know Drayton McLane, the Texas businessman, former owner of the Astros. I got to know Drayton early in life. I grew up in Temple where he lives and he was my Sunday school teacher in high school. So he remains an encourager and a friend and a mentor to this day. I worked for some awful good folks at Xerox.

Dan Pope: There's a book that I read in my mid thirties. It's a book called Halftime, and I'm going blank right now on the Texas business man that wrote it. It'll hit me in a minute. But the thesis of the book was changing your life's work from success to significance. This idea that when people write your epitaph or inscribe on your gravestone, you don't want them to say he spent a lot of time at the office or he missed all the family dinners or he made a bunch of money but he didn't die with many friends.

Dan Pope: It's about what's important to you and what are those values. And so I've been impacted. Good to Great a Jim Collins book I think made an impact on me as it did with a lot of people. I went back and read his books before and the ones after that. I think his management style seems to jive with me. My business book library is off the chart and I often find something that I can pull out of nearly everything. Then I think you blend it with your own style. I think today I get to watch some pretty fantastic leaders in our community that I can learn from.

Dan Pope: And that puts me in a cool spot. Robert Taylor with United Supermarkets, I'm a big fan of his. I like his humble style of leading. I like that you know what's important to Robert and that never changes. I think Kirby Hocutt that runs the Tech athletic department is a remarkable leader. I find him to be somebody that I look at and try to take from. I serve with some mayors around the state that I've learned a lot from and I enjoy working with. Mayor Price in Fort Worth has been at it a long time. My friend Ginger now set up in Amarillo. We compare notes a lot and I think I learn from those folks. So whether it's something you're reading or something you're watching or just, you know, back to what we talked about a little while ago, who you spend your time with. To me, that's how you continue to learn.

Kade Wilcox: Yeah, that's really good. How do you balance aspiration and contentment? So when you think of aspiration how do you stay balanced, stay centered, stay focused on what you're doing and what's important and yet address and deal with aspiration. Like, what kind of advice do you have as it relates to aspiration?

Dan Pope: There was a 20 year period in my life where that was very difficult for me. I was relatively happy where I was, but I was always fighting that itch, that urge, to be something smarter, better, more successful or whatever, in a different role.

Dan Pope: I think somewhere, maybe 15 years ago I came to the realization that my previous life, I sold copiers for a living. It was fancier than that, but that was the reality of it. And I reached the conclusion that I wanted to be the very best at that and it helped me fend off that little bird on your shoulder or whatever it may be. Let's just keep doing what we're doing and do it really, really, really well. Let's be the very best at it. And as mayor, I get asked all the time about what's next, what office are you gonna run for next? What's down the road? And I try to tell people my feet are planted solidly in Lubbock, Texas.

Dan Pope: That I get up every morning and I'm really motivated to serve the citizens of Lubbock, Texas, and the people of West Texas. I love this job. And what's next for me is what's around the corner in an hour, this afternoon, tomorrow morning, tomorrow afternoon, this weekend. My feet are planted right here in Lubbock, Texas. And for me, that helps me visualize the fact that that's where I am and this is what's most important and this is what I've signed up to do. There'll be a time in the future where I'll need to go on and do something else. And I'll deal with that at that point. But I think reaching peace with yourself about happiness and what success looks like, how you measure that success. I think exactly what it is. And one time in my life, it might've been how many new offices we could open or whatever our sales goals were or bottom line success or customer satisfaction, whatever it may be. I think as you go through life that changes some. I think we measure success a little differently today at city hall. I think personally, I'd measure it a bit differently.

Kade Wilcox: That's good. Thanks for sharing that. Last question for you. How old are you? 51?

Dan Pope: 56. Thank you. Thank you.

Kade Wilcox: What would the 56 year old Dan Pope, knowing what you know now, what would you tell your 30 or 35 year old self? If you could go back and talk to your 30 year old self, what would you share? What critical pieces of advice would you give yourself 25 years ago knowing what you know now?

Dan Pope: I would make sure that family was first. As much as I have attempted to do that, there's probably times that my family lost out. And so I think that that's very important. I don't think I have a regret there, but I would underscore that.

Kade Wilcox: The priority of it.

Dan Pope: Yeah, I think so. I would say that there's no time like the present. I think personally to some extent, and certainly I've watched it with many people that they couldn't ever find the right time to jump and to go chase their dreams to jump in the deep end. There's no time like the present. And what made you successful to a certain point in your life is not going to go away if you fail. So if it's starting your own business, if it's making some big investment, whatever it may be do it and and do it the very best way you can do it. And if it happens that it doesn't turn out like you want it to, then you still have those God-given graces and skills and people still are going to love you. And then you just keep chopping wood. There'll be another chance. But jump in the deep end would be one of my pieces of advice.

Dan Pope: And then I think finally would be take a little more time to smell the flowers. To enjoy the experience. I think I'm guilty at times of accomplishing something and then looking to the next ladder to climb or the next mountain to scale. And I think enjoy the ride a bit. I watched the Red Raider basketball team last year all the way to the final game. And I thought one of the things that Coach Beard did a great job with was as intense and as well prepared as they were, he still made sure that his guys didn't miss the experience. He wanted to make sure they smelled the roses and I think that's advice I would give a much younger Dan Pope.

Kade Wilcox: That's really great. I really appreciate your time. Thanks for joining us on the podcast and for all the wisdom and insight you've shared and thanks for being a great leader and leading our city so effectively. I know I speak for a lot of people who are really grateful and proud that you're our mayor and are excited for you to continue to be our mayor. So thank you.

Dan Pope: It's my pleasure. I guess I would be missing something if I didn't close by saying, Kade, it's a great day in Lubbock, Texas.

Kade Wilcox: Perfect ending.


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