Servant Leadership with Marcia Barnes

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Marcia Barnes, President and CMO of Sells Group, who shares her experiences with leading successfully by loving and serving her people.
Full Transcript of Podcast Below
Ray Hilbert– Well, hello everyone welcome back to another Edition of the Bottom Line Faith podcast where we take a look at today’s top Christian leaders in business and the marketplace and we short of lift up the hood and tinker around a little bit and learn how they live, lead, think and solve problems. I am you’re co-host, Ray Hilbert. My other co-host, Adam Ritz, is out of town on assignment today. So, I have The incredible privilege for this version of Bottom Line Faith podcast interview. One of my closest friends in life, Marcia Barnes. Marcia, welcome to Bottom Line Faith.
Marcia Barnes– Thank you, Ray.
Ray Hilbert– And Marcia, we have had the opportunity to know each other over a number of years, I’m sure we’ll get to some of that later. But why don’t you take a moment and give our listeners a little bit of information on your background? Where you grew up, a little bit about your faith, how you come to Christ that sort of thing.
Marcia Barnes– Sure, I’m from a very small town in Southeastern Indiana, it’s very small, but very famous Milan Indiana, that’s where the basketball team won the state championship in 1954-
Ray Hilbert– Bobby Plump!
Marcia Barnes– That’s right and foundation of the movie Hoosiers. I never really realized that was a big deal until I went to college. So, that’s often what happens to us, we’re in the middle of something epic, and we don’t realize how big it is going on around us. My dad was in the 8th grade and at that game when Milan won that year. We’re from a rule farming community; my dad was a farmer, I grew up as a farmer’s daughter. He actually worked a full-time job as well, so, a really big work ethic was instilled in myself and my two sisters. As we were growing up, we had a lot of poverty in our early life, you know, before my dad started doing both farming and working outside of the home. So, we struggled for money, you know my parents struggled to make ends meet, and so I kind of became conditioned to have respect for working hard and getting ahead. We had troubles with inside my family with my mother; she had a drug addiction as we went through childhood together and ended up having a nervous breakdown from that and was abusive. So, we experience some brokenness in that as well. Then went to high school, went through grade school, high school, all that, went to University, to college. Studied journalism while I was there, came out of school, did not finish college. I came out to get married and raise a family. I was a librarian at the time I left IU. I don’t know if you knew that.
Ray Hilbert– I don’t think I did know that.
Marcia Barnes– I was a librarian in another lifetime.
Ray Hilbert– I know you have a love for books and reading, so that makes sense, a lot of sense.
Marcia Barnes– And order. I like things to be in order, Ray.
Ray Hilbert– Yes, you like to order me, I know that.
Marcia Barnes– I can alphabetize things like crazy. So, I transferred my job at Indiana University libraries to Xavier University libraries, they had an opening coming up in a few months. There was someone that was going to be on maternity leave, and so I had to wait for that job and while I waited, I got a part-time job selling advertising over the phone. My first week on that job I broke the company’s sell record and made $15,000, which was more money than my dad was making at Signum’s, at his job, so I thought I was big time. You know, I had thought I had really arrived, but that was the epic spot caused me to go I’m not a librarian anymore, now I’m a sells person. So that’s kind of how I got into sales and marketing to start with. So I was living in Milan, Indiana, and driving into Cincinnati, Ohio every day on this sales job, which is about an hour and fifteen-minute drive.
So, I was about to get married, and I couldn’t see raising a family and doing that type of drive, so I ended up getting some help and figured out how to start a similar company on my own. That went well for a while, for a season and we ended up closing that business and me going on board working for someone else again. Then in 2000, or 1991 my second child Ryan was born early, sixteen weeks early. He weighed one pound and nine ounces at birth, so he had a lot of complications with that birth. So, that made a lot of sense to me to got back into business for myself again. I did that, that business did very similar work to what we do today at Rhino where we generate leads for other companies. We did that.
Ray Hilbert– This was all pre-internet.
Marcia Barnes– Yeah, that’s all pre-internet. Cuz, I’m that old. So, are you, but I digress. So, yeah it is all pre-internet. The way that you generate new customers than was through telemarketing. So, I had this fantastic little group of team members in rural Indiana that was helping the other businesses grow. One day about twelve or fifteen different clients I get a call from this guy, his name was Dave Lindsay, and he was in the security business. He had a small company that he was running out of the spare bedroom. Over time my partner retired and then Dave wanted my business to merge in with his, and I did that and became the director of marketing at his company. I think at that time it was about four years later I think they were approximately $25 million. When I officially joined the team, they were $2 million when I started working with them and then became the director of marketing and a few years later became the CMO of sells and leadership, development, and marketing all reported through me. In 2010 I became the president of Defender, and in 2011 I became the president and CEO and when I left Defender in August of 2013 we a $435 million company.
Ray Hilbert– Wait a minute let me get that straight. You were part of growing this company from roughly $20-25 million when you were brought in-house, so to speak. When you sold your business into serving Dave in Defender, right? And you left the company how long later and at what amount?
Marcia Barnes– Seven years later at $435 million in revenue.
Ray Hilbert– Friends, that is called growth. That’s called grabbing the tiger by the tail, riding the big wave and you learned a lot.
Marcia Barnes– Yeah, I had no marketing background.
Ray Hilbert -That’s incredible.
Marcia Barnes– Dave and I figured it out. I ran the marketing tests and figured out the marketing piece. Dave and Jessica, his wife Jessica, they’re just terrific stewards of the blessings that God brings through the business, and they had prepared for a time where we might need to make phones ring in instead of dialing out when that no call list came about.
Ray Hilbert– Yes, I remember that.
Marcia Barnes– And they were able to then invest where others weren’t, and their story is just remarkable that starts with stewardship around tithing and being good stewards of God’s blessing to them, but also it is embedded in Dave’s very adept financial management of the business, he’s really brilliant on that part.
Ray Hilbert– Well, Marcia, that is really exciting to hear about how God allowed you to be part of a growth and leadership there. We are speaking with Marcia Barnes, the CEO of Rhino Strategic Solutions and Marcia have had the incredible friendship for years. So, Marcia, what I’d like to do is kind of transition our conversation this living out your faith in business. Obviously, the Lord has blessed you with incredible success and wisdom and experience and yet there’s a lot of intentionalities that you have lived out over the years. So, lets kind of talk for a few moments about how you live out your faith and those sorts of things. So, why don’t you tell us a little bit about a couple, maybe two or three business best practices that you directly connect to your faith or biblical principles or scriptures, tell us about that?
Marcia Barnes– Sure, I have found that over the years that there are three dimensions to good leadership and getting the best results that you can in business but in a kingdom way and those three words are Love, serve, Lead. We are under a mandate, a commandment, not a suggestion, not a this is a good idea, this is the best workforce engagement process. But our Lord told us “Love one another as you love yourself.” and if you start there fundamentally loving your people, seeing them as God’s gift to you. Looking into people’s eyes instead of thinking about they didn’t turn their paper in on time, the report in on time, they didn’t respond to my email, they’re not hitting their number. But first thinking, all of those things are important from a business perspective, but the most important for that individual that is called to serve inside your business is to understand that they are created in God’s image, and you’re to love them.
You know, we just have that desire in a business to walk around and look at our people and go “Hitting a number, not hitting a number, hitting a number, not hitting a number. Getting it done. Didn’t send me a report. Didn’t send me an email. Didn’t reply to my phone call. I don’t like how they are dressed today.” that is not Kingdom business, that’s worldly business. Kingdom Business looks at our people and says, “This person is created in the image of God. These are the strengths that they bring to my business. These are the things that they’ve been called here to do. And this is how I will honor them and the way that I love them.” We’ll know that we are doing that well because it can be confusing, am I loving people well or not? This is the sign that I find, is present when I’m loving well and have this incredible desire to serve. In Matthew 20:28 Jesus tells us that “The son of man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.” That service, modeling what the Savior did for us, it is the best type of leadership, whom we love and serve well. Then people give us permission to lead them, and when we have the permission to lead them, we can accomplish anything together. So, many people get that manager title or that VP title, and they say “Now, I’ve had the magic fairy wand waved over me and I’m a leader.” a little pixie dust sprinkled and pop you’re ready to go. That’s not it, love and serve and then people give you permission to lead now you have followership.
Ray Hilbert– That is absolutely fantastic, not only advice but it is reality, and it is scripturally rooted. As I’m listing, I’m thinking John Maxwell talks about the five levels of leadership. That lever one is positional leadership, I’ve got the title now and therefore have the authority, but you’re really talking about the heart level, you’re going much, much deeper and I can tell you first hand because you and I have been close friends for a long time. I know this is how you lead and it was evident in the people around you. So, how could you stay there in that place of being about loving and serving, even amidst up and down numbers, you understand? humility base
Marcia Barnes– Yeah, I understand it. Or another thing that happens even as a change of position. Because every time that your position changes, you’re resetting who you’re loving, where you’re loving, how you’re serving and a lot of it is humility based. You know, I always hate to say I’m trying to be humble because once we’ve worded it that way we’re not, right? Probably one of the toughest transitions I’ve noticed this in is my transition to Rhino Strategic Solutions, you know, I went form a team that I had lead, that I had a leadership role in for fourteen years that’s growing from $25 million to $435 million and 2600 employees and 140 offices nations wide to a $2 million business with 20 employees with a couple of offices across the country. But I’m still walking around like I’ve got this $435 million label on me right?
So, you have to make that adjustment; you have to find where is my new footing to love and serve and so the only way to do that is to stay firmly planted inside the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and when you stay inside the triune God you’ll know. You’ll get your identity from the Lord. You’ll get Jesus pocking in around on things that need to be healed. He’ll come in and help you with that part. Then you get to wisdom and discernment of the Holy Spirit. So, if you’ll stay in that space, the Word and prayer and listening to God and watching for signs, and seeking Godly counsel in keeping good company all of those things work together to help you sub stained an attitude that says I’m here to serve, I’m here to love. If you’ll let me lead you it’s going to come out of love, serve and peace.
Ray Hilbert– And I want to park there for just a moment. I want to go just one level deeper. On the practicality on the intentionality of how you did this. So, would you share maybe, just two or three of those tangible ways? I know you sent cards, the way you would give bonus checks, there were some things that you practically lived out that modeled this whole idea of love, serve and lead. Give us a couple of examples.
Marcia Barnes– Right, some of it is so, it’s so much integrated into who we are as people in our families, churches, communities, and in our workspaces. These are all sayings, all practices that can be used in those places. But, everybody has a story, and people are bringing a story into your business, and they’re creating stories within your business and maybe my Librarian days made me a curator of the stories. But, I knew people stories, I knew if they’ve been there ten years I knew what they had done that it move that business from $25 million to $435 million. I could remind them of what they had done eight years ago that made a pivotal change for business and how they were going to do it again, so knowing stories is really, really important. Another good best practice, we had about 100 people in the corporate office on the floor that I worked on, that were the knowledge workers of the organization, where big projects were being worked, IT, Finance, Marketing, and all those places.
Every Friday I’d walk desk to desk with a notepad and ask each individual what are you working on today that’s exciting? Overtime then got conditioned to tell me what they were working on that was exciting. Sometimes they would tell me something about something they had no idea about I could direct them about where that idea could be worked on, but it was a way of affirming people, of showing them I see you. I see you contributing within this organization, and I value you. Every once in a while, you would uncover something that’s problematic. Where I remember going to one lady’s desk, and she said “Oh, I just finished all the licensing that we need to go into Canada” and we had made a decision three weeks earlier to pull out of Canada and the executive team and her executive leaders cascading communication hadn’t gone to her yet. So, she had been working on that for three weeks, and I was like “I’m going to let the CFO get back to you on that.” Like, oops, so every once in a while you would untangle something like that, but that’s not why I was walking, but every once in a while something like that would emerge. An outside observer from another business would think I was there micromanaging and I wasn’t I was energizing the business. Knowing peoples’ names is a third thing that I would say is so incredibly important.
I got you where I could do that pretty easily with our teams and sometimes would miss. But 2600 people I could name most of them by first name if they had been there for over ninety days. But I would have if I was going to an event, I had my assistant make flashcards, you know, I made sure I reviewed those before the event, and I would just naturally start to match stories and results with faces and names. So, that was a lot of fun. I was at one event that spouses were in attendance as well and my assistant had forgotten to make my flashcards and I thought I had everybody, it was a group that I was pretty familiar with and right at the end, I’ve got this big guy, big giant guy, over six feet tall, huge. He’s heading straight for me with this grin on his face, and I can not- I’m running the files, I can not find his name, he’s got an itty bitty five-foot-two wife on his side and here they came and I can not get, I can’t retrieve it. I know I know it and I know he knows I know it and I put my hand out and said “God, this is all you” and as soon as he touched my hand I said “Hello Scott, how’s that promotion going in Burbank? I’m hearing fantastic things about what you’ve done at the third protection numbers there.” and his jaw dropped and his wife turned to him and punched him on the shoulder saying I told you she knew your name.
Ray Hilbert– That’s great.
Marcia Barnes– So, that was a fun time. But knowing people’s names is important. It’s a sweet sound to people. People want to know that you know what they’re doing on your behalf, and I would say to anyone who’s a manager and a business it is your job make sure that your boss knows with the people on your team are doing on his or her behalf, the good things that they are doing on his or her behalf. You know, it’s so easy to get caught up in these cycles of reporting what’s not going right and what people are doing wrong. That’s about Godly businesses do, that’s not a Kingdom orientation. Kingdom orientations look at what’s going right and how the people are being blessed.
Ray Hilbert– As I’m listening to that last comment there, there’s a proverb that talks about knowing the condition of your flocks so that you can serve it well. So just as a wrap up of that idea of business best practices, I heard three very important things I just want to wrap up real quick. It’s important to know the stories, know the backdrops, know where people came from, know what’s important to them, know about them is what Marcia has taught us today. Secondly, is know what your team is working on, know what your key leaders are working on, walk the floor, go to their offices and say what are you working on that’s exciting right now that’s going to move business and organization forward? That is an incredible best practice and then as Marcia just shared with us importance of knowing names, that there is nothing sweeter than hearing the sound of their own name and I really indicates that you knew enough or that you cared enough to get to know their names. So, those are terrific best practices. Well, Marcia, I want to now transition, as you look back over the course of your career is there anything in particular that if you had the chance to do it over again that you would differently? If so what would that be?
Marcia Barnes– I really wish that earlier in my career I would have understood who I am in God’s eyes.
Ray Hilbert– Say that again.
Marcia Barnes– I really wish that earlier in my career I would have understood who I am in God’s eyes.
Ray Hilbert– That’s powerful.
Marcia Barnes– If I would have gotten my identity from Him earlier instead of seeking it in success, in money, in measures, and worldly evidence that we’re successful. I wasted a lot of time, a lot of joy and I made a lot of problems for other people and missed a lot of Kingdom opportunities, by not seeking my identity and how I was created in the one who created me. I was running to do lists, I was keeping the law, I was a fundamental textbook Christian, and that led me to going I’m winning, I’m succeeding, I’m in church, I am bible study, I’m teaching a Sunday School class. That lead me into judging and criticizing and condemning and thanking my way was the only way and it left very little room for love and grace for other people. In the space where God got my attention on that, He was able to forge a new me and one that’s open to Kingdom concepts and one that gets her identity from Him and sees herself as the daughter of the King. You know, I spent all this time running around checking off boxes of the things I was doing and how I was winning and comparing myself to others. I missed the fact that I’m the daughter of the King and I he laid it down, all of it down, just for me.
Ray Hilbert– That is absolutely powerful, and I want all of our listeners to take that in for themselves that you are a son, you are a daughter of the King Most High, and that makes you royalty. Which gives you write to certain things, and that is a relationship with the King and Most High in Heaven.
Marcia Barnes– Yeah, there’s a great Baxter Kruger quote that he is talking about we mess our lives up, you know, and you heard me talk about a couple of spaces where I got things messed up. He says “There are two reasons why you are the way you are today and one is because when God created you, it was because he always wanted a son just like you or you’re always wanted a daughter just like you. And the second reason why you are what you are today is because you’ve forgotten who you are and you keep recreating yourself, and your Recreations get in the way of you seeing who you are and Him. I just find that so powerful, you know. That when I’m trying to just get in there and wrestle with it and make it happen and dig into that, I lose track of really who I am in Him, and there’s so much more peace enjoying that space of being identified in Christ and being identified in my Maker’s eyes.
Ray Hilbert– That is an absolutely fantastic quote. Man, the time is flying here. We’re near the end of the Bottom Line Faith interview with Marcia Barnes, CEO of Rhino Strategic solution. Marcia, probably my favorite question that I get to ask on the Bottom Line Faith podcast is my last question here. For those of you that are familiar with the show, you know what this question is going to be, but perhaps you’re not so I’m going to go ahead and set the stage. In Proverbs chapter 4 verse 23 these are the words of Solomon “Above all else guard your heart for it determines the course of your life.” Now, Marcia, what we’ve discovered is there are some biblical Scholars who believe there may be some of Solomon’s last words, that is possible he even wrote these words from his deathbed. So we all know that if you’re sitting next to a friend or a loved one and they are on their deathbed, and they lean forward, and they look in your eyes and they say “Now, above all else” whatever it is that is at the end of those three words you and I both know is going to be extremely important. They’re giving you the summation of all of their life and the lessons learned. So, Marcia here is your chance to talk to perhaps thousands of Christians in business and the marketplace, living out their faith, leading their families, their companies, their organizations. What above all else advice would you give to them?
Marcia Barnes– I would go to this piece about seeking your identity in God. If you ask Him, this is what I’ve learned, if you ask Him he’s faithful in revealing to you who you really are in Him. That was a fascinating walk for me in the last few years and of course, in some of the courses I’ve had here at Truth at Work and with you in the mission of topics like listing to God. You know, I’ve spent so much of my life praying, I prayed a lot because I was a good Pharisee right? I was putting out all the checklist, and I’m a model Christian, I was a really good Pharisee. Then somebody taught me listening, and I’m like “what?” I thought praying was about talking to God, and I hadn’t stopped to listen. When I did that he became very clear with me on who I am in Him. I tend to see people drive that perfectionism so much and perfectionism is our own interpretation of who we are, and it will make you ungodly really, really fast. So, I think this space for me anyway, this space of trying to trying to get my identity for my Heavenly Father not from the world and not from any other one person, not from a boss, nothing peer group, not from a friend, not from a spouse, not from my children but to get my identity from the one who molded me and sent me here with specific strengths and specific gifts, that He could use to advance the Kingdom. When I do that well, everything else is easy.
Ray Hilbert– There’s are incredible, life-giving words from Marcia Barnes, who is telling us above all else, gang our identity in Christ. Marcia, those are exceptionally powerful words. I’ve came to know you that, you actually throw out very few empty words, all the times and conversations we’ve had you’re a life giver. I just pray that our guess, our audience on the Bottom Line Faith podcast are catching this today. Final words you’d have to share?
Marcia Barnes– Something I get asked a lot by young business people who are family folks weighs heavy on me about balance in life. My best parenting advice is it doesn’t matter what you do, it only matters who you are, and that’s back to this identity piece, isn’t it?
Ray Hilbert– It is.
Marcia Barnes– We all worry about do I have my kids in the right schools? Are they on the right teams? Are they wearing the right clothes? Are they going to the right colleges? Am I doing this? Am I doing that? Am I reading? Am I preparing the right meals? North of that stuff isn’t important they need nutrition and education and to be churched and all those things but at the end of the day, they are going to became what you are. They are going to become your habits. So, work there first, get your identity from God and help pass that on to the next generation.
Ray Hilbert– They sure are. Well, folks, this is Ray Hilbert, and until next time we’ll see you on Bottom Line Faith, God bless and we’ll talk to you soon.

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