For 30 years, EO has been led by countless members who have volunteered their time to help strengthen the organization. Each year, thousands more do the same through the Path of Leadership (PoL) program, which equips members with the tools, knowledge and networks they need to grow as leaders. In this special interview, EO South Australia’s DAVID BARTHOLOMEUSZ, a longtime member leader and EO Accelerator trailblazer, opens up about his PoL journey, finding his purpose as a leader and giving back to get ahead.
WHEN DID YOU SAY TO YOURSELF, “I HAVE WHAT IT TAKES TO BE AN ENTREPRENEUR”?
DB/ “I knew at a fairly young age that I had a knack for entrepreneurship. When I was in my ninth year of high school—this was around 1991, so I’m dating myself!—our school canteen, or cafeteria as you might call it, kept closing before the end of lunch. Seeing an opportunity, I would buy ice blocks on hot days and sell them in the yard at a premium. Since then, I have become acutely aware of how to take run-of-the-mill things and put them in front of people at a time when they’re likely to be valuable. I have used this skill to launch several businesses over the years. For example, by observing a spike in demand at bars at around 10 p.m. on Saturday nights, I was able to build a nightclub-marketing business. The key to success, I’ve learned, is to find what you’re really great at and leverage the heck out of it. That’s what I’ve been doing ever since, and it’s been a fun ride!”
ENTER EO. HOW HAS THIS GLOBAL COMMUNITY SUPPORTED YOUR ENTREPRENEURIAL JOURNEY?
DB/ “Growing up in a working-class family, I always believed that entrepreneurship was the journey of an outcast. So, whenit came time to starting my first business, I was on my own. While my friends were working as employees somewhere, I was navigating this journey called ‘entrepreneurship’ by myself. It was overwhelming, to say the least. When I learned there was a community where people who couldn’t help defying the status quo supported one another, I was relieved. I remember walking into my house after my first Forum experience in 2009. My wife, Sarah, looked up at me and said, ‘You’ve found your people, yes?’ And I burst into tears. I couldn’t describe the tremendous relief that came with no longer feeling like an outcast. I had discovered there were others out there who understood that urge to work through the night on something that might not work out and that exists to help people we might never meet. It was a powerful moment in my life, and one that put me on a transformative path.”
HOW DID YOUR PASSION FOR EO MOTIVATE YOU TO BECOME A MEMBER LEADER?
DB/ “EO has become a second family to me. Over the years, my Forum mates, chapter peers and fellow members have helped me become a stronger person and smarter entrepreneur. I saw the PoL program as an opportunity to make a big difference with minimal effort. So, in 2010, when our Chapter President-Elect needed my help delivering events, it was an easy ‘yes’ for me. Creating communities is what I do; events and engagement of groups, those are my sweet spots. What most excited me about stepping into a leadership role was the opportunity to give back in a way that allowed me to be my best self among my peers. It was important for me to be fully expressed in the role; to not just serve in a catering capacity, but in full creative flight. Thankfully, the role was adjusted so I could do that, and I’ve been signing up for EO leadership positions ever since.”
DESCRIBE YOUR LEADERSHIP STYLE. HOW DO YOU HARNESS IT THROUGH PoL?
DB/ “Most people are hard-working. Many are talented at a number of things. Me? I help things get started. That’s what I’m good at. What I’ve discovered through my PoL journey is that I’m rarely the leader on the front lines. I know a lot of front-line leaders, and they know I’m willing to be the fall guy if things fail fundamentally. So, they keep me close. When they have something they’re inspired about but are too afraid to try (the ‘big stuff’), a nervous, excited message lands in my voicemail. And we go from there. I find when I get called in by a front-line leader, there always seems to be these startlingly talented people that appear around me— people who take the energy I put out there and bring it into focus. What I find so inspiring is that many of the things we start do really well and endure. When a positive mark is made by these leaders, I take it as feedback that my presence added something fundamental.”
HAVE YOUR EO LEADERSHIP EXPERIENCES TAUGHT YOU ANYTHING ABOUT YOURSELF?
DB/ “More than anything, my PoL journey has taught me to be self-aware. The leadership skill I most admire, and the one I’m focusing on developing the most, is transferring public gratitude onto others. I have seen this done so beautifully, when a leader preemptively asks their supervisor to direct the credit for something they spearheaded to their team. I find when I am able to flow gratitude in this fashion, my team is accountable in ways I could never negotiate through the usual carrot-and-stick model. And truthfully, there is a massive ego component to it. My ego is so fragile. I want people to like me. I want people to need me. I find when I can be present with these normal feelings, and then choose to let them go and gift the appreciation energy to those who lead from the front, projects progress more smoothly. Conversely, when my ego turns into a vampire and steals the flow of energy between hard-working people and appreciative clients, the impact is visible to all. It’s the difference between swimming against a riptide versus coasting with the current.”
HOW HAS LEADERSHIP IN EO CONTRIBUTED TO YOUR PERSONAL LIFE?
DB/ “I can thank EO for my marriage to one of the most celebrated new leaders in our country. Without the lessons I have gained through PoL, I might not have had the confidence to propose to my wife, Sarah, and I most certainly would not have had the emotional maturity to become the husband that supports her entrepreneurial journey. As an EO Accelerator graduate and new member of EO South Australia, Sarah is a spectacular example of what happens when someone commits fully to being their best self and moves beyond fear to the vulnerability of openly sharing with those who support them. Looking into her eyes for a decade, I used to drive myself manic trying to figure out how to be worthy of such an amazing woman. In many ways, my EO leadership experience gave me the perspective I needed.”
“Through PoL, I was able to observe, and receive coaching from, members with varying leadership styles. And I was able to connect deeply with several who were an exact match for the style that was calling my best self into being. Along the way, I discovered who my best self could be and how to prepare a safe space for my seed of true potential to grow naturally. As I nurtured that seed, some unexpected things happened: I became a better business owner and a better man. Above all, I learned how to lead in a way that was congruent with my values. What I didn’t expect to find was the person that my wife was so deeply in love with already.”
PoL ALSO HELPED YOU GIVE BACK TO YOUR COMMUNITY. HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH EO ACCELERATOR?
DB/ “I realized the potential of EO Accelerator at the Global Leadership Conference in 2013. A member was talking about the program and my ears perked up. Sarah had been thinking about starting her own business, You Legal, at the cutting edge of new law, and I was worried she would have to do it alone, like I had. I gathered more information, connected with my Chapter President, achieved pre-commitment from several sponsors, and the rest was details. There would be an EO Accelerator program in my chapter by the end of the year. My event-hosting experience played an invaluable role here, giving me the connections I needed to expand the program from two to 10 locations in just two years, and teaching me how to empower other leaders to make the program their own.”
“When I saw the effects of EO Accelerator—how it created hope, energy and jobs for the people in my town—it made me think about myself 20 years ago, slaving away in my basement, and how there were others out there doing the same thing. I wanted to help those people, to give them a sense of direction. So, I trusted that my peers would understand how I couldn’t sleep until we had taken EO Accelerator to every corner of the globe. It’s been so cool watching the program thrive outside of the U.S., especially in regions like Asia Pacific, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa … and we just recently finished a demo in India. I can’t lie, when we conduct our first EO Accelerator training day in Ghana, there are going to be tears running down my face!”
FAST FORWARD 10 YEARS. WHAT DO YOU WANT YOUR LEADERSHIP LEGACY TO BE?
DB/ “When I joined the Regional Council, a wise man told me that when it comes to PoL, the more I put into it, the more I’ll get out of it. It sounded like a bunch of mumbo jumbo at the time, but that saying has become truer with every passing day. The thing I’m discovering—the thing I wasn’t prepared for—is that by being in this leadership space, I am developing a much deeper appreciation for the joy of giving. The act of giving feels different to me now than it did years ago. Today, each act of giving is a gift to myself; a chance to challenge unhelpful ‘self talk’ that tells me I am opportunistic, unreliable, desperate and greedy. I am able to begin to believe in my true potential. And I am reminded that when people say a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens is the only thing that has ever changed the world, they’re talking about all of us, today, in the EO leadership community.”
“Personally, I’m not focused on building a legacy. I’m focused on building the ‘me’ that I now believe is possible, so I can have a deeper impact on those around me. PoL is showing me how to do exactly that. Leadership in EO is not a legacy to leave so much as it is a legacy to live. I don’t see this journey as a path to one shining achievement where everyone can look and say, ‘Dave did that!’ It’s more about being present, knowing my actions will touch so many people in ways I can never hope to understand. Learning how to habitually be in that headspace is its own reward. But, if there is a mark I can make, it would be to serve as an example of love so that others might be reminded of their own desire to give entirely for the sake of giving.”
IF YOU COULD SHARE WHAT YOU’VE LEARNED THROUGH PoL THUS FAR WITH YOUR YOUNGER SELF, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY?
DB/ “Blair Assaly, an EO Edmonton member and former Global Chairman, once shared a Chinese proverb with me. It goes, ‘The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.’ In this spirit, here is what I would tell myself as I was considering becoming a member leader: ‘Dave, I know you are in two minds about this, but look around you. Every day, you see entrepreneurs trusting their gut. And every day, you see them taking the status quo and replacing it with the impossible. You know what your gut is saying, so dive in and pursue PoL so that 20 years from now, you can look back at all that has been made possible because of your contributions. You believe you can make a difference. Defend that thought by acting upon it. You feel called. Allow your head to see why it trusts your gut by taking action and seeing where it leads. You just might surprise yourself.’”