Today, I had the opportunity to interview Todd Hanna about his role at Explore Austin. The transcription of this interview is a unique opportunity to hear the heartbeat of our director, the driving force of Explore Austin. We like to call him our “fearless leader” and he is much more than that. It was apparent through this interview and his total transparency why all our staff considers it such a great privilege to work with him.
Q: What parts of your personality do you see reflected in Explore Austin?
A: A focus on people and relationships, attention to detail, and fun, trying not to take ourselves too seriously. I seem them most reflected in the three goals of our board- professionalism, sustainability, and effectiveness.
Q: How do you deal with the pressures of fundraising?
A: I focus on the relationships rather than the dollars. I attach people to the mission and to individuals within the program and the money just takes care of itself. In the past years, we have made a move to diversify funding so we aren’t so reliant on one or two people. Now that we have a larger board and Shelley (our Director of Development), the load does not rest on just one of us.
Q: What idea or contribution are you the most proud of in the building of this organization?
A: The team that we have built, the board and staff, and the mentors. I look for people who are better at their job than I am, people with experience, and people with passion. The basic elements of Explore Austin are reflected in our staff- leadership, mentoring, adventure- and I don’t think that is an accident.
Q: How do you think being a mentor has affected your life, your role as a dad?
A: Being a mentor has made me a better dad. It has made me more aware. It has helped me realize there are times that just because I am an adult, I don’t have all the answers. It has made me more patient and more willing to let my own kids fail. I watch our explorers and think to myself “there is no way they will get this the first time, but know they will eventually learn it”. That attitude is getting easier to emulate with my own kids. On a funny note, I have a bunch of games I use all the time, other dads will ask me where did you get that from?
Q: What is your favorite part of the week in the office at Explore Austin?
A: Monday staff meetings, probably because I haven’t seen everyone in two days. It is great to hear everyone’s stories and catch up.
Q: Tell me something unique about the way you work.
A: I have no problem copying others. If there is something another organization does better than we do, let’s not reinvent the wheel. Let’s use what already works. Robbie Jane would probably laugh, but I also read a lot of leadership articles and books.
Q: What makes you successful at your job? Life experiences? Personal characteristics?
A: A love of and an enjoyment of people, just being good at working with people. What drives me is a combination of having great examples of people who do different types of things really well-military leaders, coaches, teachers, great mentors and a burning desire to give back, because so many people did nice things for me. Also, I have an obsessive fear of failure…. of Explore Austin not working out.
Q: What do you envision for the future of Explore Austin? What would your most far-out dream be for Explore?
A: In the immediate future, I want to continue to refine the program, continue to build the girls program, to make it repeatable and sustainable. I want to increase our funding, hopefully continue to engage more people, and build awareness and involvement. Our dream when we started Explore Austin, when we named it Explore Austin, was that one day there could be an Explore Seattle, Explore Denver, etc. So my most far-out dream would be to create a franchise model that can spread around the country.
Q: Could you imagine yourself doing any other job? What would it be?
A: I imagine it often. I doubt it’s possible to get the same intrinsic satisfaction out of any other job, but I think the same skill sets that help make Explore Austin successful can be applied to other industries or jobs, like some sort of development, in business, real estate, etc. I have been spoiled by Explore Austin though; I can’t see myself working in a cubicle 9-5 everyday.
Author: Elle Spinks
Elle is the Communications Intern at Explore Austin and is currently a senior, History Major, at the University of Texas at Austin.