He’s an unassuming one, this Chris Redhage. Not to be taken for passive, as you sense in his spirit a insatiable appetite for growth and a passion to make a difference. As a friend, he’s agreed to interview with me even though his schedule is now a plethora of meetings and business activities. He settles his 6’3” frame into the chair beside me and lets out an easy smile.
CHRIS: Avery Fisher.
MIKE: Yeah, Avery Fisher introduced us.
It was a bro-date at PF Changs during which we were introduced by a mutual friend nearly four years ago. During this time, many things have changed, but one thing that hasn’t changed is our ability to pick up right where we left off.
MIKE: So Nashville knows you as the man who brought us soccer, but before that you’d started Provider Trust, which is one of the best healthcare technology companies Nashville. Didn’t you guys make it on E-500?
CHRIS: E 5000 actually. Number 10 in Nashville.
MIKE: Tell me, what are you most excited about right now?
CHRIS: Soccer. What’s great about it is that I get to marry a passion of mine to the business knowledge I’ve acquired over the past 10-15 years. David Dill – we’ve always been great friends, gone on mission trips together – but about a year and half ago, we were approached about taking an amateur team pro. Over the last year and a half, David, myself and Marcus Whitney went about making this happen. Ultimately, we’re very value-centered, we’re very much in this to unify (Nashville). With soccer there has always been a pyramid to the pros, so Tennessee State Soccer Association, our statewide soccer association, will help this team sit right below professional teams and help funnel players into the professional arena. Sports are incredibly powerful because they help you learn to deal with disappointment. You are at your best when you are willing to make mistakes. The reality of believing in who God made you to be despite failure is what makes you grow.
MIKE: What are some of your failures that have actually become gifts?
CHRIS: Early in life I got an opportunity to work for a wealthy family in Louisville, Kentucky. I was embezzled by a small sum of half a million dollars from one of my ventures and had another guy walk out on a 350,000 bank loan all before I turned 28-years-old. Going from coaching soccer at a high level at the University of Nebraska to running into more ethical issues as I started businesses was not something I expected. In hindsight, those experiences are the gifts that keep on giving. Something I say often is: Life’s tragic, period. God is faithful, period. Both of these statements are independent, but both are true. So for me, the embezzlement turned out to be a lesson in being a better business owner. I’ve also learned to trust my heart a lot more; instead of pressing down those feelings I’m letting them come out. I always say, the heart will always win. If you’re feeling something, it needs to be addressed.
CHRIS: I’m motivated by the desire to make the world a better place. Ultimately I want to impact people’s hearts. I get jazzed knowing that there are 37 people coming to work every day, buying houses, having kids, paying tuition. It’s great to close deals, but standing in a circle with my team in the morning and knowing that all of these people trusted your vision enough to carry it to this point – that’s amazing. When envy wants to creep in when I see other businesspeople closing big deals, I remember that this is bigger than me. If we want to grow exponentially, we have to work together.
MIKE: A fear-based thing many leaders do is get hung up on one leadership skill that they don’t want to let go of, which consequently stunts their growth. The fear is that the person taking over will become better than them at that specific skill. The best leaders I know – you included – have the wisdom to know that it isn’t so much about who is doing the jobs, but that the jobs are getting done.
CHRIS: Yeah, because when you start a company, your identity is wrapped in it.
MIKE: You grow these businesses and then learn to let them go so that you have the bandwidth to move on to other creative things. How have you learned to make that shift?
CHRIS: As an entrepreneur, you (learn) that you can only do one thing really well. I try to be really disciplined at the one thing so I can have the ability to move on from there. I’m recognizing that birthing things takes a lot of energy.
MIKE: Makes sense. In the early seasons of a business, it’s like a human baby that requires much attention and less sleep. How many ventures have you been apart of now?
CHRIS: Five or six – only a couple have been successful now.
MIKE: When did you know that you were going to be an entrepreneur?
CHRIS: I always had this knack for figuring out ways to make money. Growing up, I was the kid selling my brother’s candy for the baseball team before we even got home. He loved it because he didn’t have to go out and sell it! I knew in college that I was going to be a part of starting companies as a leadership studies major. A family I know who runs a company called Talent Plus; they just really encouraged me – pushed me out there to start companies and think bigger than simply growing up in Lincoln, Nebraska.
MIKE: What was your first business?
CHRIS: Waterlauncher.com. I sold water guns to college sororities and it lasted about six weeks. We eventually morphed it into a successful venture called Destination 7.
MIKE: What are some of the most transformative books or experiences you’ve had thus far?
CHRIS: The Little Engine that Could – the book I wrote about for my college essay when all I could do was kick a ball. The Lean Startup, which talks about how to trust your heart, but use data to help you make good decisions. And Voice of the Heart, a book about learning to feel my feelings and tell the truth. Those books have changed me a lot. With athletes so much is based on performance that they can become afraid to speak what they’re really feeling. I destroyed my body because I didn’t allow my heart to feel in a lot of ways.
MIKE: What is your definition of leadership?
CHRIS: Leadership to me is moving someone or something to a different place. It’s connecting to someone’s heart – whether through a person, service or a product – and engaging in a relationship that then takes them to a different place.
MIKE: I’ve never heard that before.
CHRIS: You won’t find that in a textbook. For me, I’ve learned so much in the past five years about what authentic leadership is. I know it’s a buzzword, but it includes anger and passion, and it includes feeling your feelings. You don’t have to be perfect all the time, but you have to be true to who you are so that people can trust you.
MIKE: What were your earliest influences?
CHRIS: I’m smiling because I never thought I was a leader. I had a learning disability of reading comprehension. I had to basically learn how to learn my way. I had to leave class to go learn how to learn, and I had a lot of shame about that. You have to process that stuff. This morning I was reading something to my team and as I’m reading it I’m thinking back to when I was in fifth or sixth grade. There are still a lot of feelings surrounding that. Then I got into junior high and high school and I grew into my body, started playing sports and thought, “Oh my gosh, people think I’m a leader.”
MIKE: What are your secrets to keeping yourself energized to create businesses and lead your teams?
CHRIS: You have to lead from the overflow of taking care of yourself. Getting massages. (laughter) Get a good therapist. Trust that you’re not going to be perfect.
MIKE: Self-leadership is so important. What does self-care look like for you on a daily basis?
CHRIS: Eating right. I definitely look at food as the fuel I’m putting into my body for the tasks I want to accomplish. I work out every day, even if it’s just a run. Over the last year I’ve realized If I get seven and a half hours of sleep, I’m good, and if I don’t, I’m in bad shape and everyone knows it. Emotionally, if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be (crushing) anything. I wake up, get a good workout in, spend some time by myself, get some emails done before going into work. Something I’ve stopped doing is taking meetings in the morning. For example, if I’m an asshole because I didn’t get enough sleep or take care of myself that morning, my client might go home and get in a argument with their spouse or snap at their child, and I don’t want to be the instigator of that.
MIKE: Where do you feel like you’re terrific in your leadership? And where do you feel like you can go to another level?
CHRIS: I’m really good at vision-casting; getting people excited about a project. As our team grows I’m learning to become better at managerial skills.
MIKE: Flow is a concept of being in the zone and tuning out the world to accomplish something, whether it’s an art, a sporting event, or a business project. It’s one of the most fulfilling states you can be in. What do you do to get yourself in a state of flow?
CHRIS: That’s actually a question we ask every person who works at Provider Trust. We say, “Please describe what it means to be in flow.” When I think of flow, I think back to soccer. What was I like when the ball would come in. And now, I remove all the obstacles and set aside the time to work on what I need to accomplish.
MIKE: You invented the reclaim box! A box for you to put your smartphone in a box so you can reclaim the time with the people you are with. Love that. When you’re tuning out, do you go away? Do you go to a coffeeshop?
CHRIS: If I’m working, I have my headphones on at my desk. We don’t have any offices at Provider Trust; it’s all open work spaces. People know to leave me alone when I zone in, but when you call me, I always answer.
MIKE: (laughter) No, you don’t. My next blog is about partnerships. What are some of the things you look for in a partner?
CHRIS: Communication, respect and honesty. One of the big things is how someone deals with conflict. Something that we do for Provider Trust is conflict resolution. I grew up thinking that conflict was bad, but if you’re in relationship, you’re going to have conflict. It’s important to sit aside and talk about it, learning what their experience of you is, and sharing what you’re experience of them is. I also have a policy: No Assholes Allowed. Life is way to short to deal with people who can’t be honest.
MIKE: How about in dating?
CHRIS: Dating’s harder.
MIKE: Last question. Fast-forward five years. Who is Chris Redhage then, personally and professionally?
CHRIS: Professionally, I would love to be the owner of a major league soccer team. Personally, I would love to be in a relationship.
MIKE: Ladies, Chris is single.
CHRIS: But with someone who wants to be in relationship! Ultimately with someone who knows, understands and cares for me. With someone I like, who likes me, and we can be best friends. Maybe have some kids.
MIKE: That’s gonna happen.
Chris leans in his chair, unhinges his shoulders and grins. His fixed, far-off gaze tells me he’s envisioning a luminous future. Someone observing could get the feeling that Provider Trust, Nashville Soccer and Nashville the city have a lot going for them with a leader like this. An observer could conclude that with this vision and faith, the inconceivable just might be delightfully attainable.