Bob Buford, A True Hero Maker
“I’m the catapult, not the plane.” ~ Bob Buford
NOTE: Right now, it’s very difficult to put into words the full impact Bob Buford has had on me and the Exponential ministry. Over the coming week, I will create a tribute to Bob in the form of lessons I’ve learned from him. This post provides my initial thoughts and reflections on Bob’s passing.
We lost a giant of a man this week. I believe Bob Buford is one of the most unsung Christian heroes of our generation. He certainly is for me. My heart is hurting over this loss, but I do celebrate in the assurance that he is with his Heavenly Father. There is NO DOUBT that Bob was embraced by Jesus with the words, “Well done good and faithful servant!”
I’ve had the blessing of walking closely with Bob under his mentoring for the past decade. Aside from my own father and Jesus, I’m not sure there is another man who’s had more impact on my life and leadership than Bob. In 1998 when I began wrestling with an early “half-time” mid-life struggle, Bob’s book Halftime had just come out. I devoured it and was significantly impacted by it, but little did I know that I’d end up serving with and be mentored by him several years later.
Bob and I first met by a “chance” encounter. We literally ran into one another passing through a doorway. I recognized him, and he had recently been told by a mutual friend that we needed to meet. We sat down and talked for hours. There was a kindred spirit of compatibility that most of us rarely experience with others. This was in large part because our personal values were so strongly aligned.
I’ve had the unique perspective of serving Bob directly as part of his small, personal, strategic team at the Buford Foundation. My basement is filled with stacks of notes and point papers from our time together. These pages are FILLED with nuggets of wisdom and truth that have transformed my leadership and the ministries I lead. With a front row seat to Bob’s journey through several seasons of discovery in his own life, I was challenged and blessed in my own learning.
Bob was so razor focused in his approach and in the 3 most important people in his life: Jesus Christ his Lord, Linda his wife, and his mentor Peter Drucker. Bob would frequently lean forward with a twinkle in his eyes and say, “I remember when Peter Drucker told me…” I would always frantically start taking notes as every word was a gem. At other times, he’d sit back, ponder the discussion, and say, “I need to see what Linda thinks about that.” There was never a question of his love and affection for her. She was the love of his life.
Bob never wanted the limelight. He absolutely lived out the words he championed. He would say, “I’m the catapult, you’re the plane” and “you can do it, how can I help?” and “my fruit grows on other people’s trees.” He simply wanted to do for others what Peter Drucker did for him: come alongside others and give them permission and encouragement to be and do all that God made them for, and to provide accountability for results. As he would say to me frequently, “I just want to pour gasoline on what [fill in name] is doing.” And he did that. He did that for me, and he did that for 1,000s of other leaders. Bob was a hero-maker.
When I first joined Bob’s small personal team, I contacted several other people that Bob had directly impacted to learn how they had been influenced. I consistently heard things like, “Bob looked me in the eyes and said, ‘If I could do this, you can do this.’ He gave me the permission and encouragement I needed to move from fear and uncertainty to action.” His impact was broad AND deep. The mosaic of stories in eternity that will have a connection to Bob Buford is simply profound.
Bob kept a “Book of Days” with notes, letters, cards, and articles that people sent him saying, “Thank you Bob for [fill in the blank].” To say “book” of days is misleading. There are 10+ volumes of these “books.” Imagine compiling all the pictures you take during your lifetime into a series of books. Now imagine each picture as a “thank you” from the people in the picture. Now you have a glimpse into the scope and depth of the stories of impact touched by Bob. When you flip through the 100s (or 1,000s) of pages of stories of impact, you begin to see the heart and uniqueness of this quiet movement maker.
About five years ago, Bob said to me, “I know you work for me on the team, but I want to flip that around and have a front row seat to what you are doing and what is happening through Exponential.” That’s the type of humble and sacrificial leader Bob was.
Bob was a key inspiration for and chief encourager of my five year book writing project on personal calling (More: Find Your Personal Calling and Live Life to the Fullest Measure). In addition to writing the Epilogue, Bob inspired the core BE-DO-GO framework of the book (who am I created to be, what am I made to do, and where am I to go position myself for maximum impact). In recent years, I had the blessing of working closely with Bob to look more deeply at how these questions applied in his life.
Bob was a constant learner. He cared deeply about the future of American Christianity. More than any person I know, he wanted to leverage every 1 unit of input effort (dollars, effort, intellectual capital) into 100 units of output results. He called that 100x impact. His mission was to transform the latent capacity of American Christianity into active energy. He said frequently, “There is more to giving than feeling good. The joy is found in the results of transformed lives”.
Bob was what our Bob Inc team affectionately called a “portfolio manager.” Where most people are burdened by specific causes, Bob was burdened by 100X Kingdom impact. The units of impact could be church plants, shoes on kids, or marketplace leaders moving from success to significance. He always had a portfolio of leaders that he was investing into, representing a wide range of causes. At the top of that list were the leaders of Halftime Institute and Leadership Network, two ministries he founded and that have changed the landscape of impact in the U.S.
It’s hard to put into words the impact that Bob Buford made on Exponential. It’s safe to say that “his fruit did grow on our trees.” Bob was such an encourager to us and his fingerprints and values are all over our ministry. Bob asked me several times, “What is the secret to Exponential’s success?” Without hesitation, I would tell him every time, “Your values, Bob. Your values are embedded in Exponential.” I’d go on to say, “Your fruit is growing on our trees and the most important legacy you are leaving through us is passing on your powerful mechanisms and operating values to us. We’ve fully embraced your ‘you can do it, how can we help’ value.”
Our Exponential 2018 theme is “Hero Maker.” In part, this theme comes from the example Bob has set for so many of us who’ve been mentored and impacted by him. Bob is certainly my personal “hero maker” and I’m forever grateful for his investment and belief in me. Just as Peter Drucker invested in Bob, Bob invested in me and so many others, and I will now be part of his living legacy by doing the same for others. I told Bob often that his primary legacy would be through the people he invested who would in turn propel his values forward to others.
In the coming weeks, I will publish a list of personal lessons and takeaways that I’ve experienced from Bob’s investment into my life. Thank you, Bob, for finishing well and leaving a living legacy through the people you’ve catapulted forward ahead of you.
Check out the two videos below of Bob. They capture his heartbeat.
Please be in prayer for Bob’s wife Linda and his long-time assistant B.J. Engle. They were rocks in his life and blessings to all of us who’ve benefited from Bob’s ministry.
Bob’s Belief in Investing in Other People
Two Things That Will Matter When We Face Jesus
Bob and his assistant B.J. who faithfully served him for so many years!