David Bolt, of GMB: “Have a Growth Mindset”

by Jerome Knyszewski
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David Bolt GMB

David Bolt is the president of GMB Architecture and Engineering. The company “believes in generating more for the world, by working with communities to equip students for lifelong learning.”

In 1999, David Bolt graduated from Calvin University with degrees in business and communications.

Then David Bolt went to the University of Michigan, where he earned his Master of Architecture degree. He has built his entire career at GMB, where he interned in 1999.

16 years later, in 2015, David Bolt became the president of GMB. As president, he has “worked to create a human-centered workplace.” He also wants to transform GMB into a “Team of Teams.”

David Bolt wants to “inspire, lead, dream, and provide an environment for teams to learn, grow and give.”

As an executive, David Bolt has received recognition from the business press.

The Grand Rapids Business Journal named David Bolt as one of their 40 Under 40. He has also won the Holland Young Professionals Leadership Matters Award.

Under David Bolt, GMB has won the honor of being one of the Best and Brightest Company to Work For in West Michigan in 2018, 2019, and 2020.

Likewise, GMB was also named a Crane’s Cool Place to Work in 2018. The company was also named one of the 50 Companies to Watch in Michigan. In 2019 and 2020, the company was also named the Best and Brightest in the Nation company to work for

Check out more interviews with passionate executives here.

Architecture is about making the world a better, more livable, more beautiful place.

Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

David Bolt: I’m an architect by training, and that was how I got started at GMB.

Architecture is about making the world a better, more livable, more beautiful place, and for me, I discovered that my true passion was ultimately finding how people can live a better, more beautiful life.

This led me to working more and more in the systems that drove our company rather than the product we were making.

After being an architect for 12 years, I became the president of our company 6 years ago.

Jerome Knyszewski: What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

Being in a 50-year-old company, I had the benefit of a lot of foundational groundwork laid by many others who came before me and who worked with me.

But the aha moment that revolutionized how we run our company was a combination of a few ideas and inspirations borrowed from others.

The aha moment came in realizing that in order for our company to be best equipped to bring about a future full of rapid change, we needed to create a foundation of trust in order to best work together.

That led to our development of a network-of-teams environment built on trusting each other to create opportunity for all.

My drive always comes from wanting to create a better future for everyone.

Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

David Bolt: There were so many obstacles. Part of having a great foundation for our company also meant taking the bad with the good.

Picking apart some of those foundational things that needed to go in order to free us up to make the leap to the future was hard.

Many times, I did, and still do, have moments where this monumental work seems impossible.

My drive always comes from wanting to create a better future for everyone.

Whenever something seems like a struggle, I remind myself that there is a real person on the other side who needs the benefit of the change we are fighting for.

Jerome Knyszewski: So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

David Bolt: Change is ever present. The biggest win for all the hard work that we’ve put in has been creating a flexible company that can adapt to whatever is next.

We’ve seen that over the past year more than ever and it’s exciting to have a company positioned to lead our future.

Have a growth mindset. Leaders are going to make mistakes, lots of them. David Bolt

Jerome Knyszewski: Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company”? Please share a story or an example for each.

David Bolt:

  1. Be authentic. Early in my role as leader, I would try to act like previous leaders, or other people I knew who were successful.

    But this was so wearying because it wasn’t me. When we can’t be ourselves, we have to “flex” into another role; it’s exhausting, and I found that I was burning out so quickly.

    Once I accepted that I could just be myself, not put on an act or play a role, leading became easier.

  2. Be humble. No one is a lone wolf; we live in a community with each other and we share our successes and failures together.

    Practicing humility makes you a better listener, better able to inspire your team, and keep everyone focused on the organization’s goals.

  3. Care, but don’t micromanage. A leader’s only job is to care for those who they lead, so those people can take care of their work.

    When leaders micromanage, they lose the trust of their employees, and risk pulling the organization down rather than lifting it up.

  4. Have a growth mindset. Leaders are going to make mistakes, lots of them.

    Early on, I would get frozen in decision making because I was afraid of making the wrong choice.

    My world changed when I read Carol Dweck’s book, “Mindset,” and realized that making mistakes was the best way to learn.

    I started to tell myself, “sure you might have been more ready for this role in 5 or 10 years, but think of all the things you’ll learn by doing the role now.

    In 5 or 10 years, you’ll be twice as ready as you would have been had you not taken this role.”

  5. Empower others. Don’t take other people’s problems — empower them to figure out how to solve it; that’s how they learn the most.

    A common mistake most leaders make is wanting to solve everyone’s problems for them. And a lot of employees just take their problems to the “boss” to solve.

    Every time a leader just solves the problem for someone, you’re stealing their opportunity to contribute.

    Sure, they won’t solve the problem the same way you would, but their growth is going to lead them to do great things that you never would have thought.

Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?

David Bolt: Follow me personally on LinkedIn, or you can follow GMB on Twitter.

Otherwise, check out GMB on LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook.

Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!


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