David Hancock of Heroes for Children: “Empower your team to make decisions”

Empower your team to make decisions. Earlier in my career I wanted to show I was a decisive leader by leading alone. But by asking good questions, leveraging the smarts of your people, and getting solid feedback brings your team to the table with you It took me awhile to learn this empowerment model of […]

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Empower your team to make decisions. Earlier in my career I wanted to show I was a decisive leader by leading alone. But by asking good questions, leveraging the smarts of your people, and getting solid feedback brings your team to the table with you It took me awhile to learn this empowerment model of leadership, “we win as a team we lose as a team.”


As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Hancock.

David Hancock is the CEO and Executive Director of Heroes for Children, a Texas-based 501c3 nonprofit organization, which advocates for and provides financial and social assistance to families with children battling cancer.

Hancock brings many years of nonprofit experience to the table. A passionate speaker, author, and leader, Hancock has keynoted many events on leadership for nonprofit organizations all over the world. He has appeared on several local, state and national news broadcasts and also shared honors as a nationally-recognized youth leader as “Person of the Week” on the ABC’s World News Tonight with Peter Jennings (1988). He has spoken in six different countries (Israel, Spain, Myanmar, China, United States, and Mexico) and in 22 different states in the U.S., sharing his leadership experience. Hancock’s focus on relationships, trust, and rapport has allowed him to utilize his strengths to help organizations find their ‘one thing’, implement rapid change, improve client relations, and execute on missional success.

Hancock holds a B.A in Biblical Studies with a minor in Relational Management from Northwest University. He has been married to his lovely wife Kandace for more than 30 years and they have raised two great young men, Luke and Levi. In his spare time, Hancock loves reading, writing, boating, fishing, and most of all spending time with his family.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I have been in non-profit work for more than 25 years. I originally began as a minister at the local church level, where I was the Senior Pastor for several congregations. However, I was frustrated with the inertia of the church organism. It is an organism that traditionally moves slowly, sacred cows linger, and for a creative visionary leader like me that was a difficult environment to maneuver. That is no slight on faith itself or the church organism, but for the way I’m wired, I knew that I needed to move towards other non-profits that provided room to create, build and grow a vision, and could be fluid in its growth patterns.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you desire to see in this world.” And the way I’m wired, I wanted my daily actions and leadership to be the change I wanted in this world. For many leaders, it takes a great deal of experience, trial & error, to identify strengths and weaknesses. I was fortunate to recognize what drains my leadership battery and what energizes it. It was this recognition that led me to the role of CEO-Executive Director at Heroes for Children.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I first began in the non-profit world I was so green. Like many young leaders I was full of energy & action, but lacking experience. When a Pastor, I was asked at an event if I would lead us in the Doxology at the end of the ceremony. I wasn’t raised in church and was learning many of the nuances of church life and I had no idea know what it was. I answered in the affirmative, so I didn’t want to look like I didn’t know what I was doing. I assumed it was that it was an ending prayer, but it is actually a final prayer that is sung. I didn’t ask anyone to clarify, so I began to think about what type of prayer I would use. As the ceremony ended, I walked up to the podium to say my well thought out prayer, when suddenly loud organ music began playing. Confused, I looked over at several of my pastor friends with a deer-in-a head-light look. And without missing a beat, my friend Mike with a devilish grin came up to the podium and helped lead the congregation through the singing of the “doxology.” My friends laughed afterward because they all know I can’t sing or hold a tune; which led me to believe they may have set me up on this occasion for a good laugh. The lesson I learned from this embarrassing experience is always ask questions, get clarification so that you don’t embarrass yourself by acting like you know it all. Questions don’t make you look incompetent and the right questions help elevate your leadership.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Our vision at Heroes for Children is to help families who have a child diagnosed with cancer by offering with assistance, support, and compassion. Our integration in the major pediatric oncology units in the State of Texas with oncology doctors, nurses, and social workers help make a deep impact into the lives of families.

Our programs include:

  • Financial Impact Program — We provide financial resources to help families pay their bills. This is our greatest impact, because it helps families successfully get to the other side of their child’s treatment plan. As a family they are going through the fight of their lives, and the last thing they need is to worry about is losing their home, having their electricity cutoff, or getting their car repossessed.
  • Fertility Assistance — When a teenager is in puberty and they begin an aggressive chemotherapy treatment, they can become sterile compromising their reproductive future. We help provide fertility assistance to give them the opportunity to have their own biological child for the future.
  • Laptops for Love — Approximately 1,200 children in Texas families live in a household with an income of 50,000 dollars or less. This means that many of these children don’t have access to technology to do their schoolwork while they are in treatment or connect with family and friends during the isolation. “Laptops for Love” provides new laptop to those in need.
  • Funeral Assistance — Unfortunately 20% of children fighting cancer lose their battle. At the deepest and darkest moment of a parent’s life we wanted to make sure they weren’t alone in their pain and burdened with high funeral costs. This program provides support to an average of five to six families every month to help them in their deepest time of grief.
  • Milestones Celebrations Program — Families that have a child with cancer get few opportunities to celebrate life during the process of their cancer treatment, and our Milestones Celebration Program provides financial support to celebrate a birthday, Bar/Bat-mitzvahs, home from the hospital party, graduation parties, etc.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Wow, there are so many heartwarming stories. One of our amazing social workers asked me if Heroes for Children could assist a single mom with several children, whose oldest son, David was a cancer survivor and been in remission for two years. Heroes For Children had assisted the family in the past. At 17-years-old David’s cancer returned with a vengeance and he was put on hospice. His last wish is he would like to marry his high school sweetheart in the hospital.

As you could imagine, we were stunned with their situation. I assured her that we would do everything we could to make David’s dream come true. By the end of the week, David married his high school sweetheart in the hospital, and unfortunately the following morning he passed. Not only did we help with the wedding, but the cost of the funeral.

This story is hard to tell, it still brings so much emotion. But Heroes for Children was there for this family in their greatest time of need. I’m so proud of our donors, supporters, and team who allow us to do the work we do.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

There are many leaders that simply define leadership as influence. At a thirty-thousand-foot level, I agree, but I think it lacks a larger context.

I define leadership as influence that leads to positive outcomes and opportunities that fuel a larger vision. But, that influence must lead to outcomes that make a positive change on the organization, the people that it serves, and the mission. Simply put, I see leadership as influencing positive outcomes in people, processes, and priorities.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

This is a favorite question of mine. Here are some items I wished I knew when I first started:

  1. Maximize your leadership strengths, delegate your weaknesses. In my early twenties the conventual wisdom was to spend time on your shoring up your weaknesses, while you maintain your strengths. But leaders like Donald Clifton and Markus Buckingham have helped us to invert that model. Clifton and Buckingham helped me understand that I am wired with a personality and skills, and that my battery gets energized and I’m more effective as a leader when I spend a majority of my time on maximizing my strengths, while I learn to delegate and outsource my weaknesses to other leaders/tools.
  2. Spend time on your people, not the minutia. The tyranny of the urgent usually is the minutia that eats up leader’s time. It can overtake your calendar, deplete your energy, and provide a façade that you’re extremely busy. But spending time on the greatest asset and capital of your organization is your people. Prioritize your calendar with key one-on-one meetings and random connections it builds leadership capital with your team and strengthens the mission.
  3. Hire people of strong character and values. It can be tempting to get enamored with talent and skills on a resume. Yes, skills and talents are extremely important. But talent without character/values will ultimately undermined your team, your continuity, and your mission. Value and character have to be first in your organization, not skills & talents. This might takes patience in the beginning, but it pays off in spades on the back end.
  4. Empower your team to make decisions. Earlier in my career I wanted to show I was a decisive leader by leading alone. But by asking good questions, leveraging the smarts of your people, and getting solid feedback brings your team to the table with you It took me awhile to learn this empowerment model of leadership, “we win as a team we lose as a team.”
  5. Strong processes will lead to a stronger mission. Systems and processes determine many of your outcomes. Yes, a strong compelling mission is a must, but without the systems and processes to fuel that mission you will find yourself in an organizational loop of the Peter Principle. Key tip — if you can’t explain a process in simple ways on a single 8×11 sheet paper, then it is a strong sign that that process needs to be flattened.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

What most people don’t know is that most cancer non-profits are primarily focused on cancer research to cure cancer for the future, and a small minority are focused on the plight of pain that families are going through right now.

An 80% of pediatric cancer patients beat cancer medically, but many families suffer due to the enormous strain of finances. Imagine, if we could inspire more financial resources to help people in the here and now to keep their homes, their cars, their sanity, their marriages, and their children. That would be the change I would love to inspire in our world.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

One of my favorite quotes comes from a Hebrew phrase Tikkun Olam, which is translated as a “repairer of the world.” It is a principal that we are all responsible as human beings to repair and bring healing to others with resources, care, and compassion. I love this simple phrase because it is such a tangible axiom to help be the repairer of pain in people’s lives. This phrase literally guides my life both personally and professionally as I am proactively looking for ways daily to be a “repairer in the world around me.”

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-).

I would love to sit down with Dr. Jordan Peterson, the former professor at the University of Toronto and best-selling author of “12 Rules for Life.” My oldest son came to me and said, “Dad, I just listened to one of the most intelligent guys on this YouTube clip. He made so much sense and he is already making me evaluate a number of positions I thought I was firm on.” His book, “12 Rules for Life” was a game changer on my intellect. How he viewed argumentation, how he analyzed topics, and how he engaged people in a fair and honest way was challenging to me. Dr. Peterson challenged my vocabulary and showed me that words have meaning, and they shape the context of ideas. He has challenged me to see that most topics shouldn’t be contextualized in binary responses, and that subjects are much more nuanced than simple platitudes. He has challenged me most of all to be a better and more responsible human being. With that said, I know he is not perfect, but I would love to have a breakfast or lunch with a man like Dr. Peterson so that I could pick his brain on several complex ideas I’m wrestling with existentially.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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