Lessons from the Most Powerful Man in Pittsburgh (Episode 187)

Grant Oliphant schooled me in a 30 minute interview.

Creator of the Pittsburgh Promise

After a year and a half with over 180 interviews, I don’t get nervous before I sit down in front of the mic. I prep my questions, get a nice dose of caffeine, and focus on being an active listener.

However, walking into the office of the Heinz Endowments to interview Grant Oliphant, I had some nerves.

I walked out thoroughly impressed, excited for the future, and humbled by his generosity. Grant patiently listened to every question and masterfully wove stories together in a 45 minute session that flew by.

Editing the episode was a pleasure and opportunity to review all that he’d taught me.

Everyone Fails

It’s not often that you get to talk with someone whose name is associated with power. Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence taught me that we are hardwired to assign trust and value to those with authority, so I promised myself to probe that idea.

“Can you talk about a time when you’ve failed?”

He didn’t hesitate to answer. He shared both the structure of a significant failure and acknowledged the emotional reality of the situation. Grant’s failures involve millions of dollars and it takes guts to own that.

“To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.” ~ Criss Jami

No One Does It Alone

Grant was quick to deflect credit for successes to the team he has assembled. The sincerity with which he praised the team and the pain he expressed about having to tell them when a project was shut down, told me a lot.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”

Power is not Loud, but it is Heard

Oliphant’s name isn’t all over the front pages of the newspaper. He is not walking the streets campaigning like someone in public office. But he is actively visiting neighborhoods and learning about what people need.

His mission to build a more just city takes a lot of hands, information, and leadership. Standing at the nexus of all this means a lot of listening before a decision is made. But, when that decision is made, mountains move.


Grant’s Bio

Grant Oliphant is president of The Heinz Endowments. For nearly two decades, Grant held several senior management posts with Heinz family foundations, including vice president for programs and planning at the Endowments, his position before taking over the helm at The Pittsburgh Foundation in 2008. He also served as press secretary to the late U.S. Sen. John Heinz from 1988 until the senator’s death in 1991.


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