Deke Copenhaver believes everyone has a story to tell. And now, the former Augusta mayor is turning a page in his own story, starting a new chapter that he hopes will help others. Later this month, Copenhaver plans to celebrate the official release of his new book, The Change Maker: The Art of Building Better Leaders.
Using inspiration and lessons gleaned from nearly a decade in local politics, Copenhaver said he hopes his book can serve as a blueprint of hope for future generations to be change-maker leaders. And most importantly, he said it is possible to make a difference in politics while maintaining character and integrity in a time of stark partisan division.
“Hopefully, this will inspire some people out there to do it. It’s not easy, it’s a leap of faith,” Copenhaver said about public service. “Somebody told me when I first said I was going to run, ‘Well why would you want to get mixed up with all that?’ If everybody has that attitude nothing is ever going to change.”
Copenhaver said his success in office came from consistently challenging the status quo. His service as mayor was his own “experiment in democracy,” and was ultimately the inspiration behind the new book. “When I first ran for mayor I purposefully didn’t want to do it like any other politician I had seen,” Deke said. “I just made a vow to myself to just always stay positive and stick to the high ground and focus on bringing people together.”
And it worked.
Copenhaver was thrice elected to lead the second largest city in the state with more than 64 percent of the vote in each election. It’s a method of leadership he hopes future and current political leaders can use to “run on a vision inspiring people” instead of a platform of negativity.
“I make the point in the book that when I first ran for office I was 37 years old, and I think part of the success of my first campaign is that we had just a bunch of 20 and 30 something-year-olds that knew nothing about running a political campaign, but had so much energy around it it was just contagious.”
He describes the new book as a philosophical approach, identifying seven attributes of change-making leaders: Creativity, Courage, Connecting, Listening, Transparency, Composure and Character. In nine chapters and 178 pages, Copenhaver dives into each of these attributes using his own real-life experiences.
“I tell people that so much of the book is not groundbreaking. It’s things my parents taught me growing up: treat everybody with dignity and respect. It seems like common sense may not be as common as it used to be, particularly in the world of politics.”
“There’s not an interest in politics because there’s no authenticity to it. Hopefully, this [book] will provide a blueprint to where you can, at the local level, if you’re not doing it for a career in politics, you really can make a difference,” he said.
For Copenhaver, the book fulfills a childhood dream of being a writer. After a last-minute decision steering away from journalism to major in business, Copenhaver ended up graduating with a political science degree from the University of Georgia.
“I never thought I would use the political science degree, then ended up becoming mayor and then figured at some point I might write a book, but I didn’t know this opportunity would present itself. So my childhood dream is being fulfilled at the age of 51,” Copenhaver said.
And the cherry on the cake for Copenhaver came when he and his wife Malisa celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary earlier this month. The Copenhavers returned home from a trip to Denver for a ForbesBooks conference,to find the first box of 100 pre-ordered books on their doorstep; Copenhaver had the book dedicated to Malisa in honor of their anniversary.
The book is just the latest undertaking by Augusta’s longtime public servant. Copenhaver has been active in leading the city’s development authority on an interim basis, he briefly hosted a radio talk show for a year and is now part of the city’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau latest campaign “All in for Augusta” to raise $6 million in five years. His consulting business, which he started after leaving office, is also taking next steps with a prospective opportunity to consult for the city of Calgary in Canada.
“I think I’ve always wanted to develop Augusta into a living classroom that other cities can learn from and I think that with everything going on and now the book coming out, I am fascinated by and love cities and so I have loved being a part of helping my city. But I would love to help other cities as well, using lessons learned here.”
In his book as his life, Copenhaver continues to challenge the status quo and inspire others with his work. After the public launch of his book, he said he anticipates more travel is on the horizon. But in the meantime, author is the latest addition to his resume.
“I tell people I was in banking, then real estate and development and was mayor for nine years, consultant and talk show host and now Forbes author, I am still trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up,” Copenhaver laughed.
Copenhaver’s book is available for pre-order now on Amazon and people will be able to keep up with him on the launch of his website, dekecopenhaver.com.
–Photo by Amy J. Owen
Article appears in the June/July 2021 issue of Augusta Magazine.