Leading Through Tough Times

by Dafina McMillan

in Interviews

We’re really looking forward to the final Leadership Teleconferences in our 2011 winter/spring cycle, featuring Robbin Walker, the esteemed trainer of our Expanding the Theatre Manager’s Repertoire program. In fact, we’re so excited we couldn’t wait until April 26th, and decided to ask Robbin a few questions about Leadership for the Circle.  You can learn more about the teleconferences, including how to participate, by clicking here.

1. How do you define leadership?
There are hundreds of books that have been written about leadership and probably as many definitions. I have always operated under the definition that leadership is something you provide for others that they can’t provide for themselves.

2. In your opinion, what are some key characteristics or qualities of a great leader?
In a nutshell, I think a good leader is clear on what his or her guiding principles are and they model that behavior; they have a vision of what can be and know how to clearly communicate it to others; and they know how to maneuver through challenges.

3. What are some common challenges that leaders are facing in this environment?
They are expected to do what they have always done (but in more cases than not, they are expected to do more) with fewer people and resources. Leaders must break current mindsets and encourage people closest to the work to step up to the plate and share new ways of thinking and task completion, while maintaining the dignity of everyone involved.

4. Why is it important to take more risks now?
Leaders have to be “gutsy.” The rules have changed and they keep changing, and a leader can’t do it all alone. People are a leader’s most precious resource, so he or she really needs to get to know the staff and help them discover what they are best at and look for ways to showcase those talents. Also, it’s important to have frank conversations about what they aren’t good at and help them manage those areas so as not to create more problems.

5. In your eyes, who was a great leader, and why do you find that person inspiring?
A supervisor I worked with a number of years ago was masterful at having empathy. Whenever I walked away from any situation, I always felt understood, even when there was disagreement between us. She created the most inclusive environment I have ever worked in. She had a knack for creating great dialogue when something went wrong. We focused on problem-solving, what we learned from the situation and how we would avoid it in the future.

6. What is one thing a leader should NEVER say (or do)?
Everything a leader does or says and doesn’t do or say matters and is watched! Avoid losing emotional control, belittling, making others feel “less than,” or not feeling safe!

Thanks to Robbin for answering our questions, and hopefully you’ll join us on the 26th!

Robbin Walker, Consultant, Walker Consulting Group:
After 23 years as a senior consultant for Target Corporation, Robbin entered “retirement” with her husband Richard in 2007. She and her husband established the Walker Consulting Group (WCG) in 2008, where she continues to share her consulting expertise in the areas of talent management, managing inclusion and diversity, coaching, teambuilding, as well as all areas of personal and leadership development. Having experience with multiple levels of leadership from senior leaders to front-line managers, she brings the classroom to life with her high energy facilitation style, humor and participative group interaction. She believes strongly that being authentic and giving and receiving meaningful feedback is the basis for life-long learning. WCG’s clients include: the Alley Theatre, the League of Resident Theatres, St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists, TCG, among others.

She is a graduate of Minnesota State University at Mankato and holds a B.S. in Teaching in Education with major emphasis in the disciplines of speech, theatre and art. In past chapters, Robbin taught high school at the American Foundation School in Mexico City and Centennial High School in Circle Pines, MN; conducted the “norming” phase on the development of a comprehensive battery of tests with internationally acclaimed educational psychologist, Dr. Richard Woodcock; counseled high school drop-outs on pre-employment/life skills and helped in their preparation for passing the GED; and worked in the Youth Services division of a national alternative education program based in Washington, DC.