Spring Training for Theatre Leaders

by Chris Shuff

in Events

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Fifteen Emerging and Established Leader pairs from TCG Member Theatres across the country were competitively chosen to participate in the two-day TCG/American Express Leadership Boot Camp. This leadership development program took place on March 13 and 14 at the Greensboro, North Carolina campus of the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL). David Horth and Shera Clark, the CCL faculty, lead the class through rigorous training that included group participation exercises and discussions, as well as private coaching and feedback.

On the first day of Boot Camp, participants were encouraged to “G.A.G.,” or “go against the grain,” and to recognize that there is more than one right answer to any given problem. The Leaders were asked to think about key events in their careers that led them to their current management style, in addition to recounting what lessons they learned from those experiences. Participants were provided with a confidential Benchmark report, drawn from assessments completed by their respective workplace superiors, peers and direct reports. “Raters” graded the participants on how well they led themselves, others and their organizations.

Whereas the Benchmark report is focused on what others think of the Leader, FIRO-B (Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation-Behavior) is a self-assessment. FIRO-B is a personality tool that measures how someone typically behaves with other people and how that person expects others to act towards them. The group received their private scores, detailing their level of interpersonal “expressed” and “wanted” needs of inclusion, control and affection. The class practiced interpreting each other’s data and was encouraged to see how they could effectively work with their own staff who might have divergent scores. Ultimately, the driving force behind both survey tools is not about changing people but learning how to interact with others more capably.

Participants in the 2012 TCG/American Express Leadership Boot Camp

Participants then learned about change and transition, and the fundamental difference between the two terms. Change is “situational,” happens quickly and is experienced externally, while transition is “psychological,” takes more time and is experienced internally. Transition is broken down into three segments: ending of an existing situation, the neutral zone and a new beginning. Leaders were shown that without managing all complex change elements (vision, skills, incentives, resources and an action plan), problems would ensue.

Leaders also discovered their Change Style Indicator results, which measures individual style in approaching change. Participants learned that change is on a continuum, and people are conservers, pragmatists or originators. The class studied the major characteristics of the three groups and how each group views the others. Again, this tool was provided not to alter behavior, but to inform the participants about their own personal style and how to work more proficiently with others who have different change style preferences.

The day ended with a group exercise called “Color Blind.” Participants were put into two teams, blindfolded and given two puzzle pieces. They could only ask the color of each piece. By process of elimination and communication, they had to figure out what pieces were missing. It was interesting to note how participants interacted—who took charge, who helped facilitate, who allowed others to take the lead—all in a collaborative setting. The two groups were ultimately successful in completing the task but reached their goal in very different ways.

On the second day of Boot Camp, participants received individual, private leadership coaching followed by a lesson on “Feedback That Works.” Three-person teams practiced the basic feedback model, SBI:

Situation: Capture and clarify the specific situation in which the behavior occurred.

Behavior: Describe the behavior in detail.

Impact: Relay the impact that the behavior had on the person giving feedback and others.

One person gave feedback, one person received it and one person observed whether or not the person giving feedback was doing it correctly. This was followed by each person receiving feedback on a challenge that they discussed at the beginning of the Boot Camp.

The Emerging and Established Leader pairs were then asked to walk and talk around the campus. During the walk, the pairs set future goals, and thought about how to improve their leadership skills and what they needed to do differently to make their theatres succeed.

Campus of the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, NC

In the final moments, each participant wrote down six words on a 3×5 note card that denoted their take-aways from the Boot Camp. After reading their note card aloud to the group, the words were used by CCL to create a Wordle (sometimes referred to as a Word Cloud). At the end of the Boot Camp, each Leader received his/her diploma and the class picture.

The Leadership learning continues! As part of the program, each Leader will receive two private telephone coaching sessions in the coming months. Additionally, the Leaders will attend a ½ day Pre-Conference workshop at the National Conference, on Thursday, June 21, led by CCL’s Richard Walsh.


Chris Shuff, director of management programs, has overseen TCG’s research efforts, field communications and various professional development programs and events since 1998. Prior to TCG, Mr. Shuff was a consultant to the Saint Thomas Church Concert Series in New York City. He moved to New York from San Francisco, where he spent 13 years working in the not-for-profit performing arts service field. His last position was as director of ticketing services/community relations for Theatre Bay Area. He received his bachelor of arts in international relations from Lake Forest College and studied in the former Yugoslavia at the Filozofski Fakultet in Zagreb, Croatia.