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Tri-Cities Influencer Podcast with Paul Casey

Dec 19, 2019

Tara Kenning:  "Teamwork makes the dream work," John C. Maxwell. I'm Tara Jaraysi Kenning and I'm a Tri-Cities Influencer.

Paul:  Most people fail because of broken focus. Broken focus is one of those things that actually hurt us, so complete your tasks before you move on to another one. The ancient proverb is if you chase two rabbits, you'll catch neither

Speaker 3: Raising the water level of leadership and the Tri-Cities at Eastern Washington. It's a Tri-Cities Influencer podcast. Welcome to the Tri-Cities Influencer podcast where Paul Casey interviews the local leaders like CEOs, entrepreneurs, and nonprofit executives to hear how they lead themselves and their teams so that we can all benefit from their experiences. Here's your host, Paul Casey of Growing Forward Services coaching and equipping individuals and teams to spark breakthrough success.

Paul: Thanks for joining me for today's episode with Renee Adams. She is the executive director of the arts center task force, and she's the director of programs and outreach for the Mid-Columbia Ballet. And a fun fact about Renee is she said she has this coffee cup with a picture of a cactus on it that says, "Can't touch this." Tell me about that.

Renee: Hey Paul. It's really great to be here. Okay, so the story of the coffee mug. On good mornings when I wake up and open the cupboard and pull out the coffee cup, it sometimes says, "Can't touch this," and I get out my little MC Hammer moves and I do my little dance in the kitchen before getting my coffee and you know that's going to be a good day.

Paul: Before we begin, let's check in with our Tri-City Influencers sponsors.

Neal Taylor:  Hello, my name is Neil Taylor. I am the managing attorney for Gravis Law's commercial transactions team. The CTT team helps business owners, investors, and entrepreneurs accelerate and protect their business value. Today we're talking about employment law and alcohol and cannabis licensing. Josh Bam and Derek Johnson are both here with me now to describe those practice areas. Take it Derrick.

Derrick:   Thanks Neal. I'm Derek Johnson, partner at Gravis Law. We find that many employers in Washington state simply don't have handbooks, employee policies or any other written materials to protect themselves and their employees. Without having these types of policies in place, an employer can run into trouble by firing employees even if the employee isn't properly performing or causing issues at work. Even if an employer fires someone for performance issues, for example, but fails to take the proper steps, they may run into trouble by inadvertently exposing themselves to a wrongful termination suit. We build strong, predictable and protective employee policies to protect our client's business.

Josh:   That's true. Thanks Derek. And having employment policies in place when you're dealing with cannabis or alcohol licensing is especially important. We know that clean employment policy, clean corporate structure, and having an attorney that can work with the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board is critically important to protecting your business through licensing. The attorneys at Gravis Law have this experience. Visit us today,

Paul:  Thank you for your supportive leadership development in the Tri-Cities. Well, welcome Renee. I was privileged to meet you last year. Leadership Tri-Cities Class of '24 at the retreat.

Renee:  I think I'm supposed to say the best class ever here, yeah best class ever.

Paul: All right, you can get away with that here. And you came strutting in with a smile on your face. And I'm like, I like this gal already. And you ended up getting elected president of your class.

Renee:  I did.

Paul:  So way to go for that.

Renee: Thank you, it was a great experience.

Paul:  So our Tri-City Influencers can get to know you. Take us through your past positions that led up to what you're doing now.

Renee:  Yeah, well I've had a lot of different experiences in my career. I grew up as a ballet dancer and so I spent the majority of my teen years training in pre-professional ballet and I got my first job as a dancer right out of high school in Seattle with a company called Spectrum Dance Theater. And I was one of their apprentice dancers. And so I spent 12 years as a professional dancer. Primarily, I performed with contemporary dance companies in Seattle, Portland, and Chicago. And some time while I was in Portland, I realized I had an interest not just in teaching, but also in the administrative component of building outreach programs that go out into schools, community centers, and bring dance to people, one-on-one. And so those were the types of programs that I did when I wasn't on stage or in the studio.

Renee:   And by the time I left Chicago, which was in about 2013, I had amassed a good experience as education specialist, education director, outreach coordinator type positions for dance companies. I made the connection with the ballet company here in Tri-Cities, Mid-Columbia Ballet actually through a friend in Chicago. And they said, "We have this company in Washington that is looking for help, and so give them a call." So I did, I called up Deborah and Joel Rogo and they hired me as their assistant artistic director.

Renee:  And there was some moving around, but I eventually landed here in that position of director of programs and outreach. And then through that position, I realized I really had an interest and skill in the administrative component of arts organizations. And not just dance, but looking at how the arts as a whole benefits our community and thinking about how as an administrator of the arts, I can have a really great impact on individuals in the community through the arts,

Paul:  Which not everyone in the arts or in ballet has that same wiring like you do.

Renee:  Right. No, actually it's true that it's a special ... I think it's a special thing to have that.

Paul:  Who are some influencers along the way in that journey that maybe were mentors to you or you picked up leadership tidbits from?

Renee:  Yeah, so I think that in the beginning of my artistic journey was my ballet teacher, as most dancers would tell you, and her name was Phyllis Sear. By the time I met Phyllis, she was in her mid-80s. She was still a young-hearted woman even as she aged. And she really taught me a lot about life skills and the value of humility, the value of having grit and tenacity and following through and being patient and compassionate. And those were things that we talked about a lot in the context of performing and teaching, but they turned out to be very relevant as an administrator and as a leader.

Renee:  So I've really valued those lessons. And then, as I danced through my career, I was always enamored by the company managers that I worked with. And watching them run all of the behind the scenes thing and calling the production manager and getting the tech crew there and making sure that we had funding for all of the employees to get their paycheck in time and just really watching them and listening to the tidbits of gold that they dropped.

Paul: Fantastic. So when you got into these two positions, what was your original vision and then how has that morphed along your leadership journey?

Renee:  That's a great question. And it's a little bit complicated because they are two different organizations that each have their own type of vision. But I think if I could summarize in both positions, my vision was sort of small. It was, what can I do with the resources I have right now to make a difference today? And maybe that was by taking an outreach program out to a senior living facility or by attending a board meeting, but over time, and I've been with Art Center Task Force as their executive director for a year, and over the course of that year, I've realized the vision is much broader and it's actually in the arts, it's about how do we bring people into our shared vision? How do we get them on the boat and show them that their vision aligns with ours? And I think the vision is more of, how do we show our community the value of the arts in their everyday lives?

Paul:   Love that. So inspire a shared vision, one of the five principles-

Renee: That's right.

Paul:  That we learned in leadership Tri-Cities.

Renee:  I learned something, Paul.

Paul: You did, you did. Why is it so important to share that vision? Because you could just keep that vision, it could bubble you up every day and it's fantastic to keep you motivated, but why does it have to be a shared vision?

Renee:  Well, I think that especially in the arts, nothing happens without collaboration. I think that's probably true in many industries. But as artists, we are very, very passionate and we tend to believe that our way is usually the right way. And without that element of collaboration and being able to see how our way can align with those next to us, that we all have the same kind of goals, then we really just fall into fighting and chaos. And that's something that I noticed about the Tri-Cities arts community as soon as I got here. That is not the case. This is the Tri-Cities arts community is one that its core value is collaboration, and so it was really easy to slide into that.

Paul:  Are you the only staff in those roles? Is it all volunteer-based? Tell us a little bit about how you evangelize arts?

Renee: Yeah. At Mid-Columbia Ballet, there are a variety of staff members. There are three key staff members, the artistic director, the company manager and myself, director of programs and outreach. And so we coordinate a lot of the day-to-day activities, each in our own sort of departments I guess. And then there are some other staff members that come on and do project-type activities. So one staff member runs our include program, which serves people with special needs and so on and so forth. So there's a lot of staff support at Mid-Columbia Ballet. There's also a lot of volunteer support there for things like the Nutcracker, which most people in the community have probably been to. What they might not realize is the Nutcracker takes about 100 volunteers every night to run the backstage components. And so certainly we can't have a staff of 100 volunteers, that would break the budget and we would not be able to share the art at art.

Renee: At Art Center Task Force, it's a much different situation with a lot different mission. And so I am the only staff member. I am the first staff member of the organization. And this is an organization that was incorporated in the mid-90s, and since then it has been run on the passion and tenacity of volunteers in the community. So it is so inspiring to go to work and see that there's all these volunteers who've put in all these hours before me and be able to follow in those footsteps.

Paul:  Well, what are you most passionate about? You've used the word inspire a few times already, so what are you most passionate about in these organizations right now and why?

Rene: I'm really excited and passionate about the idea of finding connections between people. And a friend of mine actually at the ballet the company administrator said when I first started working on coordinating events and thinking about these bigger visions that my job was kind of like putting together the pieces of a puzzle. You me throw the puzzle out and all the pieces are there. And to be able to find the connection between two or three or four puzzle pieces that makes the whole picture, that's really exciting. That's the thing that makes me do my MC Hammer dance a little more actively in the morning. I love to see those connections. And not just with people in the arts community, I love to see how people in the sports community, in our city government, in business leadership positions throughout the community have those connections to the arts, those personal emotional connections.

Paul: So you must have some type of networking strategy to make those connections. How do you prioritize your time or these people and influencers in town?

Renee:  I wish I could tell you I had a perfect template for my networking strategy, but I don't. But one of the things that I realized early on is how important it is to keep on my calendar time to do my work, whether that is administrative work or phone calls or networking opportunities. And so, I just try to look at my calendar each week as a balanced meal and then each month as a balanced meal to make sure that I'm talking to the right people, to go through my database or my email list and see who is it that I haven't touched base within a while? And try to spread it out that way.

Paul: Awesome. So talk to me about building a team and creating a culture. So you've got some staff in the ballet, you also have lots of volunteers and whether our listeners are a nonprofit or for-profit organizations, what do you look for when you're trying to bring someone on board, make sure they're on the right seat on the bus, the values you're trying to instill, all that?

Renee:  The single biggest quality that we look for in volunteers or staff members is are you a team player? Because we really appreciate people who offer opposite views or who offer different views. And so we're not necessarily looking for somebody who just agrees with all of our pragmatic choices, but we're looking for people who can sit around the table and also be that team. The other thing we're generally looking for is people who have follow-through. And so whether that's a staff or a volunteer member, especially for volunteers, it's hard to not over commit yourself. And so-

Paul:  What?

Renee:  What I've realized as a leader in this position that I am starting to get a sense of volunteers who really have so much passion, but maybe they're a little over-committed and how can I get them involved and how can I keep them in the family, so to speak, of the arts community and help them feel successful as well as get what we need from the project?

Paul: I really liked that. I read a book last year called The New Breed of Volunteers, and it's talking about both the eldest generation and also the youngest generation that want to volunteer and how it's really a new breed nowadays that they want to do it on their time, they want to do it in nuggets, they don't want long-term commitments. And we have to, as leaders, maybe meld our volunteer opportunities to fit. So like you said, they can all be included. And I think that's a great way to do so. I love that team player is number one. And you mentioned about diversity of thought, so sometimes diversity of thought can be divisive, other times it can be a real asset. How do you see the difference when it becomes an asset?

Renee:  Yeah, I think that the diversity of thought that's an asset is the one that can listen and not just hear what you're saying and respond, but really slow down and listen and absorb the other point of view. Because they still may have a dissenting view or a disagreeing view, but a lot of times we find that those individuals who maybe aren't ready to be a team player in our setting, they're just not quite ready to listen to whatever the opportunity is.

Paul:  Yeah. They might have a little personal agenda that they are ... Or they're entrenched there and they're not doing the old Stephen Covey-ism, "Seek first to understand then be understood," which I still love that one. Let's stay on that topic of personnel, how do you keep them inspired and affirmed? Because volunteers could walk away tomorrow, so how do you keep them pumped up?

Renee:  Paul, I have to say that I learned a lot from you in our leadership sessions during Leadership Tri-Cities. And one of the things that I really took from me in those sessions was this idea of small wins. And I've been trying it out in small doses throughout the year. And this is something that in our industry, in the arts, things rarely move quickly. Nonprofits rarely move quickly. And so there's a lot of waiting around, even when you're in the middle of the production and the show has to happen, there's still a lot of waiting around. Things just don't move quickly sometimes. And so, it's easy for people to get frustrated and to feel that pull of impatience. And I've been doing my best to find these moments of small wins and celebrate, whether it's send an email to the board and say, "We have this great connection. Please give me any feedback or let me know if you have a connection to this connection."

Renee: And the other way we try to celebrate small wins is through a lot of gratitude. Thank you so much to this person for this activity, et cetera. And yeah, that small wins thing is really valuable for us.

Paul: I was listening to another podcast the other day that says, "Make sure that it's clear what a win actually is in your organization because what you might as the leader think a win is and what your people think is win might be totally different things. So give them this view of what a win actually is or what done looks like when you delegate something to people so that they really get it." So let's turn to you a little bit. No one wants to get stale in leadership, so how do you stay relevant and on the cutting edge yourself? And then how does that build innovation for your organization?

Renee: I thought a lot about this question and I realized the reason it was hard for me to process and answer was that it's changed a lot for me personally. As my career has changed from specific arts programming in the field of dance to a broader perspective of arts administration, that thing of not being stale has changed. And what I realize it is now is looking more globally and maybe that is for example here the state of Washington, at leaders who are doing similar things as us in this community and literally calling them up and saying, "Hi, my name is Renee and I'm from the Tri-Cities and we're working on this idea here," whether it's a joint fundraiser or an art center or a unique program, "I'd like to pick your brain a little bit." And that is very inspiring for me, because there are not a lot of other arts staff leaders in this community. The ones that there are, are amazing and we have a great network with each other, but it's so wonderful to be able to reach out to other people in other communities and find parallels.

Paul:  Yeah, I just got back from the National Speakers Association conference and it's sort the same thing. If you don't have a lot of people doing exactly what you do around you, you've got to go find them and strike up those conversations and it just pumps you up because they really get what you do and they've got also some ideas, because they're a little further down the road than you in some ways and who knows? Maybe you've got some wisdom to share with them.

Renee:  Right.

Paul:  Well, before we get to our next question to ask Renee what makes a good day for her, let's give a shout out to our sponsors.

Paul:  Jason Hoke, American Family Insurance. Jason, what is the biggest pushback you get about life insurance?

Jason Hoke:  Hey Paul. One of the biggest push backs I get from life insurance is from folks that are single. They usually ask me, "Why do I even need this? I don't have kids, I don't have any dependents or a spouse, why do I need this?" Ultimately, whenever you pass on, there's going to be somebody there to pick up the pieces, there's going to be somebody to deal with your affairs and I would say it's your responsibility to make sure that there are funds, that there's money there so that person can take the time needed to go through it properly and not make it their responsibility.

Paul:  Awesome, Jason, so tell us how can our listeners get in touch with you?

Jason Hoke: You can swing by our office on Road 68 in Pasco, or give us a call at (509) 547-0540.

Paul:  So Renee, what makes it a good day for you personally? You look back at the end of the day and you go, "Man, that was a really good day," both personally and as you just look at your workday?

Renee:  I wish there was a simple way to answer this question because every day in my world looks absolutely different. I'm not sure if one day has ever looked the same. So I think I have to be a little more abstract here. For me, when I leave the 'office' which is rarely an actual office and it's rarely five o'clock, it's that feeling of yes, I communicated with all the people I needed to communicate with today. Yes, everyone feels like they got to speak their mind and share their perspective and they felt heard and I felt heard. And so it's those kind of more abstract communication-focused things that make it a good day because our journey is a long one and we have a lot of work to do to enrich our community with the arts. And so we look for that type of feeling.

Paul:  So you probably use different communication methods. What are the most effective for you that you use?

Renee:  Oddly enough, the most effective communication method for us is written. And we spend a lot of time writing down our ideas and writing down our thoughts, whether in emails or, for example, reports, the board that we can save in our Dropbox files. And the reason for that is because people change, board members change, volunteers change. And so to have that written communication in place of the work we've already done helps us create an archive of all of our progress. And that's really valuable. And the other thing is it's so valuable for us to be able to get in front of the community and actually talk about what we're doing, whether that's on a news clip or in podcasts or at the farmer's market or whatever it is, just getting out there and talking to people is so very important for us. And then of course the obvious one is the arts are very visual. Whether you're looking at them on a sculpture, a painting or on a stage, they are a visual thing.

Paul:  So it sounds like if there are people looking for speakers for their organizations in town, you guys are game.

Renee:  Absolutely.

Paul: Listen for that contact information in just a few minutes. So take us behind the scenes of your life. What's your best habit, what's your worst habit?

Renee:  Oh dear. Well, I have to say that my best habit is something that's a carryover from my dance career, which is just to really start every day with some physical activity. Whether that's going to the yoga studio around the corner from my house or walking my dog or maybe getting a quick jaunt weeding my garden in the morning. But what I find when I don't do those things, I get to the point where I can't focus on my day. One of my worst habits is that I tend to be a workhorse, and so sometimes that means I get stuck in the weeds. Sometimes that means even though I can see the big picture, I drill down on something too specific and I go down that windy path that's not helpful. And without a lot of other staff support around on a daily basis, sometimes it's easy to do that. And so that can be one of my worst habits, is not slowing down enough to look at the big picture consistently.

Paul:  So if our listeners had that same malady and they got stuck down in the weeds and realize, we're in the bottom of a hole, what advice would you give them to pull out of that once they're self-aware enough to realize, wow, I'm way down deep?

Renee:  Yeah, I'm at the bottom of the hole. My recommendation is to surround yourself with people who are not necessarily better than you, but have different skills and characteristics than you. And I really rely on the supportive committees in our organizations to bounce ideas off and, "Hey, don't let me get too far on this idea if it's a bad one."

Paul:  A favorite quote that you have.

Renee: Paul, I wrote this quote for you because it is my very favorite quote. It's actually a mission statement of a theater company in Chicago. It's called The Looking Glass Theater. And the quote says, "Fire the imagination with love. Celebrate the human capacity to taste and smell, weep and laugh, create and destroy. And wake up where we first fell, changed, charged and empowered".

Paul:  Well it's pretty obvious why you would choose that, but what does that mean to you?

Renee:  To me that means that each day is an opportunity to be creative and to welcome the day with this fiery energy that I find is really important in my work. It helps people connect to me, it helps me connect to them. And this quote reminds me that it's okay to cry and it's okay to destroy and it's okay to have these moments that aren't always beautiful, that it's about the journey.

Paul: Let me follow up on that. So if someone says, "I'm not really creative," I mean you are naturally, and what would you say? How can they stoke their creativity? Is there a habit that people can do to do that better?

Renee:  I love the idea of thinking about our daily lives as creativity, and how is it that we ... What are the things we find joy in that are sort of mundane, like cleaning the counter and putting away the dishes. And it's not necessarily that we do those things artistically, so to speak, but creativity is often something that's born out of routine. And so finding the joy in those routines I think often allows us to be creative.

Paul: I love that. Finding the joy in the routine. How about your favorite book that you think all of our listeners should read?

Renee: So I recently read a book by Brené Brown called Daring Greatly, and I'm sure many people have read that book. And I love the idea of thinking about vulnerability and thinking about ourselves as whole people, not just as people that go to work and then people who go home to our families and then people who go to the grocery store, but that all of our experiences summarize us at each moment in each day.

Paul:  Daring Greatly, Brené Brown. And she wrote one recently, Dare to Lead as well that I read. How about an influencer in town that every Tri-Citian should meet?

Renee:  Now, I may be biased from my arts perspective, but if you have not met Deborah and Joel Rogo who own the Tri-Cities Academy of Ballet, and Debra is the artistic director of Mid-Columbia Ballet, then you are missing out. These are really influential people, their history and their past is rich and they bring so much experience and professionalism to the community here in Tri-Cities. And we're just so grateful to have them here.

Paul:  Sound like cool people.

Renee:  They are very cool people.

Paul: Now let's talk your legacy. If you left a letter on your desk for the leader who came after you, what would it say?

Renee: So I think today that I've spent a lot of time talking about the connections and who are the people, as you said, on the bus or in the room. And for me, that letter or that legacy for future leaders is really think about who you have surrounding you. And for me, that's always about finding people to surround me that I want to look up to, that I want to emulate. They have qualities that are ... Have more experience than me, they have different experience than me. And so, to me, that's really important in any position in our life, but also as a leader, that we're looking for people who are better than us so that we can continue to grow.

Paul:  Fantastic. I got to hear John Maxwell live at this conference I went to recently and he got the Influencer of the Year award from the National Speakers Association, and he has the law of the inner circle, which says, "Your success is determined by those you surround yourself with." So that really backs up what you just said.

Renee:   Yes.

Paul:  Finally, what advice would you give to new leaders or anyone who wants to keep growing and gaining more influence?

Renee:  Yeah, I wrote down the word gems in my notes, as in sparkly stones. And I don't think that the path is always obvious as we go on in our career and our lives and search for leadership opportunities. I think that we walk a path and we have a choice, the right path or the left path, and neither is wrong and we just take one and then we look for the gems along the way. And when we look at it that way, we don't get stunted by fear. We don't stop because we can't be perfect, and it's more about the journey and the exploration and the experience than it is about the perfection.

Paul:  Tri-City listeners, look for the gyms along the way. So Renee, how can our listeners best connect with you?

Renee:  Probably the best way to connect with me is over email at or through a phone call at (509) 6019-98546.

Paul:  Well, thanks again for all you do to make the Tri-Cities a great place and keep leading well.

Renee:  Thanks for having me, Paul.

Paul:  Let me wrap up our podcast today with a leadership resource to recommend. It is the emotional index quiz. You go over to and you go into the free quizzes section and this emotional index quiz is 100 questions, takes about 20 to 30 minutes to do and it's to figure out the underlying needs that drive your behavior. This is essential for each of us to identify because there might be some changes that need to be made to get a little bit more emotionally healthy. Again,, free quizzes.

Paul:  And don't forget to consider patronizing our sponsors of Tri-City Influencer Gravis Law And Jason Hogue, American Family Insurance. Finally, one more leadership tidbit for the road to help you make a difference in your circle of influence, it's a quote by former Dallas Cowboys coach, Tom Landry, "A winner never stops trying." Keep growing forward.

Speaker 3:  If you enjoy this podcast or it piqued your interest in learning more about leadership and self-leadership, you can continue to glean from Paul and his growing forward services. Check out Paul's blog and the products, tips and tools on his website at and opt into his target practice inspirational E-newsletter. You'll get his 33 top tips for becoming a time management rock star when you subscribe and consider buying one of his three books. The most recent one being Leading the Team You've Always Wanted.

Paul:  This podcast has been produced by Bonsai Audio at Fuse Coworking Space.