From Acting to Facilitation ￼
Sharon Newport says as an actor, I watched amazing people struggle with life. I was interested in helping people see each other through the experience of each other and hope that they are going to now together do really important work in the world. Sharon talks about DEI. DEI” which stands for “Diversity Equity and Inclusion”.
“During the pandemic, my heart broke and changed shape. It had more capacity for courage. I had lots of conversations with my courage in 2020. And I invested in the education. I wanted to have bravery and to have a voice, and to take up space, and to know how to stand much stronger in my dignity. And I did that with deep support, from many sources and many people and other leaders who have gone before me.”
Black Lives Matter had an impact around the globe. People were really ready to have some different conversations I became more ready to have different conversations. And I became an internal leader around that at the organization. I embraced my right to take up space and have a voice. The voice deserves all the resources that it needs to be successful. I began uncovering fear and then relinquishing it. Those are the kinds of things that have you, you don’t have it.” There are versions of fear that also say yes and no.
Sharon concludes “I get nourished by hearing it back from listeners. I get nourished by being able to have safe spaces to share. And I hope that my voice inspires others.”
In her early career Sharon was a documentary, television, film producer, and actress for over a decade. And this included television series for the “History Channel” “Discovery Channel” and “Animal Planet”. Sharon supports her client’s goals of transformational change, using expertise in organizational development, diversity, equity, and inclusion, neuroscience, and body intelligence to deliver leading edge thought leaderships for them. She meets clients where they are and supports their goals to evolve.
00:00:00 Paula: Welcome to “TesseLeads” with Tesse Akpeki and co-host me, Paula Okonneh. “TesseLeads” is a safe, sensitive, and supportive place and space, where we encourage our guests to share their stories. And we want to hear about their stories, and really encourage them to tell their stories, experiences, and dilemmas. Here, you’ll find stories that are helpful as you navigate the uncertainties, as well as investigate the opportunities in your lives. We have an amazing guest today, her name is Sharon Newport, CA E. And she is into facilitating organizational transformation. Also works in specializing in culture and “DEI” which stands for “Diversity Equity and Inclusion”. So I’ll tell you about Sharon. In her early career. She was a documentary, television, film producer, and actress for over a decade. And this included television series for the “History Channel” “Discovery Channel” and “Animal Planet”. Sharon supports her client’s goals of transformational change, use an expertise in organizational development, diversity, equity, and inclusion, neuroscience, and body intelligence to deliver leading edge thought leaderships for them. And also to meet them where they are and support their goals to evolve. She’s also a volunteer on the global policy “Think Tank” for the Institute for association leadership. She’s a volunteer at the foresight works advisory council for the American society for association executives, that’s ASAE. As well as a board member for safe and sound schools. Sharon, welcome to “TesseLeads”.
00:02:21 Sharon: Thank you so much for having me. I’m glad to be here.
00:02:25 Tesse: Hi, Sharon. Welcome. And I can’t tell you how excited I am to have you on “TesseLeads”. It’s taken a while to get to this point, but we’re here now. And you know, I’ve read your work and had a lot of conversations with you. And a lot of things come to my mind. One is that change is learning and learning is change. Another thing is that there’s leadership and there’s learning, and I totally loved that. Leaning into curiosity and having brave courageous conversations, and actually having conversations with our courage and with courage. I love these things. I followed your story and it’s very fascinating. And what come to my mind is from acting to facilitation, and the lessons along the way, that’s kind of a continuum. So in the broadest sense, I’m just curious to hear about some of your scripts. What has emerged from you for this very rich and symbiotic journey? What are you discovering along the way? What is helpful? What is hindering? Tell us we’re all ears.
00:03:37 Sharon: When I was in high school, I was into all kinds of artistic endeavors and wasn’t really sure which one I would choose to focus on for college or beyond college professionally. But what I also was equally passionate about were social justice issues. And use whatever resources I had at that age to fight for various things that I really believed in. And so I also knew that there was an aspect of my artistic talent and what I now call, I didn’t call it then. But what I would now call my use of self that I was committed to expressing through my professional work and that I was going to marry and blend my desire to make a difference in the world, with how I show up in my career. I knew those things would be true. And I knew that I was interested in helping people see each other through the experience of each other and hopes that they are going to now together do really important work in the world. And so when I was young and I was a performer, and I played piano, and I sang, and I was an actor, and I did all these things and I decided, okay, I’m going to focus on becoming a professionally trained actor as my step towards the university. And so I went to an acting conservatory and in that process, I also started to get very curious about how I saw these very talented actors showing up to the work with deep commitment, willing to go to all kinds of lengths, to be able to train, to give their best at the art to be really well-researched. We were training our body and mind and spirit from 8:00 AM to midnight every day, plus Saturdays and Sundays. It was very all in consuming program and we all loved every minute of it. But outside of that structure, I watched those amazing people also struggle with life. And then I started to get curious about how we process skills, how we can learn really amazing things here and then deconstruct it and not use it here. And I started to get curious about how there’s purpose in the passion and yeah. The thing that supports it is sometimes your life and how you come to this life game in order for that passion to have a place to thrive. And that sometimes was really hard. That’s sometimes age, you know, and developmental skill. And sometimes decompartmentalizes a skill from one area and being able to use it in another area. So as I got older, I started to do that with myself. And I started to explore ways in which basically skill transfer in ways that were not being necessarily recommended to me. I didn’t see a path or how to do it, I was just playing and figuring it out. And around that time, I started to shift into documentary work. I was asked to participate as a researcher on some documentary work with a film. And quickly became the co-producer and worked on that for several years and got some training around postproduction work and eventually moved on and started to do things for networks and started to work on programs and becoming an associate producer and working in international production. And I saw a similar thing in the office space. So now I’m moving from stage and screen kind of stuff and being in front of the camera, being behind the scenes, being in the office, navigating big network dynamics. And seeing similarities there too, and going, we are so high functioning in this one area and what’s going on over here and what are some of the correlations to leadership around that? So you can see how it’s just kind of journeying. And I stumbled, so I left that work thinking I need a break. I’m working every hour of the day and night, every day of the week, different quadrants of the world. I need a pause a little bit and I’ll go do something really boring for a year, and then I’ll miss it and I’ll come back. And that’s not what happened. I ended up working as an association leader for association management and running some nonprofit work. I found space to cultivate my leadership in a way that was different than when I was running the pace of production. And in that environment, I really blossomed, and I was decompartmentalizing a lot of my things. The exception of the acting component that wasn’t really playing in yet. But the more my leadership grew and the more I was starting to facilitate things and the more I was really standing in front of a room and bringing things out of others, it was all starting to come together. And now I’m in a place where, as an external consultant and facilitator and coach and educator. I’m really dancing in the marriage of it all. And I still have the same passion for bringing people together and helping them learn from the experience of each other to do good work in the world. And it’s required deep vulnerability on my part. It is really pushed me at my edge at every twist and turn. And you know, we’re all doing that with COVID in this environment right now. And a lot of us have been doing some soul searching about what is the work I want to do in this world? And what does that look like? And I was one of them. I changed my career in the pandemic. I always knew I’d get to where I am. I didn’t think I was going to do it now, and I didn’t know it would look like this. But that’s what I allowed 2020 to do to my heart. Because it broke and then it changed shape, and it had more capacity for courage. I had lots of conversations with my courage in 2020. And I invested in the education I wanted to have bravery and to have voice, and to take up space, and to know how to stand much stronger in my dignity. And I did that with deep support, from many sources and many people and other leaders who have gone before me. And I’m proud to be where I am now. And I know it’s just one step in a direction like I’m, you know, one foot or two along the path, considering the path that I know is ahead of me. And I don’t know what that path looks like, and I’m just fine not knowing exactly what that looks like beyond this year.
00:09:49 Paula: Wow. Wow. Wow. What a journey. I sat and listened to you go from, you know, talking about seeing successful actors struggle in life and how you saw them lack purpose, and finding the passion. But how at the same time chronologically led you to office space and then as an association leader and nonprofit, and then now as a coach. And you said you’re finding yourself and you’re invested in yourself through courage and things we talked about earlier on bravery. And the question that goes on through my mind is how else can you talk to people? Because we’re not really post pandemic. You found yourself in 2020, you were so vulnerable. But tell us a bit more about that. You know, because I think this is what people want to hear because when we look at you and to our listeners who can’t see you, but they will hear your voice. There’s so much more to you than meets the eye. She’s a beautiful woman by the way. But then I just need to know more.
00:10:53 Sharon: Yeah. So going into 2020, I had made a major life change. My association was going through massive transformation. And I had an opportunity to go with it into that transformational process. It was the kind of transformation that was not only going to have a strategic impact. And by the way, we’d been doing about seven solid years of massive strategic and cultural change already. It’s what took me back to school to study it. Because I got so curious about change and transformation, I wanted to learn more officially. So a pretty tiring grueling seven years that culminated to some deep operational changes. And moving from a standalone association into an association management model. Which is for those who know that lingo, it’s basically shifting all your resources. Shifting your staff, training new people, changing your IT systems, your finance systems, your HR systems. Sharing resources with other organizations to be more streamlined and cost-effective. And also hopefully supporting some other ways in which the association can get the work done with different resource models. And in that time I became the COO of the organization. So I led the operational transition and then became the interim CEO during the Pandemic. And so I became a CEO in the pandemic, leading an organization who has just gone through this massive transformation. I’d also move my home. I rented my home to go get an apartment, to be closer to that office, cause I knew I’d basically be sleeping there and I did not want to commute. They really changed my life to go in this direction, thinking this was my next however many years. And when 2020 did all the things that it did not only with COVID, but with the racial justice racial injustice that was playing out the murder of George Floyd. The impact that “Black Lives Matter” had around the globe, the ways in which I saw people really ready to have some different conversations. And I became more ready to have different conversations. And I became an internal leader around that at the organization. And I had to admit that by the end of that year, even though I had the opportunity to stay on as the CEO, that was not what was meant for me. And that was hard. There was lots of weepy days. There was many weeks before I could even get it out of my mouth. It was really hard. I had been with that organization for 12 years and I was ready to take it to the next level. And I was being deeply supported around doing so. Who am I to not do? Who am I to not get this amazing opportunity? I was going to be the first woman. I was going to be the first person of color. There was going to be so many powerful things. And both of my boards, it was foundation and association were ready for me. And in my conversations with my courage. I knew that I had to pivot and the best stewardship that I knew how to offer these organizations was to support the transformation with them. And so I stayed, I supported their ability to recruit. I trained the new CEO in the best I could. In a transition we created a container for that. It was effective. I’m still happy to support however I can. I will always have deep love for that organization and that industry, and everyone who stewards them. And they were gloriously supportive of the fact that I was leaving. And they really modeled for me, deep leadership around “We wish you would stay. And we love that you have this passion to help the world be better in this moment when we clearly are ready to figure it out.” I did not know that would be the reaction to me. I was prepared to actually have the opposite experience, just in case people were just kinda mad at me. And then I had to be willing to do it anyway. And I am so honored by the fact that those relationships stood that other transformation. And it gave me courage in a way I didn’t know I needed, but I deeply needed to be able to move on to this next thing. So I’ll be honest, I’m not sure if I answered the question, but that’s where it took me.
00:15:09 Paula: You did. And that’s why you are able to give those such concise definitions of courage and bravery. Because you lived it.
00:15:17 Sharon: Yeah. And I think in fairness, we all have versions that we’ve had to live, it extroverts differently for all of us. It has context that’s different for all of us. But how much we’re talking to ourselves about it, how much we’re supporting ourselves around it, how much permission we feel we have to take up space around it, I think varies. And that is something I’m really interested in supporting people feeling the capacity to do on a more regular basis. I think the world would benefit greatly if we could feel that we had permission to take up space around our bravery and our courage. And have some structure to support that in a longevity kind of way.
00:15:56 Tesse: Yeah, it’s so beautiful. Cause you know, as I’m listening, I can see a golden thread weaving it’s way through. You know, from the acting days, and the producing days, and stepping out and having that journey and now in another course. But actually it’s connected and it sounds connected. So, you know, I’m kind of curious to hear more about how you’re leaning into your courage and having a conversation with your courage. What is it in Sharon, cause I’m hearing what is happening with others. I’m hearing how you’re supporting the organization. What I’m missing is where Sharon in this. What’s emerging in the Sharon identity?What I am missing is Sharon, you know what is happening in the Sharon world.
00:16:40 Sharon: Yeah. I have five thoughts happening, so bear with me. What’s coming to mind first is that I had to reclaim what I decided was leadership. From a young age, when you first get to run for elections at school. And you know, I was talked to as a, you know, “you’re a good leader, Sharon”. I didn’t really know what that meant. I didn’t really know what that meant. And I had a boss say to me, you know, “leadership is not just being able to go first, it’s not initiating. It’s very different than that. How are you inspiring others to want to come behind you? Or follow you? Or be with you? And how are you inspiring them to see the vision so that they’re participating in the co-creation of that”. And my voice has been cultivated through all of these transitions. But I have watched other people do it really well and really poorly compared to what I wanted. And my identity as a black woman, my identity as whatever the generation I was, particularly in comparison to the generations I was being surrounded by. Their identities and the ways in which that had them show up in the world and feel a certain kind of support that I knew I was not experiencing. And also being raised to know that I have the right to take up space and have a voice. And that it deserves all the resources that it needs to be successful. And sitting in the juxtaposition of that, was deeply vulnerable for many years. And it’s like having a knowing while not experiencing it actualizing. And being able to sit in the gap of that for somebody who’s very impatient, believe it or not. I know I sound all cool and calm right now, but I can be a pretty impatient person. Sitting in that gap and knowing it was a gap, knowing that I needed to have a conversation in that gap with myself was really hard. There’s a metaphor in there around going slow to go fast. ’cause I know I had close friends of mine, particularly from my acting days who were saying to me while I was at the association, not quite understanding, like what does an association? And what does that do? And me doing my best to explain it and having them kind of look at me like, what are you doing over there? And I knew enough to know these people know me they really know me and they don’t see what I’m doing. And I think that must be because I’m somehow not reflecting it. There’s something not coming through and how I’m showing up to them around it. I don’t know how to talk about it. Something is muddled and that was really vulnerable for me. I’ve never felt like a person who was unclear. And so I sat in that for many years and when I realized that one of the things I was passionate about was supporting change, which I was like, go back to the basic Sharon, you know, this don’t overthink. This is when I went back to school and that changed it all. I absolutely knew I found the thing I wanted to do, but I also had some assumptions. My assumptions were when I become a CEO and I’ve been the CEO of these associations, whether it was mine or another one. When I become a CEO and I’ve done that for a while, I will then have earned the right to go do the thing that I know is my final chapter. And I, there was some sort of clearly like a hierarchical thing I had to earn, and I can see the logic, right. But I don’t know why I thought my life was going to be logical. That’s not, it’s not how I operate, it’s actually not how I have built the life that I have now. And when I leaned into that, we were in 2020. I don’t know if that answers the question. But I had a deep vulnerability around that, that I have many dollars invested in therapy and counseling to be able to help me navigate those years.
00:20:47 Tesse: And what I’m learning from conversing with you, and Paula and I just being in this space with you, is sometimes it’s not necessarily about answering the question. Sometimes it’s a journey of exploration and navigation, which can answer a question, but which sets out different routes, different ways to go down, different sorts of considerations, different options. And I think there’s something quite dangerous, I think in narrowing that field to Q and A
00:21:25 Sharon: So beautifully said. I don’t know that I would have thought, I clearly didn’t think to say that. But I agree. And you know, what’s interesting is that, I’ve turned into somebody who does focus on processes in order to support any sort of change or transformation with other folks. And you’re reflecting back to me, how I apparently was doing a version of that with myself, as like a aspect of my operating system that, yeah, I do deeply believe in the journey and finite questions I clearly don’t do well with around myself. I also don’t feel that it inspires my clients very well either. Like finite questions to discover journey and process are really important. But that’s really good point. And I think it supports our ability to have curiosity to ask questions. But questions that lead towards journey and experience and experimental, is where that journey can have some authenticity around the creation. From the consulting side, we’d create a really healthy container and some guard rails, so that it’s happening in safety. But when you’re doing it with yourself and just doing the best you can.
00:22:32 Tesse: Yeah. You know, there’s something this week that I came across, this quote that “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear”. And I think of teachers such as Aristotle and Socrates. And I know these were old philosophers and there’s so many in every part of the world you have teachers. And what do you think life is teaching you? What’s emerging for you? You’re the student, what teacher do you want? What teacher are you attracting?
00:23:01 Sharon: Yeah. I’m attracting people and concepts. So I’m standing pretty strong in learning from dignity, learning from love. I’m attracting teachers who have been doing that in their work already, and are talking to me about not only how they do that in their work, but how they embody that, how they model that. And there’s a lyric that I’m not going to quite get, but Maxwell has a lyric that talks about allowing something to change the shape of your heart. And as I’m attempting to expand my capacity for really tough conversations and hard work, I have to learn how to do it first before I can ask somebody else. I’m trying to work a few steps ahead compared to where I want my clients to ever be able to go. And it is changing my capacity in the shape of my heart, around both what I allow and what just is not going to come in anymore. And slowing down to discern that really well, and to do so as such a dignity and a love and a commitment to those things. That it’s a pretty simple process once you get down to it. My grandfather, my father’s father used to say that all the time, “that at the end of the day, everything is simple”. And if you find that it’s complex, you haven’t figured out what it’s all about yet. And that has absolutely grounded me, and you can probably hear it in the way I talk. I can be an overthinker, as much as I intuit, as much as I’m empathic. It can really overthink and run right past some of the other cues that my body is giving me that my energy or my spirit is giving me. And so I really had to take all my actor training, and all my somatic training, and really. And I teach this to others, but I’m constantly needing to practice that, to settle my mind to not overthink. And at the end of the day, like when I get to that base level simple stuff, my whole nervous system just calms. I know I’m resonating to truth, right? Some sort of universal truth. And I am learning how to do that better, and that is influencing everything that comes right back out of me into the world. And I’m learning that that’s a process I need to continue to do and build upon, to reach in my lifetime, that which I’m intended to be here to do.
00:25:39 Paula: You’re learning that in your lifetime, that you should do what you are called or what you are intended to do. And so from listening to everything you’ve said that it’s so dynamic and so full of truth. I was wondering if there’s just one theme or one pattern that you can just give us. That you’ve seen emerging as you grow and as you emerge. Because you’ve said so much and they’re so good.
00:26:13 Sharon: Oh, you know, what comes to mind in this moment is uncovering fear and then relinquishing it.
00:26:21 Paula: Uncovering fear and relinquishing it. That’s really important. I have to think about that, but I know what you mean.
00:26:31 Sharon: We all know what it means to one uncover fear, but I say it with an assumption that there is a fear somewhere in there. I’ve learned that underneath any resistance I have, or any anxiety I have, that there will be a fear that I need to allow to have space to emerge and speak with me so that I can address it and let it go. And usually those are the kinds of things that have you, you don’t have it. And creating a process for myself, which my training has helped me to. This is not just stuff I made up, this took work. But to be able to allow myself the space to uncover it, sit with it, work with it, and then take the steps that it takes to start to release it. Because once I look at it, it actually gets much smaller. Once you see it, seeing it all by itself just makes it much smaller, and I start to be able to have “it” more than “it” has me. But it’s still here, so what can I continue to do to chip away? Because I don’t believe that if you have, like fear and love are polarities, right? And so I want to make more room for the love and I need the fear to kind of get addressed and dissipate so that I can get to the other business. I also would find that the fear and the love polarity is around the yes of the no. And I believe there’s versions of fear that also say yes and no. And getting really clear on what’s going on, so that I’m getting to the highest version of myself to be able to step forward. And now that I work with clients, I feel a different obligation when I had staff and I had members, I had a certain obligation that felt very traditional, and I have many more years of life in that work that feels more experienced, I guess. But now that I’m coming to this work, I actually find that my best self comes out much faster and easier, in this new work. But I have a different obligation when holding multiple organizations and multiple clients systems who are dealing with multiple industries. So I do believe it’s in my integrity, it’s in my ethics that I need to address these things. This is bigger than Sharon wants to grow. This is duty and stewardship at a different level for me.
00:28:54 Tesse: I totally love this conversation, and I’ve seen Paula taking copious notes as well. And you have raised and shared some very wonderful ideas and concepts, a lot of existential stuff, as well as practical stuff, and this is just like a very rich meal. Kind of like I could eat, already three courses I’m on, I could go to the fourth one. So where can people find you? Because we definitely, and Paula and I, we would love to have you back again. Because there is so much to unpack here, and there’s so much to share, and we’re honored to have you with the wealth that you bring. So where can people find you? Where do you hang out?
00:29:41 Sharon: I hang out on the internet, so that at least levels the playing field. First of all, I want to say thank you for having me. I feel nourished by being able to speak like this with you. And not all conversations can go to this meta level and also still have some practicality to it. I hope some of what I’ve shared has practical application or least inspiration or curiosity, igniting aspects to the conversation. I can be found “@sharonnewport.com”. And I’m also “Sharon Newport” on LinkedIn. And I’m “Sharon Newport” on Twitter. I’m based in the Washington DC area. So if you happen to have, find another Sharon Newport, although I only know of one other one, and I think she is in the UK. So not related to me, but at least as far as I know, but you never know. Then you should be able to find me. And I would love to be able to hear from the listeners, particularly if there was anything inspiring, I get nourished by hearing it back as well. I get nourished by being able to have safe spaces to share it like this and hope that inspires others. So thank you for the time and the container for this.
00:30:52 Paula: Thank you. And to our amazing listeners, you’ve heard Sharon Newport. You’ve heard her story. You’ve heard her journey. And we want you to do the same thing. So please share your own stories, and your own journeys with us. Because everyone’s unique, but they’re all special. And so we encourage you to head over to Google podcasts, Apple podcasts, or Spotify, and click subscribe, or follow us, so that you can hear other stories as well. And if you would like to be a guest like Sharon was on “TesseLeads”, please head over to our website, which is “Tesseakpeki.com/tesseleads” to apply. It’s so hard to say bye to such an awesome guest, well, as you heard, she’s going to be back.
00:31:48 Sharon: Yeah.
00:31:50 Paula: Thank you.
00:31:51 Tesse: Thank you, Sharon. Thank you.
00:31:54 Sharon: Thank you Paula, as always. It’s been amazing to be with you both. Take care.