Leadership through a Creative Lens
Leadership through a Creative lens can be defined as when you’re in a leadership role and you feel that the whole team is pushing in the same direction. It’s a very rewarding feeling.
Rob McCrea reminds us that understanding that in a leadership role, you have to serve the people who work with you. You have to make sure that they have everything that they need in order to be able to do their jobs properly. But also for them to feel fulfilled, to feel part of something that’s important to feel connected.
As a leader, that responsibility sits with you, how you structure the organisation that you’re leading will actually either allow that to happen or not allow it to happen. If it doesn’t allow it to happen, your organization or your company won’t be as successful and you’ll have a high turnover of staff.
Perspective for a leader is vital. If you can keep everything in perspective and you’re very confident and secure about what in this world is important, then again you should kind of radiate around you a lovely place to work and a lovely group of people to be with.
“Why does theatre in particular make you sit there, kind of feeling the way that you feel when you’ve got someone on stage in front of you that’s absolutely as a performer got that relationship, that’s what theatre is” asks Rob.
“You know, you’re not losing your mind and shouting at people because you’re under pressure, but you’re just dealing with the issues as they come along. And you can see the issue that needs to be overcome, but you can take a step back and see the bigger picture as well. Your people will respond to that positively. The other thing you’re providing there as good role modelling behaviour.”
Robert Mc Crea
If the people you’re working with, who look to you can see that you can see what’s going on in that way, that you have kept things in proportion, you have not knee-jerk reacted, you still have humour. Because if you sit at the top of the tree, the people who are immediately under you sit at the top of a trees and then the people that are under them also sit.
We still have very hierarchical structures in business nowadays. And if you role model those behaviours, then you’ve got people looking at that, thinking “crikey, if that person’s dealing with all of that and they can work through everything in a very present, conscientious, careful, humorous way that makes overcoming challenges fun. Then why can’t I do the same thing?”
“I am happy to go through the same level of discomfort that they are going through to get the work done” concludes Rob.
00:00:00 Paula: Welcome to “TesseTalks” with your host Tesse Akpeki and co-host Paula Okonneh, where we share with you top leadership and management strategies. This is a journey of discovery. We are learning that leadership is personal and professional, and we hope that you will walk with us on this adventure. Our guest today is Robert McCrea. Robert, what do you rather us call you, Robert or Rob?
00:00:29 Rob: I’m happy with either. You can call me Rob Dave
00:00:32 Paula: Alright. Okay, Rob.
00:00:35 Tesse: Welcome to the Rob club.
00:00:37 Paula: I love that, I love that. And we are going to be talking today about creative spaces and places, leadership insights. But before we begin to chat, I need to tell you guys about Rob. He’s a celebrity. Because he’s a producer at umbrella factory film. He is presently producing the 6 part comedy for television called “The Brothers Darwin” with fellow producers, Jenny Penrose and Ben Kellett. I hope I got his name right?
00:01:12 Rob: Yes, you did.
00:01:14 Paula: Okay. So Rob didn’t always ,start out like this. He was a prison manager working for those the world wants to forget. He served as a CEO, supporting victims of human trafficking and modern slavery. And as an experienced presenter and a public speaker, an actor as well, Rob has worked at the coalface in Siberia, Croatia, the USA, Belgium, France, Brazil, and the UK. Rob, if I keep talking, I mean, we won’t end, you got a lot of stuff. All right. He trained in Bretton hall, the league of gentlemen and his peers today, or with his peers today. And he divides his time between acting, producing and being a senior management mentor. You can find him in Aeronauts, Britannia, I’m certainly going to mispronounce it, Jagame Thandraim.
00:02:09 Rob: Almost, almost.
00:02:13 Paula: Alright.
00:02:15 Rob: Pretty close.
00:02:15 Paula: Pretty close, you said? Alright. Mind over matter, The Astonishing Adventures of Alfred and many more. And one thing that I didn’t know about Rob, but I discovered is that he loves the motorbikes and he has loved them for 37 years. That means you started when you were five, right?
00:02:40 Rob: Yeah.
00:02:41 Paula: All right. So I’ve got to turn this over to Tesse. Thank you, Rob.
00:02:47 Tesse: Yeah, thank you, Paula. So beautifully read. And Rob, thank you so much for being on the show today. It’s been a labor of love to get you, but it’s been worthwhile. You know, I’m going to kick off with the first question, because I loved looking through the lens of leadership and that creatively, and we’re in for a treat today. As you look through the creator, producer theater lens. One of my favorite plays in the theater is called “six characters in search of an author”
00:03:15 Rob: Pirandello
00:03:16 Tesse: And I don’t know why I love this, because I love it and I keep going back to it. And what can we learn from such plays like that, about leadership?
00:03:27 Rob: Well, I think talking specifically about the Pirandello piece, one of the things that you can learn about leadership through that play is actually how not to lead.
00:03:39 Paula: I love it!
00:03:42 Rob: I have to say it’s a long time since I’ve worked with that play. 1992 was the last time I saw it. But I’m very familiar with it because my father-in-law and my wife were both in it, in a big production that ran for a couple of years. And it’s interesting you brought up the aspects of leadership in there because I had not actually really thought about it in that capacity until you just said what you said. But, absolutely, if you look at the author, who’s taking these people to where they don’t want to go and you look at the amount of disruption and conflict amongst them, there are a lot of lessons there about how people new to leadership think that leadership could be carried out, and actually how leadership could be carried out. And for me, I think one of the fundamental principles that a good leader holds, is that a good leader is there to serve their people. And that is very often forgotten by politicians, it’s forgotten by new chief execs in large companies. But when you speak to more experienced leaders, I think one of the key things that they’ll always come out with, is that one of the most important functions of their role, is to make sure that they deliver to the people who are working for the company, what they require in order to carry out their job to the best of their ability. That’s a key function of a leader. And I think if you get that right, then you can earn respect from your staff.
00:05:17 Tesse: I really like it, Robert. And I think that’s why I probably kept coming back to it because I was searching for the leadership within it and I didn’t see it. And I’m thinking about, you know, the whole thing of servant leadership and how, you know if you’re there to serve, you can actually be more effective and you look at the bigger picture. Paula, when I said Rob was coming on, you said you have a question for him. Do you want to jump in now?
00:05:42 Paula: Sure. My question has to do with him being the celebrity. Him being the celebrity. So that’s really it. So we talked just now about leadership, but you are a producer. In producing these plays, I’m sure there’s some form of leadership that comes into play. You have to decide who sits down, who stands up, and lead and direct people in different ways. So tell us more about the, how it comes into play with leadership, you know.
00:06:13 Rob: There are a couple of bits in there. As a director, as a much younger man, when I used to work in theater, there’s a lot of leadership skill involved in directing a piece. As a producer for television, it’s slightly different, but there is a lot of leadership involved in that. You have to build the flotilla from the ground up and then you have to make sure that the flotilla stays together as you move forward. That’s the only kind of real analogy that I can think of for that. I think another kind of phrase, which is very true, that keeps rebounding in my head about the television and the cinema industry is that it’s like business, but more so. I think in a way that’s one of the reasons why within particularly the television industry, more than other industries, you get two real extremes. You get an extreme that’s really positive because it’s such a demanding pressure cooker environment, where fantastic leaders develop, evolve, and then run things and do wonderful things that make a global contribution. But equally from this sector, you get a lot of horror stories around people that have risen to positions of power. And then because it is like business, but more so they then abuse that power to satisfy their own unhealthy ambitions and desires. So it’s an industry of extremes. For that reason, I would say you have to be very strong in this sector as a producer. For example, if you think about it. So as a producer, a really well-known actor or writer could approach me and say, look, I’ve got a great project. I then look at the project and that person is right. It’s great. And they’ve got celebrity and then we’ve got some serious a list talent signed to it. Then my role is I then have to turn in the direction of the funders. Where does this huge amount of money come from? That’s used to make television and cinema. If you look at something like “Bridgerton”, “Bridgerton” cost a hundred million dollars. If you look at “the Witcher”, it cost $70 million dollars. These are huge sums of money. And so where does this money come from? So as a producer, if I were a greedy person, or if I were not someone that was in the detail or not a careful cautious person, then I would just take it out there. The first person that says, yeah, I’ll give you the money, take the money and fund the show. No. Because it’s in the public eye, you need to know where that money is coming from. You need to know that the money that’s funding these programs is ethically sourced. It’s a very important aspect of it. So that means that sometimes that part of the process can be quite time-consuming, to get it done absolutely right. And then coming back to your original question Paula, the moment you start behaving like that, and you’re careful, and you start doing things with detail and you have good people around you, like Jenny Penrose who produced “Absolutely fabulous”, she produced “Extras”, she produced “Jonathan Creek”. And Ben Kellett, who’s got a load of BAFTAs, who’s currently as we speak, he’s in Guadalupe producing and directing “death in paradise” for the BBC. And he’s also the director and producer of “Mrs. Brown’s boys”, amongst many others. When you have good people around you, like that, who have the same values that you have, you then attract people who want to work with you, who are good, honest, talented, hardworking people. The people who are wanting to make a quick buck, who aren’t necessarily interested in quality or who are happy to use people as stepping stones to get further right. It’s pretty much that type of business, yeah, everybody wants to reach the top. Everybody wants their BAFTA or their Oscar. So it’s very, very competitive. But you end up not attracting people like that. You end up attracting, what we’ve found is experienced, serious, careful, creative people, who make an amazing contribution to the work that we’re doing. Yeah, as I’m saying it too, I could feel the hair on the back of my neck kind of standing up slightly. Because when you’re in a leadership role and you feel that the whole team is pushing in the same direction, it’s a very rewarding feeling.
00:10:48 Tesse: That’s so beautiful. I mean, what I’m actually experiencing is that power of the theater. And what is running through my mind, and I welcome your thoughts in this, cause you mentioned values and you’ve also mentioned talent. And what I’m hearing is selflessness, you know actually who’s best place to do this. I actually would love to hear your thoughts about the search for meaning in this.
00:11:13 Rob: Well, one of the things that I, I was so lucky when I was younger because I traveled early on in my career when I was still working in theater. Traveling puts you into contact with some really unusual people, who’ve had quite an amazing set of experiences themselves. So, I remember one of the key things, I remember when I was working in Brazil, I had the opportunity to work with Jerzy Grotowski’s assistant director. And, you know, there are four main people in the development of theater techniques, Stanislavski, Brecht, Otto, and Grotowski. And that’s kind of worldwide, that’s not just peculiar to the UK and how we train in theater here. That’s worldwide. So to have the opportunity to work with Grotowski’s assistant director was huge. And so meaning, there are lots of different ways that you can find meaning within the theater. But one of the things that stuck in my mind through those extraordinary travels I did as a younger guy. There’s a wonderful Canadian theater director called Nicolas Lepage. And he said that cinema is a man exploring his geography or woman exploring her geography. And he said, theater is a conversation with God. And for me, that was one of the most profound things that I’ve heard and one of the most profoundly true things I’ve ever heard in my life. Because of course, what is theater? It’s a man or a woman on stage, shouting into the void. Who are they talking with? They’re talking with God. Whatever God you believe in, that’s who they’re talking to. And that’s one of the things that makes theater in particular, so powerful and so meaningful. And that’s why theater often doesn’t work well in a film form or in a camera form because you actually take away the very essence of what theater is. And cinema is about placing characters within their territory and seeing how they explore and how they operate within their environment. But yeah, theater is a pure and simple, it’s a conversation with God.
00:13:20 Tesse: I think that’s so funny. I mean, I loved where you make the links between the values, the leadership pieces, the attitude, the talent, and what it can do. The impact, the conversations, Paula?
00:13:33 Paula: I’m here thinking about some of the connections he’s made that I have never, ever put together. I wrote down one, but I didn’t get everything. Say that again, cinema is?
00:13:44 Rob: Cinema is about humanity exploring their geography.
00:13:49 Paula: Okay.
00:13:50 Rob: And theater is a conversation with God.
00:13:54 Paula: Yeah, it is a conversation with God. Wow. Wow. That’s so cool. I’ve never heard that. That’s one thing I love about podcasts and I’m getting new guests. I mean, it opens up my eyes and ears to so many new things. New phrases, new thoughts and I’ll need to go think about it.
00:14:12 Rob: And then it explains why, when you’re sitting in an audience, watching a powerful piece of theater, why make you feel like that when other art forms make you feel differently. Why does theater in particular make you sit there, kind of feeling the way that you feel when you’ve got someone on stage in front of you that’s absolutely as a performer got that relationship, that’s what theater is.
00:14:36 Paula: And that’s so true. I come from a family of actors and actresses but in a small, I mean, not to your scale. This is in a small island in the Caribbean, where you go to a small house and the, you know, life changes.
00:14:50 Rob: But sometimes that’s where you find the best performances.
00:14:52 Paula: Oh, yeah. My grandmother’s people were very artistic. I think I lost some of that, but I see it in my children and my nieces and nephews. So.
00:15:02 Rob: And you are podcasting. Come on.
00:15:06 Paula: And I’m podcasting right! That’s another story. If you hear my story of how I got into podcasts and you’d be like, woo. Yeah. But let’s move on the entertainment, relaxation and fun because I see that written all over you. I see a fun guy, a relaxed guy. You told us about some of the things you did today. That’s not on the podcast. You guys would have to listen more. So tell us, where is the place of comedy? Where’s the place of laughter in all of this? Can we use humor to build connections? Can we use it to build communities? I know that’s a multi-layered question. Isn’t it?
00:15:46 Rob: What an interesting question. Gosh, as a manager, as a leader, I do want to say that I’ve always used humor. I don’t want to say that because then it sounds like I’ve turned it into an instrument of control. But what I will say is that in my life, like many people. I don’t know your background, Paula, but I certainly know Tesse’s. We’ve had to be very resilient because we don’t know what the world’s going to throw at us. So we have to be, we have to be very, very resilient. And I think not everybody is. In fact, I think most people aren’t, particularly in developed countries. I think in less developed countries, which I’ve had a lot of experience working in. People tend to be more resilient and as a result, they have more joy. I remember reading a book by Roger Crawford about 25 years ago called “how high can you bounce?” Roger Crawford, he was a Paralympic tennis player. He was a child from the thalidomide, who had no legs and no arms. He was a successful Paralympic tennis player and he wrote this book called “how high can you bounce?” And I remember him saying that he went to the favelas in Rio de Janeiro as part of his research for his book. And he took a photograph of one of these slum families there. And he said the joy that he received from that family and the joy that he managed to collect in the photograph that he took of them. He said straight away, he said that joy comes from their resilience. And so, that takes me back to comedy because I don’t know whether it’s something I’ve developed or maybe I was just lucky enough to be born with it, but I was born a very resilient person. I was a resilient child and I’m a very resilient adult. And I think when you’re resilient, it allows you to have humor. So the whole world can be closing in on me Paula, but I’ll still find a joke in there somewhere. Because I think whatever we think is happening to us, believe me, there are much bigger things going on elsewhere. And then the moment you, you can take a step back and see the whole world. Then suddenly any anxiety that you may have been feeling just reduces and you can be yourself. So, I think that’s kind of allowed me to sort of maintain humor in difficult situations. If you then use osmosis to sort of, leak that across to a leadership environment. If the people you’re working with, who look to you can see that you can see what’s going on in that way, that you have kept things in proportion, you have not knee-jerk reacted, you still have humor. You know, you’re not losing your mind and shouting at people because you’re under pressure, but you’re just dealing with the issues as they come along. And you can see the issue that needs to be overcome, but you can take a step back and see the bigger picture as well. Your people will respond to that positively. The other thing you’re providing there as good role modeling behavior. Because if you sit at the top of the tree, the people who are immediately under you sit at the top of a trees and then the people that are under them also sit. We still have very hierarchical structures in business nowadays. And if you role model those behaviors, then you’ve got the guys and the girls underneath you looking at that, thinking “crikey, if that person’s dealing with all of that and they can work through everything in a very present, conscientious, careful, humorous way that makes overcoming challenges fun. Then why can’t I do the same thing?”
00:19:30 Paula: Absolutely. I agree. I think you’ve broken it down, made it quite simple. At the end of the day, I resonated with the fact that it’s all about perspective. People from less developed countries, they’ve got a laugh because if not they’re going to crap.
00:19:51 Rob: Because their expectation, our expectations in developed countries are ridiculously high.
00:19:57 Paula: Yes.
00:19:58 Rob: And, not actually focused on the things that make us happy. What makes us happy is not having to worry about things. What makes us happy is having our family and our close friends nearby. These are the things that, you know, what makes us happy is having faith in ourselves, having faith in those around us and having faith in general. These are the things that we know, we all know, bring us happiness. But I think in developed countries, often people are driven by other things and as a result they can sacrifice the more important things in their life. But again, I think if you hold on to those more important things in your life, it makes you a better leader.
00:20:40 Paula: That’s so true. That’s true. Tesse?
00:20:44 Tesse: You know, I’m always blown away when I meet Rob, because I laugh, laugh, laugh. But I know that Rob goes to places of reflection that are so deep but also you know, is kind of unconditional acceptance. And what I found for me, Paula, is that at those times I grew more. Because I’m able to reflect on myself and laugh at myself and yet know that I desire to do more, to get the joy, to attract the people that have talent, attract the people that really matter and to focus on the things that matter. Rob, as we wind up, I’m thinking about your last thoughts. Because for me, I could listen to you all day and I’ll be laughing and eating and drinking and doing all those things all at the same time. What last thoughts do you have to share with our lovely and wonderful audience?
00:21:36 Rob: Well, I think, you know, from everything we’ve been discussing, I think for me the really important bits in there are around really understanding that in a leadership role, you have to serve the people who work with you. You have to make sure that they have everything that they need in order to be able to do their jobs properly. But also for them to feel fulfilled, to feel part of something that’s important to feel connected. As a leader, that responsibility sits with you, how you structure the organization that you’re leading will actually either allow that to happen or not allow it to happen. If it doesn’t allow it to happen, your organization or your company won’t be as successful and you’ll have a high turnover of staff. But if you get it right, people will want to stay with you, and not for financial reasons. In developed countries, people’s focus can not be drawn to other sort of more materialistic things. But if you get that right with your workforce, they will be focused on their family. They’ll also be focused on the business as part of, as another family for them. And you will have a sort of very happy content productive workforce, that don’t feel like they’re having to sacrifice aspects of their happiness and their lives in order to be successful for your company. So I think that really understanding what it is to serve the people who work for you is a really important bit in that. And then I think Paula summed it up really well, when she summarized what I was saying, that perspective for a leader is vital. If you can keep everything in perspective and you’re very confident and secure about what in this world is important, then again you should kind of radiate around you a lovely place to work and a lovely group of people to be with.
00:23:35 Tesse: I love the word radiation. I love that. And talk about radiation towards governing bodies, particularly nonprofits. What would your thoughts be for that?
00:23:44 Rob: Oh my goodness. Well, it’s interesting because you and I had an experience kind of working with the board. Do you know if you were to sum that up in one sentence, you could sum it up in one sentence, which is the new meets the old. It’s as simple as that. Here in Britain, Britain was a colonizing country. We have a particular culture here, where even now, even though the map is no longer pink as it used to be back in the fifties and the sixties, you know. A lot of the culture here without people even realizing it, people who are very open-minded and liberal still for British people, still fall into the trap of thinking that somehow we do things better here than they do another countries. We still fall into that trap. And that is exactly what you met with that particular NGO board. And actually in countries like America, in Brazil as well funnily enough, last in American countries, particularly in America. There’s a psychologist there called Howard Gardner who has done some absolutely fantastic work around multiple intelligences. And he wrote a great book called extraordinary minds, which explains a lot around human behavior and what motivates us within the workplace and that kind of stuff. And I think out of that, some really effective leadership styles and techniques have been developing over the last sort of 20 or 30 years. And I think really the NGOs and the boards have not really embraced that kind of leadership movement, certainly not here in the United Kingdom. I don’t think they’re necessarily familiar with kind of leadership techniques, leadership style. Actually, you know, Paula just, and Tesse, it remind me. I remember in 1992, I was directing Dr. First for the Brazilian government. And we had a problem with the lights and as a result, we had to rehearse late into the night. And like many tropical countries, the days are hot, but at nighttime the temperature really plummets. And of course the whole cast, all 30 of them were in costume. And I remember it was, and I was directing it and it was about three o’clock in the morning and we still had a lot of work to go. It was freezing cold. And I remember, I was the director, my producer came over to me. He just nudged me, tapped me on the shoulder and he said, whispered into my ear. He said, “take your shirt off, take your shirt off”. So I did, I took my shirt off and of course, I was then in a leadership position but all of the people that were working for me saw that I was happy to go through the same level of discomfort that they were going through to get the work done. That’s something that charitable boards in this country, they’ve got to learn that. I’ve not yet messaged a charity non-executive director that would be prepared to take their shirts off and suffer with the management team.
00:26:34 Paula: I like that. In other words, to understand.
00:26:43 Tesse: That’s a thought, you just took your shirt off.
00:26:47 Rob: I didn’t want those people to take their shirts off.
00:26:48 Paula: I was trying not to picture that.
00:26:50 Rob: Another issue as well with charity boards to say, which is the role of solicitors on charity boards. I think that’s something that, that really needs to be explored. I’ve had come into contact with it a lot over the years, I’m sure you have. And you have to often question what the function is. And often a charity board will say, well, we need someone on the board that can give us a legal direction and legal advice, you know, which is fair enough. But the problem is with that is, first of all, you have to look at the background in terms of the type of solicitor that that person is. And then secondly, you have to make sure that they’re not channeling all of the legal work into the direction of the company that they represent. And I’m not talking about anyone specifically here. It’s something that I’ve seen across the board at different NGO meetings I’ve been to when I’ve met other chief executives. It’s a, particularly if you’re dealing with charities that have clients. When something legal needs to happen between the client of the charity and then the charity itself. And then suddenly you find that the company that sits behind the solicitor that’s on the board starts making huge amounts of money. Out of what’s going on. That’s something that I think the charitable commission should really look at. And I think the reason I say that’s a very specific problem, but I just think if you kind of dig in to that issue in a charity board, it will have an impact in terms of recruitment in general and the ethos of the boards across the country. Because there are many boards with charities that operate brilliantly, but unfortunately there are many that dont.
00:28:31 Tesse: Yeah, I’m going to hand over to Paula now. And now I think what you are alluding to is actually raw clarity. You’re alluding to the importance of watching conflicts of interests and what that is. But also it’s really when people are on board to be very clear about what hat they’re wearing when they’re wearing it and to ask the questions that need to be asked and to consider the role modeling that is going on at that level, so that others including senior management teams, people who are in staff, volunteers, take the lead from the tone at the top, which is often the governing board. Paula, I hand over to you as we wrap up this part of the show.
00:29:10 Paula: Yes, this has been so interesting. But all good things have to come to an end and this is one that has to. But Rob, we really have enjoyed having you here. We are looking forward to you doing another recording with us on “Tesseleads”. And to our listeners, hasn’t that been amazing. Listening to Rob and Tesse and myself, talk about all the, well talk about Rob, because he is amazing. I sit here many times and think, wow, am I in his presence. But to our listeners, please make sure you head over to Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify and in fact, anywhere else that you may listen to your podcasts. And please click subscribe to “TesseTalks” that is. If you like what you just heard and I’m sure you did. Please write us a raving review. And if you have questions or topics you want us to cover, related to leadership and governance, send us a note. Remember it can be personal as well as professional. And if you’d like to be a guest on this show, please head over to “www.tesseakpeki.com/tessetalks” to apply. As usual, I always enjoy being on “TessieTalks” and I really enjoyed this session with you, Rob.
00:30:26 Rob: Thank you.
00:30:27 Paula: Tesse?
00:30:28 Tesse: The wonderful Rob. We are the Rob club. Thank you so much and Its been a great time spending with you.
00:30:35 Rob: Thank you for having me.
00:30:39 Tesse: Thank you for coming on.