Performing As You With Diana Theodores

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The essence of performing as a leader remains the same, no matter what industry you're in. In this episode, Diana Theodores joins host Tony Martignetti to offer her unique insight and discuss the link between theatre and business when it comes to becoming a great leader. Diana has worked in the theater scene for 25 years and is now using the skills and lessons she's learned in the world of business as a performance coach and speaker. Diana sheds light on the creativity inside you and how you can achieve your fullest potential in the service of others. She also talks a bit about her book Performing As You: How To Have Authentic Impact In Every Role You Play, which offers an expanded view on this episode's discussion.

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Performing As You With Diana Theodores

You have so much more in you. You have multitudes. You have unchartered strengths and capacity. We all have to find that out at different times in different ways in our lives.

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Inspiration is at the core of everything. It's the fuel that drives people to do extraordinary things. What does it take to be an inspiring leader? How do you inspire your team? Check out my 7 Traits Of An Inspired Leader to become the leader who people want to follow. Go to InspiredPurposeCoach.com/7traits to download your copy.

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It is my honor to introduce you to my guest Diana Theodores. She is a presence and performance coach. She's a speaker and the bestselling author of Performing As You, applying her 25 years of experience from the theater stage to the business stage. Diana invites leaders worldwide into their personal rehearsal room to ignite their creative fire and step into their fullest leadership presence for greater influence, engagement and fulfillment in all the roles they play. You can find Diana's podcast interviews and articles on LinkedIn, New Business, Forbes, Business Life, BBC World Business Journal and other media channels. Diana lives in London and is the Director of Theatre 4 Business. I am honored to welcome you to The Virtual Campfire, Diana.

Thanks, Tony. It's great to be here. I can feel the warmth of the fire already.

I love the attitude of gratitude. It's beautiful. I’m looking forward to unpacking the story of bringing somebody into the world around business and theater. How cool whenever we combine the arts in business together, there's magic that happens. I'm thrilled to unpack your story and to know what magic you're putting into the world. First of all, I’ll explain how we roll on the show. We tell your story by way of what's called flashpoints. These are points in your story that have ignited your gifts to the world and there might be one or there might be many. As you're sharing these flashpoints, share what you're called to share. With that, Dr. Diana, please take the floor.

That reminds me of many sleepless nights. With parenthood and doctoral dissertations, you don't sleep for a long time. It's all interesting. I often talk to people about the notion of connecting their personal stories with their career stories. We look at our life story and we say, “What have I learned along the way that has informed what I'm doing now?” I'd like to start with a couple of personal defining pivot moments and then talk a little bit about how those have awakened in me and understanding later in life about what it is I do now and why.

One of them is when I was a kid growing up in New York, one day out of the blue when I was around twelve, my father asked me over breakfast, “Have you ever heard of Martha Graham?” I have no idea where that came from but I had no idea who she was. I mumbled something like, “No. Pass the maple syrup for the pancakes.” He said mysteriously, “It's about time you did.” The next thing I know, I was enrolled in the Martha Graham School of dance. That was a real defining moment because suddenly, I was in this other world, the world of this formidable, extraordinary dancer, choreographer, teacher and all of her company who were teachers. It’s beginning a life in the arts catapulted into it with all the joy, terror and excitement so that was one moment of beginning what I would only say was a calling but I didn't know that yet entering into that world.

The second one was the ongoing wonderful experience of seeing great performances. Living in New York, I saw everything. My mother was keen on the arts. The thing that stayed with me was feeling like I was set on fire when I saw West Side Story or heard Leonard Bernstein. That sheer excitement of feeling, “This is the moment when you feel like you are more in every way.” That was another moment of feeling that electricity and thinking, “I'm finding my tribe. This is the world I want to be part of. This world of makers, performers, people who bring these great gifts to the world. Also, communicate something astonishing that the world stands up, applauds and feels this great emotional connection and tribal energy. Those are moments that, later in life, I realized defined so much.

The last one from that personal early story is at the time, there was a man named Clive Barnes who was the maker and breaker of Broadway. He was the theatre and dance critic for the New York Times. I don't know why but I decided that I wanted to learn the craft of writing about dance. I was dancing myself but I wanted to be able to write about it. My father said to me, “Go and call Clive Barnes. Go and learn from the best.” How on earth I could do that? Somehow or other, he must have helped me because he must have brokered the call but I made that phone call.

I'll never forget my father's words. “He may be Clive Barnes but he's a human being like you and me.” That was a great moment of role modeling my ability to reach for the stars to ask for what I wanted and to see what came my way. Sure enough, he was charming, lovely and he mentored me. I learned a lot about writing about dance. It was an extraordinary moment of thinking about the human being at the center of the title or the status and not being afraid in life to meet your heroes. That was a great moment.

There are so many things you said that got me and it's this element of being set on fire. I know that sounds weird but in reality, it's that energy that gets released when you start to see, “This is what I need. I need more of my life. I want to feel like I'm alive and feel the energy that gets released from being with the tribe that makes me feel alive.” I love that because we need more of that in every aspect of our lives. When you find that, you want to hold on to it and follow more of that. It's cool when you find that.

It probably is a quest for all of us, the finding of one's tribe where you feel a sense of belonging. I have spent my life traveling and living in a lot of countries and a lot of cultures. As an ex-pat, the other part of my story is always this quest for, “Where is home? Where do I belong.” Finding one's tribe especially for me in the creative world, the world where you're amongst theater-makers or choreographers or performers, people who know how to play together and people who want to make something. There's nothing like it in the world to be in a rehearsal studio with a group of performers going through an intensive, intimate, vulnerable and powerful experience of creating a performance together. Rehearsing day and night and watching something come into existence that wasn't there before. That empty space, you walk into the empty studio whether it's the dance studio or the theater studio. That first moment is magic. We're about to begin something together and it's completely uncertain as to what's going to manifest. You become a family. It's powerful and there's nothing like it.

The unexpected is the place of creativity.

I want to draw out something about this whole experience of working in that type of field and then seeing how that translates into the business world. When there's so much pressure to perform like that, it draws you closer together because you know that at the end of this, there's this beautiful thing that you're going to create. By knowing that you have to find a way to get along and mold your creative juices together if you will, this is like bringing a team together inside of a company where you got to make sure that there's this trust that you build and that you bring different ideas.

You don't know how it's going to all work until the end product, which is the performance. I'm starting to think about that theater and business concept coming together by hearing your story and saying, “The stakes are high.” If you can think like, “Can we bring this family together? Can we bring that trust together?” You then have a better team. I'd love to know your thoughts around this random stream of consciousness that I'm playing with.

That's a great jumping-off point. How does this bring me to the world of business from the world of theater? A significant flashpoint in the story was precisely this moment of when you were a theater director or a choreographer but a theater director in this instance, you are engaged in the constant act of problem-solving. You're doing problem-solving all the time. The other thing that's happening in the world of theater directing is you often are experiencing an extraordinary range of conditions in which the work happens.

For instance, I've worked in every situation from the grossest, poor man's theater with no resources at all to the beautifully resourced high spec mainstage, wonderfully equipped but high budget theater. In all of these different environments, the most important thing is galvanizing your team, the performers, to create in themselves their best performances to harness all of their talent, creativity and input to take them on a journey towards executing a vision. Most importantly, igniting in them the belief that they can do this and together we can go on this journey and we are going to make something powerful that communicates to the world and their audience.

It takes a great deal of leadership to do that, to invest in your performers, empower your performers and promote tremendous self-belief in their gifts and talents. I have been in some extreme situations in theater directing, for instance, having an entire theater sabotaged, ransacked and everything destroyed the night before an opening night. Having to rework the entire piece without any sets, costumes or anything and getting the performers to believe in themselves that they could retell the story from the power of their talent and storytelling to truly reimagine a poor man's theater. Everything we wanted to do could still happen but in a different way that we never anticipated.

When we take that into the world of business, many times I hear business leaders saying, “I need to take the team with me. I need my organization to get on board with this vision.” Much of this is about, “Do you know the stories of those you lead? Do you know what their dreams are? What are their particular gifts? How do you listen deeply? How do you bring them on board? Mostly, how do you energize them, get them to come with you and create this vision?” There are many elegant, profound lessons from the theater that apply to the world of business and business leadership.

You're speaking the language that I love hearing because it's an element of energizing people by spending the time to understand them, know their gifts and know where they're coming from. It galvanizes the team around this, “Once we've come together, melded together and know that we stand for each other, we can overcome any setback that comes our way. We know each other, who we are and what our gifts are and that helps us to overcome the obstacles. Even if you were to take away all our resources, we can come back and we can overcome those challenges.”

People have tremendous creativity inherently. Often, I hear in business, people who are extraordinarily brilliant, talented and accomplished say things like, “I'm not creative.” It's this complete myth that creative thinking and creativity itself is somehow in the domain of the arts. Business is entrepreneurship and innovation is all about creativity. If people can unlock and release their creativity, if that is enabled, the sky's the limit and they can be more agile.

In theater, you have to be great at improvisation. You have to simply keep working with what is and finding new solutions all the time. The unexpected, unknown and uncertainty are the place of creativity. It's the same often, you can have blueprints and strategies but that capacity for agility, truly being in the moment with the picture, getting everyone thinking together and creating that container for great thinking and energy is what makes exciting moments in leadership and in any discipline.

Diana, you're engaging. I want to get up and start jumping around because I'm excited. I want to go out and act something out.

We can take a pompom break if you want.

I want to get back into the trajectory of your story because I feel like there are some more paths that you've had to overcome in the journey to becoming who you are now. You got into the world of theater. What happened as you navigated that path? Is there something else that happened that led you into this convergent path, which is creating this in business? What else happened along the path?

Once you take that first step into the unknown, something extraordinary will meet you. Something that you never imagined.

These questions are wonderful because they do invite you to reflect in perhaps some new ways about your story and find fresh ideas about how they connect to what you do now. I certainly had what I would call a resilience story that came my way. I spent quite a long time living in Dublin, Ireland. I was active in the founding years of the Samuel Beckett Theatre at Trinity College. I did an awful lot of training young actors, teaching, lecturing and directing productions. That's also where I did my PhD. It's also a time in my life that was extremely painful personally because I was going through a divorce. At the time, there was no such thing as divorce in Ireland so it became complicated.

In one day, three major events converged. In the morning, I had my PhD viva. In the afternoon, I had to go to divorce court for a custody hearing. In the evening, I had an opening night of a show. I look back as we do in life, I think, “How did I do that? How did I get through that extraordinary day?” I think about that and what comes to mind is that beautiful quote by Maya Angelou who said something about, “Stand tall and remember that you tower above your circumstances.” It's only later in life that those words resonate with me because I discovered something about myself in those moments about survival and resilience but also about the power of being able to focus and bring myself fully into the moment.

In each of those three moments of performance, I had to be giving my all and I had to show up fully. That taught me a great deal about this aspect of what can happen. You have so much more in you. You have multitudes. You have unchartered strengths and capacity. We all have to find that out at different times in different ways in our lives. That certainly gave me a great deal of self-belief. That story of self-belief is one that has brought me to the world of coaching because not only did that translate into getting great young performers to believe in themselves and to harness their gifts. Also, helping them create their wonderful performances and helping people step into their greatest performances.

That all translated for me gradually into this notion of, “There is a calling here that goes beyond theater-making. There's something here about helping people to be the best they can be, live with courage, confidence and most importantly be able to release their gifts into the world. Not to step back and not to hide away but to step forward with their fullest, boldest presence and capacity to make a difference. Those two things came together for me gradually over the course of learning more about the world of coaching and the meeting ground between arts and business. Starting to work with business leaders and realizing, “This is an incredible opportunity to translate so much of what I learned working with performers.” The courage it takes to find your great performance, be true to yourself, bring that forward, be seen and heard and how that translates so beautifully to the world of business. It's been a wonderful journey of experimentation and exploration.

Every day, you're performing and it's like, “Why not make it the best performance you can be?” Unlocking that next level of performance is by digging deeper and seeing that there's more to it than you are showing up every day. When we talked about being set on fire, I had to laugh a little bit because it sounds so wrong but I know what it means to me and you know what it means for you. It's having that energy running inside of you when you see that there's something that's inspiring you to move beyond what you're experiencing in your life. When people unlock that performance level that is saying to themselves like, “I don't have to perform like I always have. I can do more. I can put on something more powerful than I already have.” That's what you do for people.

That's what coaching is. It's always about the stretch. Not just for its own sake but because people want to fulfill their greatest potential. That stretch comes from what we're doing. You're asking me something about my story. In fact, this is where that insight comes from. I once heard someone say, “Your pain is your brand.” On one level, I get that people can use their great pain stories and survival stories as brand messaging. For me, what it means is that each and every one of us has a story or has our stories. Because they've taught us things about ourselves, they can always be in service to others. What’s at the core of people fulfilling their great potential is understanding their own story and how it is in service to themselves and others because that helps you. You grow into your fullest self by understanding your own story.

What I love about your story though is an element of not everything is all dire. There's an element of discovering what lights you up. What's powerful is when I see something that excited me as a child and has stuck with me all along and now it's something I get to do every day, bringing people to their own personal stage in their life and allowing them to perform at their best. What's beautiful is when you see someone be able to find that element of what their true gift is, which is to be able to find what lights them up and then find out what lights other people up inside.

I love what you're saying. In fact, I'd love to quote you. Picking up on that, to do what we've been talking about and it might sound a bit of a contradiction but there are moments where to do that, you have to go into deep reflection mode. That requires sometimes and everyone can do this in their own way, having come through a background of performing arts where everything was externalized. It took me a long time to turn my attention inwards and to understand that that interior life is something worth contemplating and worth exploring.

It's not until I had an experience of playing out a Walter Mitty fantasy, going to New Mexico for a year and being a cowgirl to driving around in my blue dodge pickup truck. I spent a year solitary, focusing inwards. That was an extraordinary time of slowing down, being with myself, not needing lots of things, not needing to have any particular relationship, not longing for anything and feeling more at peace and a sense of wellbeing than I had ever felt before. That was a huge lesson as well, “Can you be with yourself?”

Certainly in nowadays terms of leadership and business, when everyone is functioning under such high pressure and non-stop, the capacity to pause and give yourself some breathing space, a little bit of air, space and stillness to find that inner silence, breathe deeply, inhale deeply and ask some questions. Take some time to do that and not rushing over everything, taking everything for granted, habitualizing yourself and stopping to unpack some things.

As simple as it sounds, people always say, “Take a pause, step back and take a breath.” It's a superpower to do that in some ways. It's simple but not easy because we are programmed to continue to want more, keep on moving forward and continue to drive. It's that reminder that you put in there and say, “This is what it is. We need to stop, have that pause and ask the questions.” I have this tagline, “Inspiration to honest conversations.” Sometimes, it's honest conversations not with other people but with yourself. Having the conversation to go inside and say, “Am I asking myself the questions and having the conversation with myself around what I want out of life?” That's important.

That is one of the core moments in any coaching. Being with someone who feels they're sharing their vulnerability, aspirations and full humanity with you. There's this moment when they say something like, “I haven't spent much time doing this.” “I haven't asked that question before.” “I haven't taken that time for me.” More and more when you hear about organizations and teams, that wonderful, enlightened, obvious practice of checking in with each other, taking a moment, doing that humanity factor together and taking some time to have a collective pause before they jump into the agenda. On an organizational level, that can be powerful acupuncture for the company and oneself. It is endlessly powerful as a resource to come to your center.

When you’re open, you’re always surprised by what other people bring in.

I feel like we've tapped into many things and I feel like there's more to the story that we could get into. Is there anything that you want to share about the lessons you've learned that got you to where you are now, that you reflect back and you say, “I want to make sure people hear that this is what I've learned about myself along this journey to getting to where I am.” What would you like to share?

One of the things for me is this notion of and again. I certainly feel that in my life, there's been a constant journey of reinvention of starting again, anew and afresh. Whether that's in the moment of making something because it's not been there before or in one zone with my own life story or career story, it's always been about starting again with fresh eyes. Reinventing myself in another aspect of my career and taking that risk is scary and uncertain but take that step. Once you take that first step into the unknown, something extraordinary will meet you, something that you never imagined. It's always far more exciting, powerful and magnificent than you ever could plan for. That's one powerful lesson. Begin again if you must. In the dance studio, it was always and, and you would begin. For me, that's a powerful metaphor.

You always got a 2nd or 3rd take in life. People sometimes feel like there's a fear to restart things. The reality is you can always reinvent yourself and it's never too late. That's a powerful way to go through life. I love that you brought that into space here because there's a lot of that, that I feel people need to hear. There's so much reinvention that's needed. I thank you for that. Anything else that comes to mind as you think back and say, “I've learned so much about myself and people in general that I want to make sure people hear this.”

Another big one that comes up every day especially in coaching is don't make assumptions. You have to listen a little bit longer and someone will bring something into that space that you didn't expect. Giving yourself and others that little extra time before metaphorically or interrupting. Allow for the silence and the space to open a little bit more. Don't load it with assumptions before you start. Try to keep an open space, heart and mind. In terms of my work in dance and theater, that's why we play so much. It keeps us open physically, vocally, energetically, spiritually and emotionally. When we're open, that's when you're always surprised by what other people bring.

I love this element of play and the importance of play in the way that everyone can win together or everyone can be in a sense of not having to beat other people in this play but everyone wins together. An infinite game is coming to mind for me. When I think about the corporate world, there used to be this hangover of, “We have to fight and win.” If we think it from the play perspective, we can work off each other. The yes, and in the improv world is so powerful because it's not about, “How do I stop that person from winning?” It’s about, “How can I work off of that person and make something more beautiful from that?”

Collaboration versus competition. I love that building on the yes, and.

I could talk all day with you about this. I have a different question to ask. What's one book or books that has had an impact on you and why?

I'm sure so many of your guests have said there are many books that have been inspirational and game-changing. One book that I read is called Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. I adore this book because Elizabeth Gilbert gives the voice of creativity a persona. It becomes a character and the character goes on this journey. It's delightful. It makes me laugh on every page and I highlight so much of it that the book is entirely yellow now in highlighter pen. I adore that book. It fills me with joy and infuses me with a sense of the power of creativity and her great message, which is if you're alive, you're creative. I love the sense of what that gives to everyone, that sense of believing in your creativity. Don't throw it away. Don't throw any of yourself away. It's all there to tap into.

I'm floored by that. First of all, it's such a brilliant book and your interpretation of it makes me feel that you get it and you understand her message. I'm honored that you brought that. I can't thank you enough for all of the insights you brought in, your story and your energy. I feel like I want to take on the world from all the power and energy you brought in. I can't thank you enough for coming to the show. I want to make sure that people who are reading know where to find out more about you, Diana.

A big thanks to my family who might read this blog and all the blessings and joy they bring me. To my tribe of colleagues and friends who are endlessly creative, brilliant and who inspire me every day, that feels like a great blessing. You can find me on LinkedIn. You can find me in my book, Performing As You, which you can buy anywhere. You can find me on my website, www.DianaTheodores.com. If you go there, you will find a lovely gift waiting for you, a free eBooklet called the Coach in Your Pocket. I hope you enjoy it. I look forward to any conversations that might come my way as a result of this wonderful campfire.

Thank you for being so generous to everyone who's reading. I can't thank you enough for coming to the show. It's been such a blessing.

Thanks, Tony. I love the campfire and I can now see the fireflies and smell the pine.

Me, too. Thank you. Thanks to readers for coming on the journey with us. That's a wrap.

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About Diana Theodores

I am an inspiration speaker and coach. It’s my mission to connect you to that energy of inspiration that ignites you to step into your boldest presence and bring yourself fully forward.

Growing up in New York my mother’s love of the arts translated into being raised on a steady diet of great performances. From Bernstein to Broadway to Baryshnikov and beyond, you name it, I saw it!  Every curtain call was and still is a thrill and an epiphany for me. In the moments when an audience erupts from their seats in standing ovation they share a palpable, physical, emotional, tribal energy. 

This energy of inspiration from great performance makes us feel more in every way: More alive, more optimistic, more passionate, more motivated, and more courageous.

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