Phylicia Rashad

Phylicia Rashad explains how a small directive can bring big results on the Joy of Leadership Podcast

Welcome to the Joy of Leadership Podcast. I’m your host Shar McBee.  

Our guest, Phylicia Rashad, is a director, a star on television and Broadway, and now the new Dean of the College of Fine Arts at Howard University.

You can listen on KMozart, read it below,  or catch it on You Tube.  It is also available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Amazon Music. 

First, we begin with today’s leadership secret:  Trust your intuition. 

When you have a big decision to make, it is so easy to overthink it, or to listen to naysayers. That’s when you trust your intuition.  You know when something is right or wrong.  

When you trust people, they’re more willing to help you.  When you trust your intuition, that inner voice gets louder.  Listening to it will give you confidence and help you overcome obstacles that have stood in your way for years. 

When I was given this advice, it gave me great peace of mind.

Now, welcome to our guest Phylicia Rashad.  You know her as a star and director.  The students at Howard University know her as the new Dean of the College of Fine Arts. 

This podcast is for people who are new to leadership, mostly. Do you have any advice or thoughts or wisdom? It’s so great to have a mentor like you that has gone through a lot.

Phylicia Rashad: It’s always a good idea I think, to have people working around you who know things that you might not know and who are there to support the work.  Notice my choice of words.  I didn’t say to support you.  I said to support the work because if a person is invested in supporting the work, you will be supported.

Shar McBee: That’s great Phylicia.  That is such good advice. 

I got to watch you once directing a play, and I was taken with how much you trusted the actors. You gave small pieces of information and they took it and ran with it. 

I love how you trust your intuition and other people.  I’d like to hear you talk about that a little bit because that was one of the things that was hard for me when I first started in leadership.  To trust people and trust myself.

Phylicia Rashad: Yes. I understand that. Anytime I’m in a position of leadership, wherever it is, the most important thing for me I think is that the people with whom I’m working buy into whatever the vision is and that they claim ownership of it.  That I leave room for them to add things that I didn’t see or didn’t consider.  That’s what makes for a very successful collaboration.

Shar McBee: How did you learn to do that?

Phylicia Rashad: It was when I directed for the first time at Seattle rep.  I was directing August Wilson’s “Gem of the Ocean.”  I had never directed anything before. It was not even in my thinking that I would be a director ever, but there I found myself in it. 

I learned that directing wasn’t so much just telling people what to do.  It was creating, crafting, holding a vision of where this production would go, and aligning all of the creative energies with that vision. 

And as I said before, leaving the room, leaving space for them to add what I hadn’t thought of or didn’t see.  In this way, they could take ownership of the vision too, and it would become theirs as well.  That’s when I learned it.

Shar McBee: Were you afraid to give up control?

Phylicia Rashad: No, as an actor, I find it disconcerting to work with directors who think they must tell you everything to do. You might as well be a robot. You might as well be a computer. You might as well be anything other than a human being, and certainly a creative one. 

I don’t have a problem following directions.  That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about someone who tells you stand here and stand this way.  Say it this way.  It doesn’t leave space for an actor to grow into a character or to have the character grow for you. 

I am not the one to have to feel in control and tell people what to do all the time. 

However, in leadership, there is some measure of control that must be used. So, you have to find that line, that balance, that delicate balance, that dance so that your control is not stifling for others.

Shar McBee: That’s such a yogic principle: The Razor’s Edge.

Phylicia Rashad: Oh yes.  The Razor’s Edge.

Shar McBee (to audience): Today’s leadership secret is “trust your intuition.” It can be a real game changer for your career. It helped Phylicia Rashad when she was invited to audition for Stephen Sondheim, for a starring role on Broadway.

Phylicia Rashad: I had a dream in which I was told, “Just sing.”  You know, don’t think about how the note sounds. Don’t think about how you want it to come out. 

This is how I interpreted this command as it were.  Just sing.  Just sing.  So, I went to the audition and I remembered that. I sang the song as if it had just come out of me, as opposed to thinking about it so much.  That open and honest expression of joy, the joy of music and singing. And I just sang. 

When I got home, the phone rang and it was my manager.  “Well, they want you.  You’re back on the board,” she said.

Shar McBee: I think about that a lot in a leadership role.  Having people working with you that can just say what they think.  Any thoughts about that?

Phylicia Rashad: I think what happens, I know what happens, is that sometimes given a task, given a project, given a proposal or something to do that is significant…Sometimes there’s just this thing about making a mistake that freezes us up. We’re so afraid of saying the wrong thing, or saying the right thing the wrong way, or just making a mistake. Yes, it freezes us up. That’s a very human dilemma.

Shar McBee: This is the Joy of Leadership Podcast. I’m Shar McBee.