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163: Leaders with Heart Lead with Compassion

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In this episode, Heather interviews Taneshia Nash Laird, president & CEO of Newark Symphony Hall, the vintage 1925 performing arts center in Newark, NJ. The way that Taneshia came to be on Heather’s podcast reveals a uniqueness that accompanies this episode until its end. 

The first word Taneshia uses to describe her leadership style is compassionate. This deep found sense of compassion that Taneshia claims to strive for, is revealed through each story and experience which she shares. Taneshia is an incredibly compassionate leader, an imperfect, eager to grow, caring leader in development. Please listen to her story to find some inspiration for your own.

Key Takeaways:

  • Leaders are coaches, investing in people professionally. 
  • Caring Leaders guide their employees towards their respective destinations and heal the organization. 
  • Have a willingness to invest in your people.
  • Discover and unearth the strengths of your team at the earliest opportunity. 
  • Leaders have the positive power to change the lives of those they lead. 
  • Fill the space created through the lay-off process with compassion. 
  • Recognize that the work is not more important than your team’s self-care and health. 
  • Take the time to ask, ”is there anything I can do to help you navigate through these times?”

Taneshia Nash Laird is president & CEO of Newark Symphony Hall, the vintage 1925 performing arts center in Newark, NJ. As a social change agent, Taneshia centers cultural equity in her work. In her career in the public, nonprofit, and private sectors, she has been a city and state official for economic development, a regional director for the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce, the executive director of the Arts Council of Princeton, and co-founder of the MIST Harlem venue in NYC.

An in-demand speaker about the intersection of arts, entertainment and economic development, Taneshia is a member of the board of the National Independent Venue Foundation and co-chairs the Save Our Stages Implementation Task Force of the National Independent Venue Association. She is also president of the board of Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, the influential community arts nonprofit co-founded 25 years ago by siblings Danny, Russell and Joey “Rev. Run” Simmons.

Taneshia is also an adjunct professor in the B.S. in Entertainment and Arts Management degree program at Drexel University and a visiting professor in the M.F.A. in Creative Arts & Technology at Bloomfield College.

Resilience is key

I am leading a 95-year-old historic Performing Arts Center in a community of color, which is one of the reasons that I was attracted to the role. The organization wasn’t just in decline but in crisis. So, I am turning around a historic organization and venue, and leading it through the global pandemic. Resilience does describe my background professionally and personally. This is the third nonprofit that I’ve run. I’ve been a for profit,  nonprofit, and a municipal appointed leader so I’ve been a trisector leader.

One of the things I have to figure out is how to balance being a compassionate person but also still setting some good, firm expectations. – Tanesha Nash Laird #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Investment on impact

I like to think that I’m a compassionate leader. When I came there, I found that not only had the building been neglected, but the people had been as well. The building needs a $40 million renovation. So, I’m leading a pretty significant capital campaign to renovate the building and to also turn the organization around. I also like to think that I’m more of a coach. A lot of what I’m doing is supporting them in terms of their journey and their career, as they hadn’t been invested in professionally in developing their skills. I felt that it was important to invest in those people. They were really punching above their weight, because I was asking them to do a lot, but it was very targeted and was very focused. We also put together a customized professional development plan for each of the employees and my colleagues, as well. Investment on impact to the Community—that’s the way I approach.

Give colleagues some space during this time and be understanding that it's high stress. – Tanesha Nash Laird #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

I'm more of a coach. A lot of what I'm doing is supporting them in terms of their journey and their career. – Tanesha Nash Laird #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Putting compassion

I remember my first nonprofit role about 15 years ago where I had to make a staff change, and I really felt like I could have done that better. I could have been more compassionate. Sometimes you do have to make these changes, and it’s still a horrible thing that you have to do to meet the objectives. Most recent case, frankly, is the pandemic, so loss of revenue and ability to continue to carry for full staff, but now I’m better at laying people off. It’s still difficult, please don’t get me wrong. It’s very difficult, especially you have to do everything, what gets in all these situations. You have to do everything in a particularly legal way and it doesn’t leave as much room. But as much room as it leaves, I put compassion.

Work is important, but your self-care and your health are actually more important. – Tanesha Nash Laird #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

In order for the organization to move forward, I can't be coddling all the time. – Tanesha Nash Laird #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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