Encourage laughter. I love laughter! I am all about promoting joy in the workplace. It goes without saying that the happiest and most productive workplaces are the ones that encourage laughter. I always say that we take our work seriously, but not ourselves. This allows us to work and create in a way that is positive and encouraging. One of the most difficult projects our company has undertaken so far was the creation of RISE, the anti-trafficking show I mentioned earlier. It was very emotionally draining for our dancers to rehearse the show because of the depth of character acting they needed to exhibit every time. However, we still managed to find moments of laughter and joy throughout the process because of the company’s culture, which allowed us to work well every day together.
As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lindsey Dinneen. Lindsey is an entrepreneur, leader, and teacher. She founded and owns VidaDance Studio in Leawood, Kansas, she founded and is the Artistic Director of VidaDance (a professional dance company), and co-owns Brio Creative (a sales, marketing, and management consultancy) with her husband. She loves sharing the joy of dance and wellness with others, and creates online courses to teach various dance styles, stretching/toning, and healthy living. She enjoys dogs, coffee shops, friends, and art.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Absolutely! Thank you for having me. I have been dancing since I was four years old. After watching a video of “The Nutcracker,” I fell in love with the beautiful costumes, and my mom enrolled me in a ballet class shortly after that. I grew up mostly studying classical ballet, and in college at Mercyhurst University, I branched out to include modern, tap, and jazz while earning my BA in Dance. After college, I moved to Kansas City to dance professionally, and did so with various local companies for five years. It really comes as no surprise, then, that years later, I would establish my own professional dance company, VidaDance, as well as open a dance studio.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The most interesting story that has happened to me is also by far the most meaningful. This past year, on separate occasions, I was told by two of my employees that if it weren’t for me and the company, they would likely not be alive today. They both credit me with saving their lives. I have never felt more fulfilled in my entire life than realizing that what I do, and what my company is, makes a significant difference in people’s lives. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, and to hear that I actually have had that kind of profound impact blew me away.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am always working on exciting projects! One of my latest projects was to create a full-length show to expose the dark world of human trafficking and bring awareness to what we can do about it. I collaborated with local anti-trafficking organizations to vet the storyline, give feedback, and be present at the show’s premieres in order to speak, answer questions, and provide opportunities for audience members to get involved in the fight against trafficking. The show, RISE, follows a young woman’s journey through the grooming process into sex trafficking and then to her subsequent rise as a survivor. It is a powerful and poignant portrayal of an unacceptable social injustice through the use of dance and aerial arts. My goal for RISE is for it to travel all around the world, bringing awareness to the issue, and real change.
Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
Unfortunately, I’m not surprised that so many people are unhappy at work. Poor leadership abounds in the workforce, with bosses who do not understand and implement good leadership skills, leaving their employees feeling disrespected, unappreciated, and undervalued. Bad management means that employees are not able to work at their best, and their skills are often left underutilized. When employees don’t feel appreciated and free to express, suggest, and even critique, they will eventually burn out and be unhappy.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
Research has shown that an unhappy workforce leads to a loss of company productivity and profitability, and has a negative impact on employee health and wellbeing. Unhappy employees often feel undervalued and unappreciated, have high levels of stress, and may experience tension in their work relationships. These feelings, when left unaddressed, may lead to increased absenteeism and high turnover rates. The result of those issues translates to very real costs to the employer, not only impacting the company’s bottom line, but also overall morale.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
1) Encourage collaboration. Many heads are better than one. I am limited by having only my own mind at my disposal. By encouraging collaboration, I am able to open myself up to brilliant new ideas I would never have come up with that can propel the company to greater success.
One of the best decisions I made when I founded the company was that it was not going to be all about me and my choreography. In order to create the best possible experience for not only my employees, but also our audiences, we needed collaboration from the start. That spirit of collaboration has opened so many doors for the company, and will always be at the heart of our vision.
2) Encourage laughter. I love laughter! I am all about promoting joy in the workplace. It goes without saying that the happiest and most productive workplaces are the ones that encourage laughter. I always say that we take our work seriously, but not ourselves. This allows us to work and create in a way that is positive and encouraging.
One of the most difficult projects our company has undertaken so far was the creation of RISE, the anti-trafficking show I mentioned earlier. It was very emotionally draining for our dancers to rehearse the show because of the depth of character acting they needed to exhibit every time. However, we still managed to find moments of laughter and joy throughout the process because of the company’s culture, which allowed us to work well every day together.
3) Encourage leadership. The best leaders are the ones who promote the leadership of others in their workplace. When the director of a company is willing to let others create and inhabit positions of leadership, he or she is promoting the betterment of the company as a whole.
Every time I ask one of my employees to step into a leadership role, whether it is for a one-time project, or for an ongoing basis, I am always delighted at the ownership these employees take in not only their assignment, but in the company itself. These employees step up every time, and prove their qualities in truly beautiful ways.
4) Encourage friendship. I love the moments when I look over and see a group of my employees talking and smiling. I strongly encourage my employees to form deep bonds with each other when they click. When employees get along, they work together better, and are more eager to come in to work every day. It’s a win-win for everyone!
Part of what’s made VidaDance such an incredible place to work is the formation of friendships. Positivity thrives when employees are glad to see each other, and it actually means that they are more productive because they are encouraging each other to be and do their best daily.
5) Encourage constructive criticism. I do not always make the right decisions. My favorite employees are those who aren’t afraid to question a decision I’ve made if it doesn’t make sense, fit with the company values, or steer us toward a great future. I have an open-door policy so that all my employees feel comfortable providing me with constructive feedback.
Being receptive to feedback from the start has kept me humble as well as actually reinforced my position of leadership in the company. I don’t always agree with everything that’s brought to me, but my employees know that they will be heard fairly, and I will always do everything I can do to resolve any issues. In the end, it’s all about the underlying foundation of empowerment for everyone.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
It’s important to get to the heart of the matter when dealing with work culture. Company culture comes from the top. If the leadership does not communicate clearly what it is that the company is about, employees will not catch the organization’s mission and vision for the future. Leaders must be well-trained and qualified for their positions, and must consistently demonstrate a willingness to learn, grow, work well with others, delegate correctly, treat everyone with respect and appreciation, and exhibit a positive attitude. My suggestion would be for all companies to adopt a leadership program that offers ongoing training in order to effectively nurture the best management possible. As a society, we can start teaching these leadership skills in schools. Perhaps a mandatory leadership class or unit could be incorporated into schools’ curriculum. Even at a young age, children can learn these essential skills.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
I have a very open and democratic style of management. I expect that my employees and I will demonstrate mutual respect, and that we will be honest with each other. I do retain the final say, of course, but am happy to receive input from my employees. I have adopted a “coaching” style of leadership, in that my goal is to help each of my employees be the most successful they can be, and achieve their own goals (even apart from my company), so that the company as a whole can flourish.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
So many people helped me get where I am today! I could spend hours thanking all of the people who have contributed to my success. No one can achieve great things alone. One woman that particularly stands out is named Cheryl Kimmi. She is the founder and director of the Kansas City Fringe Festival. I met her about five years ago, and she changed my life. We were at an event together, casually chatting about what I wanted to do in the future, and I mentioned I wanted to start a dance company someday. She asked me why I was waiting, and offered an opportunity for me to produce a show at the KC Fringe Festival that year. That was the launch of VidaDance, which has quickly grown from a seven-person company that first show to having over 20 dancers, aerialists, and actors in our latest show, RISE. A year after I launched the company, I opened the doors to my dance studio. A couple years after that, my husband and I started another company. Those questions, “Why are you waiting? Why not do it now?” sparked a complete change in my trajectory to become an entrepreneur with a growth mindset. I’m so grateful for Cheryl.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
One of the most important things in my life is giving back. I’ve worked hard to get to where I am, but I’ve had a lot of help along the way, and it’s vital to me that I pay that forward. I consistently mentor young professionals, I volunteer at various community events, I organize and produce a free dance performance for Kansas City every year that brings together KC’s dance community, I sponsor four children overseas, and much more. I believe that we have an obligation to bring goodness to the world in any way that we can every day. Even a simple smile can have a significant impact on someone’s life.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite life lesson quote is quite straightforward! It’s simply, “Onward and upward. Good things are coming.” It has been the quote I come back to consistently, especially when times are tough, and it seems like nothing is going the way I had hoped. Coming back to “onward and upward” reminds me of several important lessons:
It is a re-centering motto that serves to lift me up and ensure I look forward to my future.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
If I could inspire people to start a movement, it would be a campaign to ignite kindness and empathy towards all humans. The “pay it forward” movement would occur daily. Each of us would have enough confidence in our self-worth to understand that everyone is going through challenges. Instead of being unreasonable, disrespectful, or unkind, we would find daily reasons to pay the love forward. It would promote a lifestyle of empathy, kindness, and compassion. This movement would literally change the world.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!