Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your story and your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people?
Rob: I rarely admit this, but I am quite shy naturally. I have always been a little apprehensive to meet new people. I think working to overcome this through music, performing, and eventually through growing as a leader has made that very hard for others to see. My secret shyness makes me appreciate the challenges of our students, many of whom are working to come out of their shell.
Adam: How did you get here? What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?
Rob: Getting the opportunity to lead an iconic brand like School of Rock is the direct product of my luck working for and with a series of great mentors. My bosses and teammates were very generous with feedback, helping me identify, confront, and address deficiencies. It is through their commitment that my setbacks did not become catastrophic. My biggest challenges were of my own making. Earlier in my career, I was quick to judge, speak glibly, and dominate conversations. My mentors didn’t give up on me, and helped me discover the liberation of shutting my mouth. What I discovered is that when you presume you are NOT the smartest person in the room, it is joyful to learn from others.
Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?
Rob: I believe that authentic concern for the leader’s team and stakeholders trumps almost anything. I have seen dynamic, loveable leaders fail when they breach trust. I have seen unassuming, quiet leaders thrive when their team’s know that s/he has their best interests front of mind.
As I have become a more mature leader, I have discovered that next level leadership is only achievable by yielding your own power to others. This is more than delegation. You really have to cede control and decision-making to team members. This is so hard for all of us, but it is critical to create the capacity and mind space to grow.
Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?
Rob: Figure out what is your driving motivation and work hard to link your individual efforts to that motivation. Remind yourself regularly of why you are working at something, particularly when that something is unpleasant.
When faced with a crisis, catch your breath. Except when split second decisions are required, take a beat and collect yourself. Even separating yourself from the situation for a few moments of personal reflection. Often, asking clarifying questions of the team allows your brain recovery time, and is a calming influence on teams.
Figure out how much sleep you need and ruthlessly protect your ability to secure it. When you lead people, you have the obligation to be clear-minded.
Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?
Rob: “Be the question, not the answer.” As leaders, we often think we need to assert and advocate. Our teams will signal their need for it, and even be frustrated when we don’t give the answer. I have learned to default to questions like “That is a really big challenge…what is your instinct about how to deal with it?” Inquiry is better, even when the answer is totally obvious to me.
Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?
Rob: At any time, find 2-3 young leaders who are very different than you, and commit to regular, formal mentoring. Stay in touch with them. Call their BS. Push them to be their best selves. More informally, accept every inquiry from a young person for career advice. It is a very low investment for a high impact on society.
Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?
Rob: It won’t be a surprise that music, specifically, singing, piano and guitar, are central to my identity. My happiest moments involve making and sharing music with others. I have been particularly lucky that my wife and three sons share my love of music. This passion allows me to connect deeply with the purpose of our enterprise, and connect with the artists in our community.
I also love reading non-fiction, and favor two genres that have influenced how I think: biographies of historical leaders during complex times and stories of triumph against unimaginable odds. My favorite book, which blends both genres, is Endurance, about Shackleton’s ill-fated voyage to the Antarctic. You have to read it.
Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share? Rob: I would like to make a plug for the power of creative expression. In my role leading a global performance-based music education company, I have become sensitized to how passive and lonely technology can make us. I would love for other leaders to join me in embracing and promoting the power for collaborative creative expression. Of course I love a good rock band, but I feel that kids who are exposed to music, dance or drama are better prepared to work with others to invent something special.