In The Mentor Leader: Secrets to Building People and Teams that Win Consistently, Tony Dungy shares his experiences as a mentor leader to his NFL players and fellow coaches.  His servant leader approach to football coaching and team building has led to not only a Super Bowl victory, but also to developing amazing individuals who give of themselves both on and off the field.  Dungy’s book is full of examples of how participation in well-led sporting teams can have a profoundly positive effect on all aspects of an individual’s life.  The same can be said of participation in fine arts experiences.  I had the privilege of working in children’s theatre as an actor, director, choreographer, and educator for over seven years.  During that time I influenced many young lives through the theatre residencies and workshops I conducted.

The majority of those seven years were spent working alongside my husband for Prairie Fire Children’s Theatre based in Barrett, Minnesota.  PFCT is a professional touring theatre company that provides week-long theatre residency programs to young people around the Midwestern United States.  Each week my husband and I were responsible for leading around 80 children in putting together a musical production complete with memorized lines, blocking, song, and dance that would be performed twice for the community at the end of the week.  We directly influenced over 7000 children through our work with PFCT.

I have to admit I did not recognize our roles as mentor leaders to these kids until after reading Dungy’s book.  Granted, our time with these children was limited to only one week; it was an intense experience of developing personal acting skills and building the teamwork necessary to improvise on stage when scenes didn’t go as planned.  And believe me, with only 18 hours of rehearsal performances don’t go as planned.

We modeled to them more than acting skills during our theatre residencies. We demonstrated personal confidence – not so much confidence in acting ability, but the sort of grounded confidence that the production is going to be fine as long as I do my best and trust the rest of the cast to help me out when I mess up.  We encouraged them to strive for perfection but expect imperfection, and modeled how gracefully handled imperfection sometimes leads to the most amazingly creative (and hilarious) moments on the stage.  Shakespeare (2012) knew what he was talking about when he wrote, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players”.

In hindsight, my time working for Prairie Fire Children’s Theatre afforded me endless mentoring opportunities.  Now that I am cognizant of my role as a mentor leader, my goal is to find opportunities to intentionally influence others in positive ways that are mutually transformative.  As Dungy (2010) so wisely states, “We are all role models for someone.  There is simply no escaping it” (p. 111).


Dungy, T., & Whitaker, N. (2010). The mentor leader: Secrets to building people and teams that win consistently. Carrol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.

Prairie fire children’s theatre: Catch the fire. (2012). Retrieved from

Shakespeare, W. (2012). Brainyquote. Retrieved from

Son of citation machine. (2010). Retrieved from