Al Vincent: Full Interview

“Leaders on Leadership”

ALVIN VINCENT JR., M.P.A. ’02
Executive Director, Actors’ Equity Association

Alvin VincentTell us about your current leadership role and the elements of it that feel most connected to leadership qualities.

I’m the executive director of Actors’ Equity Association. The leadership elements that connect the most with me are active listening and meeting folks where they are. Understanding everyone’s strong point—the role where they could thrive if given the opportunity. Understanding where they come from—and helping them get to that better place.

What led you to take this the role that you’re in now? And what is your motivation to continue?

This role started my 32nd year in labor—I started right after undergrad. I told a staff person a few months back, when I thought about all the things I’ve done in 30-plus years, what I really enjoyed the most was the work I did around change management. You figure out what’s worked well, what hasn’t worked well. And then you get to the organization where you want to be. I’ve done that over the last three decades.

This opportunity came to me and when I looked at the white paper of what Actors’ Equity wanted in their next Executive Director, I thought, this is exactly aligned with what I think I do well. And like every organization needs that renewed energy from time to time, it was time for them to have some new energy. There were a lot of interviews—like, six or seven—and I hadn’t interviewed in three decades, but I loved every one of them, because that told me this was a very thoughtful group of stakeholders, who cared about their organization. They wanted to find somebody who cared as much as they did. And they also were very open, almost vulnerable, about what needed to change.

Tell me about some of the formative interactions that were essential to the evolution of your leadership skills.

I went through the master’s program in Public Administration at The University of Baltimore and finished in 2001. I already had a leadership position in my organization when I was taking those classes, but that program got me in the room with colleagues throughout labor and some who were leaders in different organizations that had different perspectives. It was the first time that I got to hear different perspectives on how to lead.

I started to just be this sponge of information from everybody I met, and their leadership, and how they did things. That started really in that UBalt program when I got to engage with other leaders. I also took classes on analytical thinking and statistics, because as a leader, I understood the importance of data.

A particular book I think about being formative is Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, because I thought that it was much more important to bring in your adversaries. If you just listen to them and figure out where they were coming from, then you could figure out if they really were that different from you. I thought it was smart politically to try to bring in those who genuinely had a different opinion or different perspective. You can use that different perspective to make the broader organization a better unit.

I tend to think about leadership in terms of psychology. I’m a very collaborative thinker, and my style is more collaborative than direct. I used to be the person who thought that direct was abrasive, until I understood the different personality and leadership styles. Then I learned why I couldn’t connect with certain people. My style wasn’t a style that they were drawn to, I had to figure out what style they were drawn to. So, as a leader, I like figuring out the psychology around communication and how folks tick, what drives them.

Do you have a defined leadership style? Is there a type of coach or visionary that you see yourself as, or do you subscribe to a particular leadership theory?

I label myself as a servant leader. I’m there for members and the staff. I want to know what I can do to make their lives better. I’ve never sought out attention. I don’t really love being in the limelight. It’s so much more powerful if you can lift someone else up.

I remember my daughter used to laugh, when we were at a tollbooth—back when you still had folks in the toll booth—and I started a conversation. I asked them, “How is your day?” And I’d tell them, “You’re doing amazing work today.” And my daughter would say, “Why are you talking to them? You don’t even know them.” But my response to that is, what if that just made their day better? Any small gesture can make an impact.

What do you think is the single most important trait a leader should have? Do you think you have fully developed that trait in yourself? And how have you fostered it over time?

I will go back to active listening. When I started with Actors’ Equity, I dedicated the first month to meeting with all the staff, learning about what they do and what matters to them. Conversely, what’s not right or what needs to be fixed. I asked them to name something they’re proud of. Then, tell me something that you could fix if you could? Folks won’t always tell you—it’s uncomfortable for someone to tell you what’s not right. The world doesn’t always appreciate or reward that honesty. So, I had to be sure that I really listened to what they were saying.

What do you consider your greatest success as a leader and what is the greatest risk you taken?

My greatest success is getting the opportunity to be in Equity. When I was doing my resume—which I hadn’t done in three decades—I felt a little bit of impostor syndrome, looking back. I had to remember that a lot of things on the resume in terms of work experience came from a moment of a crisis or a scary time, and I made it through each of those to the point where it became a success. Whether it was transforming the organization or change management or mentoring staff or working through bankruptcies… Those situations were crazy. To get recognized for that work, by being hired by Equity, was an honor. And to this day, I still can’t believe I have an opportunity to represent 51,000 amazing people.

How do you adjust your leadership style, depending on your audience? And depending on the audience, how do you motivate them?

I was on a jury one time, and I wasn’t the spokesman for the foreman, I was just on the jury. But I had to become the foreman, because they couldn’t come to a decision. They were not listening to the facts. So, I sat there as an organizer and an activist, and finally couldn’t take it anymore. I had to start to ask questions and start to lead. Sometimes you need to let things just come out; you need to let a lot of things come out. We need to let people feel like they’ve had their say, and then you can start to dig into what the true issues are and how to get to a resolution. A lot of times, and this is harder to think about, you need to understand where that person is coming from. Not just in general, but that day, where’s that person coming from? What was happening in a person’s life? Is that person really in opposition to this concept? Or is this person having a bad day? You know, do you have a sick child or struggles at home? Or something happened with colleagues?

How have you continued to draw on your experience at the University of Baltimore?

UBalt taught me that while I thought I knew a lot in my little world where I was working, to know there was more out there was transformative. I would just talk to anybody and everybody. And I didn’t care what your occupation was, because to me, it was still to some extent about psychology, and about interacting with people. And so, whether you were selling a widget or being an activist, you still had to tap into what moves them, what issues matter to them, and what emotions help them change their behavior. The University of Baltimore opened my mind to the idea that there are so many more ideas out here, and I can’t limit myself to just my peers. Literally anyone can be an educator and mentor for you, if you just stop and listen to them.

What quality or qualities do you wish today’s leaders had more of?

It’s really just about integrity and humility. You can deal with the worst of situations if people feel appreciated, if they feel like they can trust you. If you believe in them, you’ll get through it. A lot of leaders today can get to the top. But once they get to the top, they don’t have any people skills to really run the organization or to lead, because their goal wasn’t change or growth. I happened to be a leader, but my goal was to help move an organization to a higher level. I just wish that there was more integrity, more humility, and more of an appreciation of the human side of organizations.

How do you measure your success as a leader?

Little things matter. Especially when peers come to you for advice. When I left my old organization, folks came to me and told me, “Thank you for being a mentor.” They thanked me for giving them space to grow. And they gave examples around how I could have given the answers, but instead I helped them troubleshoot and do critical thinking on their own. There was this pattern of folks thanking me for mentoring them. To me, that’s what I’m supposed to do. I’m not supposed to just manage folks. They’re supposed to rise up. The greatest flattery is when you’ve helped develop someone who can then move up and thrive.

What ways does your personal life influence your ability to lead? And do they ever come into conflict? How do you navigate that?

When I was interviewing, and when I got hired, I spoke a lot about the importance of work life balance. Everyone talks about that nowadays. And then someone on staff said, “Can you tell me what that really means for you?” And I said, “You know, I didn’t always get it. I don’t think I understood what it really meant until COVID…” Like many people, I worked a lot of hours. I never had boundaries. I have a daughter who’s now 19, and when she was born, I was traveling a lot. So, I started writing her a journal. I wrote a journal for something like five years. Three or four years ago, I found the journal, and I was going to give it to her, but I wanted to read it because I hadn’t read it in a while. And every entry was about me not being there, and frankly, it sucked. When I reread it, I was sick. I thought I was writing something that she could look back on. But it really was a chronicle document that showed that I really wasn’t there enough. She’s older now. And now we have a good relationship.

I love my wife, and we make time for each other. She’s got a pretty high-level job as Chief of Staff of an organization, so we have to make time for ourselves—making time for a date night, going to listen to music or seeing a movie. We like to cook, so we’re in the kitchen a lot together. That means putting the phone down at a certain time. I try my best not to look at the late-night emails. I carve out time for vacations and have had to say to colleagues, “Look, we’re on vacation. Please respect that.” And I do the same—if you’re on vacation, I’ll tell you to get off a call.

What is the best leadership advice you’ve ever received? And what is one piece of advice you would want to share with aspiring leaders?

You know, being right really is not enough. Think about politics. If you knocked on doors, trying to persuade someone to vote the right way, you very rarely walk away from someone who’s really committed to whoever they’re voting for having changed their mind. You could be right. You could know all the reasons why it’s in the person’s best interest to vote a certain way. But just knowing that is not enough. As a leader, you may know the right way. But that doesn’t mean you know how to convey that and get others to see a different pathway. When you do, that is the real win. Otherwise, you have fractured stakeholders who feel like they weren’t heard. If you go in and say, “Here’s what we’re going to do, this is the right way, let’s do it…” Well, you might have folks who check the box and move forward, but they’re not going to do it with any passion.

If the staff members are really the greatest assets of an organization, then treat them as such. Just listen to them and understand the perspectives that they have. It’s really easy to be a hard-nosed leader that just lays down rules and regulations. But that doesn’t get any buy-in, and it doesn’t get any passion for the work that needs to be done.

2022 Book List

Shimmer
Alexandra Hewett

if I must be honest
Kia Forston

Our Own Gods
Zo Gross

Later, I’ll Wish I Said It Differently
Beth Phan

Turnbuckle
Chad Boxley

Ella
Britt Bell

Gatekeeping
Kelly Flanagan

Assorted Jerks
Josh O’Meara

The Deep End
Jessie O’Dea Walker

The Ancestors
Olivia Springer

Let the bees rest
Elizabeth Holland

Bright Spots
Caitlin Currey

After Them: Reflections of a Serial Monogamist
Kopper Boyd

Stuck
LeQuita Harrison

Cut the Lights
Micaela Walley

How to Think Like a Lawyer—and Why: A Common-Sense Guide to Everyday Dilemmas
Kim Wehle

Genius for Justice: Charles Hamilton Houston and the Reform of American Law
Jose Felipe Anderson

Black Boy Smile: A Memoir in Moments
D. Watkins

Madam Speaker: Nancy Pelosi Calls the House to Order
Carole Boston Weatherford

Call Me Miss Hamilton: One Woman’s Fight for Equality and Justice
Carole Boston Weatherford

Me and My Mama
Carole Boston Weatherford

Grandma and Me
Carole Boston Weatherford

The Faith of Elijah Cummings: North Star for Equal Justice
Carole Boston Weatherford

Beyond the Clouds
Phaedra Stewart

That’s Ridiculous, Said Nicholas
Cheryl Taragin

Desperadoes—Musical Conquerors
Edison Holder

I Will Not Bear You Sons
Usha Akella

My American Adventure
Rita Abiamiri

From Lunch Counter Protests to Corporate America
Harold Young

No Ordinary Life—Short Personal Essays
O. Paul Mortenson

Everyone’s Sleepy but the Baby
Tracy C. Gold

In Memoriam

1950s

Robert P. Adams, J.D. ’52
Richard Motsay, J.D. ’52
John E. Unger Jr., A.A. ’52
Alfred B. Jacobsen, B.S. ’53
James B. Wheatley, LL.B. ’53
Seymour R. Goldstein,
A.A. ’54, J.D. ’60
R. Carroll Waltemy, B.S. ’54
Robert E. Krommes, B.S. ’55
James F. Fream, A.A. ’56
John J. Peters Jr., B.S. ’56
Marian R. Kaiser, B.S. ’57
Robert E. Meehan, B.S. ’57
John F. Burton, A.A. ’58
Donald J. Calder, B.S. ’58
Joseph F. Freburger Jr.,
B.S. ’58
Richard L. May, J.D. ’58
William G. Nicodemus,
B.S. ’58
Sheldon D. Caplan, CERT ’59
Charles L. Marks, LL.B. ’59
Gary L. Martin, B.S. ’59
Frederick H. Puhl Jr., B.S. ’59
Donald C. Riefner, B.S. ’59
James D. Tangires, J.D. ’59

(more…)

B ONLINE

B is for Book List

Looking for your next great read? We’ve got you dust-covered with a list of all the latest and greatest by UBalt authors from the past year. 

The 2022 Book List includes literary works across a variety of genres from alums and faculty, like Black Boy Smile: A Memoir in Moments by D. Watkins, B.A. ’09, M.F.A. ’14; Let the Bees Rest, poems by Elizabeth Holland, M.F.A. ’22; and Our Own Gods, stories by Zo Gross, M.F.A. ’22. 

If you are an author in the UBalt community (alumni, faculty, staff and student) and released a traditionally published literary work in any genre, or a self-published title (including thesis books) between July 1, 2021 and June 30, 2022, and would like to be included in our digital 2022 Book List, email your submission to alumni@ubalt.edu. We will also accept submissions for anthologies in which your work appeared.

Hiding in the Walls

David Sebastiao and Angel King Wilson at the 2022 Maryland International Film Festival; The Maryland Theatre, Hagerstown, Maryland.
David Sebastiao and Angel King Wilson at the 2022 Maryland International Film Festival; The Maryland Theatre, Hagerstown, Maryland.

Independent film maker David Sebastiao, B.A. ’16, M.A. ’21, and his project partner, Angel King Wilson, M.F.A. ’19, recently won the “Gaia Prize for Environmental Filmmaking” from the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival for Hiding in the Walls—a documentary covering the untold stories of Baltimore’s lead poisoning epidemic.

The film presents a unique opportunity for audiences to confront one of Baltimore’s most persistent issues through the stories and voices of those most affected. The documentary also features interviews with UBalt alumnus and professor D. Watkins, B.A. ’09, M.F.A. ’14. 

Hiding in the Walls is currently being distributed to educational institutions and libraries through Video Project, and will be available to the public through select streaming services in 2023. Learn more at www.hidinginthewalls.com.