Dar Dixon is an actor/producer/director, and he has been working successfully in Hollywood for more than 26 years now. The oldest of 4 boys, all 3 of his brothers are gay men. He’s moved over 80 times, survived the Iranian Revolution with the clothes on his back, a pseudo-religious, doomsday cult, and successfully recovered from mind control and PTSD.
He lives in Los Angeles with his wife Donzaleigh Abernathy — youngest daughter of Rev. Dr. Ralph David Abernathy & Dr. Juanita Abernathy (co-founders of the Civil Rights Movement). He also speaks in corporate America, professional & collegiate sports, universities, and tv news panels — on the topics of social justice, bias, race, diversity, inclusion, Human Rights, and Undue Influence.
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Table of Contents
We’re happy that you could join us today! Please introduce yourself to our readers. What’s your story?
Dar Dixon: I’m happy to be here, thanks for having me!
I’ve got an unusual story that would take a long time to unfold, so here’s the ‘sizzle reel’…
- Dar is a half Iranian/half American white boy…born in Tehran, Iran.
- He’s moved over 80 times.
- He escaped the Iranian Revolution with, literally, the clothes on his back.
- He even found himself in a cult…
- And through every crazy thing that’s happened, against insane odds, he’s been succeeding in life & in Hollywood, for almost 30 years.
- People with boring lives have boring stories.
- Nothing boring here.
- Jeez…I think I just set the bar a little higher than I needed to.
My production company is using a multi-platform – transmedia model to tell my life story. As you can tell it’s fairly unusual and I just scratched the surface with that funny little ‘sizzle reel’ introduction I just gave. It’s a little unusual to take one story, or really a super story, and then to create multiple different products from it.
You see the transmedia – multi-platform model used, but normally it’s within the fictional realm. I haven’t seen it used in the nonfiction realm, but to be fair, I’m not only going to tell stories based around my actual life but I’m also going to tell stories that are fictional…metaphorical. It’s extremely hard to get things made in Hollywood. Getting a film made, a television show, a book, a reality television show, you name it, it’s incredibly challenging. To my way of thinking it’s more profitable and resourceful to utilize one super story and then to create multiple worlds out of it. This way you’re not the holding to your film, or television show, or whatever, to be a home run. If it is that’s great, but if it’s not you still got however many things still in the pipeline. Anyway… That’s my story for right now… Haha!
CEOs and leaders usually have different motives and aspirations when getting started. Let’s go straight to the beginning. What was your primary goal for starting your business? Was it wealth, respect, or to offer a service that would help improve lives?
Dar Dixon: I can’t point to any one thing that was the motivation for me to start my business. I have been an entrepreneur since day one almost. I’ve always been interested in the ability to sell things because as everyone knows, selling is the lifeblood of every business.
Of course I started my business to create a profit, but the only way I’ll create a profit is by creating things that are valuable to the marketplace. My business is the entertainment business so it’s imperative that I remember to be entertaining! I’ve seen a lot of different things in my life, survived some incredibly traumatic experiences, and I think I’ve learned many valuable lessons from them. I know how much they’ve helped me in my life, and whenever I’ve shared the stories and lessons with friends, colleagues, and coworkers, it’s made an impact. I think the key – the trick for me – isn’t it keep what I’m doing entertaining, and two drip in a couple of messages along the way. No one wants to get hit over the head with anything. Life is tough enough, right?!
I think the entertainment business is a crucial part of the infrastructure of every society, and every culture. My motto is “Art Is Life & Life Is Art” – the two reflect off of each other, they’re inextricably intertwined. We tell our stories through various mediums, and those stories shape our lives, our culture, our societies, our families, and our world. I hope to not only create beautiful stories but entertaining stories.
Also, having been involved in many other businesses, I know the value of being in a business that is recession-proof… Maybe even depression-proof. The entertainment business is one of those businesses. I’m sorry if that sounds a little harsh. I’m in the entertainment business, and I’m an artist and a businessman. See?! “Art Is Life & Life Is Art”
Tell us about 2 things that you like and two things that you dislike about your industry. Share what you’d like to see change and why.
Dar Dixon: LIkes:
Storytelling – it’s what shapes our lives and our world. Living off of your creative endeavors – It’s a wonderful thing about Los Angeles. You can live off of your creative endeavors. Truthfully we all can and do…it’s just not something that’s supported, encouraged, or made to be aware of.
Dislikes: Only one really… The lack of any kind of oversight. It lends to a ‘wild west’ mentality which can be rather unpleasant.
Human nature is often completely overlooked by almost all people. No one likes to acknowledge their dark side, and consequently it usually rears its ugly head at the worst time and in the worst way for the denier. I’m a creative and I’m a businessman. I’m pragmatic and I’m a dreamer. It’d be wonderful to see something established around bringing awareness to this issue, nurturing its application, and encouraging its practice. I believe it would make Hollywood flourish in ways that it never has before. And given our propensity to spotlight ourselves, our works, and our award ceremonies – let’s be honest, right?! – the ripple effect of that could/would be cool to see.
And, I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for it to happen.
Wait…did I just create more work for myself?
Companies around the world are rapidly changing their work environment and organizational culture to facilitate diversity. How do you see your organizational culture changing in the next 3 years and how do you see yourself creating that change?
Dar Dixon: Thank God for that! It’s long overdue. Given that I married into one of the founding families of the Civil Rights Movement, I feel an obligation both morally and ethically to facilitate not only diversity, but inclusion, equality, and justice for all peoples. Given that half of my extended family is black, my focus is on that already. A large part of my transmedia model is centered around the Civil Rights Movement, the history of black people in America, and all of the amazing untold stories within them. I hope to inspire conversation, dialogue, social action, new legislation, art, film, television, reality TV, books, documentaries,etc.
As my production company grows, I know there will be Iranian stories, Latinx stories, Native stories, Asian stories – Those can’t be told by people that don’t have connection to them. Diversity will be the culture. Just like America promises. United we stand. Divided we fall.
According to the Michigan State University “An organization’s culture is responsible for creating the kind of environment in which the business is managed, and has a major impact on its ultimate success or failure.” What kind of culture has your organization adopted and how has it impacted your business?
Dar Dixon: I think I addressed that in the previous question, let me expound upon it further.
We are all victims of our environment. Perhaps victim is a strong word, so let’s say influenced. You can have the best intentions in the world but without a supportive, encouraging environment, it’s almost impossible to achieve your goals. Now I have use the word environment but you can easily exchange that for culture. What we’re talking about here is a group dynamic. I study group dynamics extensively, as a result of my involvement in a cult. I can hear audible gasps From people as they read that last sentence! I don’t hide that experience in my life. It taught me a great deal about environment, culture, human nature, group dynamics, and the importance of managing your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Because that’s what we’re talking about when we discuss organizational culture/organizational environment.
It’s a major blind spot for almost every corporation. It’s also a tough one to address unless the person or persons addressing the issue have that ‘street cred’. Your people need to know that not only do you know what you’re talkin about, but that you can help them to navigate and manage themselves, and by doing so helping to shape, mold, and move your organization’s culture. When you can do that with your people, you’ve just added a booster rocket to your entire organization. There have been numerous studies that have shown that employees value being acknowledged, admired, and respected for their contribution to an organization’s culture and environment. They value it then a pay increase. That’s profound.
I think the biggest challenge for any organization that wants to improve their culture and the environment for their people, is to not hit them over the head with what I’ve been addressing. Let’s face it, work can be tedious. It’s our responsibility to find ways to make what I’m talking about be something that’s empowering, and hopefully fun!
My production company is centered around my life story. So whether I like it or not these issues are addressed constantly. And frankly I do like it. It gives me an opportunity to connect with the people that work with me, in ways that are more deep and impactful. I find that it gives the people that I work with a sense of fulfillment has been neglected in their lives. It’s important that we find something to contribute to that is bigger than ourselves. It is imperative upon all of us as business leaders to create an environment and culture that isn’t cult-like, or authoritarian. If you will do that you will see your people flourish in ways that you never could have imagined, and your business will flourish in ways that it never has before.
Richard Branson once famously stated “There’s no magic formula for great company culture. The key is just to treat your staff how you would like to be treated.” and Stephen R. Covey admonishes to “Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers. What’s your take on creating a great organizational culture?
Dar Dixon: It starts from within each individual. That’s why I find it imperative to help my people understand how important it is to manage their thoughts, emotions, feelings, and actions, I agree with both Branson and Covey, you don’t have to make it complicated. Start small and gradually add one more thing every week. I think the thing that’s often overlooked is that if someone doesn’t feel good about themselves, the work they do, the corporation, the environment, and the culture – there is no way that they are going to treat customers in the way that best serves you organization.
Empower your people, support your people, encourage your people, makes your organization an exciting place to be, make the culture fun. It’s not rocket science. If people feel good they make better decisions, and those better decisions will reflect not only within the organization and the culture, but towards the bottom line.
Marcus Lemonis gets it. People, process, product. Don’t get it twisted.
The overwhelming majority of more than 9,000 workers included in a recent Accenture survey on the future of work said they felt a hybrid work model would be optimal going forward, a major reason for that being the improved work-life balance that it offers. How do you promote work-life balance at your company?
Dar Dixon: Most of the work done at my company is in the entertainment field. The entertainment industry is a whole different animal in many regards, especially in production. What I mean by that is that you have long hours, but it’s for a short period of time – 30 days of production. Having been production assistant when I first started in this business, and now running a production company, I know what it’s like to have someone over work you. Long hours – little rest. It’s a recipe for disaster. So I make sure to not have that happen with the people that work for me. I think the most important place to start is by defining the culture and creating a safe environment. To me is safe environment is one where the communication is open, and ideas are shared. My industry is collaborative. One of the biggest issues that I see is people not actively listening to the people that work for them, and with them. And again all of that circles back to the environment that you have at your workplace, and the culture that you create.
How would you describe your company’s overall culture? Give us examples.
Dar Dixon: When I was a teenager I had the good fortune to attend Jerry West’s basketball camp, and John Wooden’s basketball camp. They were both excellent oh, but the one that I recall still to this day was John Wooden’s basketball camp. Coach wooden was a stickler for the fundamentals. I think it wasn’t until the third day out of seven days, that we finally got a chance to actually shoot baskets. Up until that time all we had done was work on ball-handling, ball passing, movement without the ball, and developing our peripheral vision. Now that is boring as hell to any teenage boy wanting to play basketball, and it’s fundamental to being able to play basketball more effectively, efficiently, and intelligently. We spent hours running up and down the court, cradling the ball from one hand to the next, between our legs, behind our backs, dribbling it in place, dribbling it behind our backs, dribbling it through our legs… Haha – it was endless. But I’ll be damned if I wasn’t a better basketball player at the end of that week. My progress and Improvement was so pronounced that I made the varsity basketball team as a freshman.
It may sound boring, it’s definitely not sexy, and it’s critically important in developing an effective, efficient, intelligent culture. I think it’s imperative to work on the fundamentals of mastering your own human nature, and your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and actions. The game of life is an inner game. Everyone skill-set being equal, the person who has better control of their mind and a better understanding of human nature is going to succeed more often than not. Additionally that person is going to be a more well-adjusted, happier, more peaceful, and more loving person. I know that may sound ridiculous to some people, but I still haven’t met anyone on their deathbed say that they wish they’d been more hateful, angry, spiteful, and vindictive towards others. I understand how the world works, and I know that this is not the prevailing attitude in the workplace especially. And I think it’s something worth striving for. I believe the creating a culture that encourages, supports, and uplifts those skills and it’s people, will not only have a better working environment the more profitable business, but people who feel fulfilled. Because those people will be working for something bigger than just themselves. Bigger than just the business itself. That’s powerful.
Like John Lennon said…”You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one”
It is believed that a company’s culture is rooted in a company’s values. What are your values and how do they affect daily life at the workplace?
Dar Dixon: I think I’ve covered that already but the shorter answer is supporting a collaborative, communicative, empowering culture and environment. That means focusing on people’s needs and their wants, and making sure that they are met in the most resourceful ways not only for the people, but for the company and the culture.
An organization’s management has a deep impact on its culture. What is your management style and how well has it worked so far?
Dar Dixon: Find people who are great at what they do, hire them, pay them more than anyone else will, support them, and have quarterly reviews. Communication is crucial, and frequently the most powerful form of communication is overlooked: actively listening. Again it’s not sexy, but it’s highly effective. The way I measure how things are working out is in the responses I received from the people that work with me, and alongside me. And I’m not talking about response I receiving meeting, I’m talking about the responses I received in casual conversation. Those times that you least expect to hear it. And of course what we hear back from our customers, clients, in the marketplace.
Every organization suffers from internal conflicts, whether functional or dysfunctional. Our readers would love to know, how do you solve an internal conflict?
Dar Dixon: Active listening. It’s incredibly powerful. That’s why I focus on hiring the best people, and supporting them. That’s why I focus on the fundamentals human nature, doing those things I will eliminate at least 50% of the internal conflicts that are going to occur. I think that’s an excellent starting place. This is something that most business leaders don’t talk about frequently enough, in my opinion. Internal conflicts are a direct result of hurt feelings. Just simple as that. Part of my job is in curbing that from occurring in the first place. Then when it does occur the bigger part of my job is to effectively negotiate between the parties. If we’re willing to accept that the conflict is emotional – and trust me it always is – then we must accept that emotions are not rational, and so then it becomes a matter of artfully negotiating an emotional minefield. That starts by addressing each person’s upset – real or perceived. You’ll be amazed how much can get resolved, and how quickly it can get resolved just by listening to what’s being said. I could go on for hours about this, but I think this gives a good overview.
According to Culture AMP, Only 40% of women feel satisfied with the decision-making process at their organization (versus 70% of men), which leads to job dissatisfaction and poor employee retention. What is your organization doing to facilitate an inclusive and supportive environment for women?
Dar Dixon: By addressing the inherent patriarchy of our world. You are only as strong as the weakest link in your chain, right? That being the case, I’m looking to eliminate as much weakness as possible. In the case of women not feeling heard and or represented in the decision-making process, I think the smart thing to do is to address the issue head-on. Again we’re dealing with a person’s feelings here. We’re dealing with communication, with actively listening, with negotiating successfully. It’s amazing to me that more attention isn’t spent on developing emotional intelligence. Women are far more emotionally intelligent than men are; that’s just a fact. Why wouldn’t an organization pay attention to that? It’s so obvious to me. So many conflicts can be avoided by being emotionally intelligent about your approach to conflict resolution. Men are not those creatures. Haha. Again, I could go on for hours about this too – I support women, because I support human beings.
If you will allow me to get a bit philosophical for a moment ; The great Swami Vivekananda addressed this topic beautifully when the question was posed to him. I’d like to share it here with your readers in hopes that they might reflect more deeply on this issue.
Remember – we all came into this world through a woman. It’s high time that we show them the respect, love, support, and encouragement, and equality that is their birthright. Although Vivekananda was addressing the world, it’s important to remember that your organization and your employees ARE that world.
“There is no chance for the welfare of the world unless the condition of woman is improved. It is not possible for a bird to fly on only one wing.”
What role do your company’s culture and values play in the recruitment process and how do you ensure that it is free from bias?
Dar Dixon: By focusing on the topics I’ve been discussing, I think that it causes the people that work for me to be more aware. You can’t control the things that you aren’t aware of. I don’t know that it’s possible to claim that any company, institution, business, person, place, or thing, can claim to be free from bias. That’s absurd, in my opinion. We all have biases. It’s not about being “free from bias”, but rather being aware of our inherent biases, and then acting to insure that they are addressed immediately. The human brain is wired to insure our survival. That mechanism necessitates selfishness. That selfishness is prone to have a bias towards our own wants and needs. The trick is in being aware of our biases, so that we can make more resourceful, inclusive, diverse, choices.
We’re grateful for all that you have shared so far! We would also love to know if there was one thing that you could improve about your company’s culture, what would it be?
Dar Dixon: I don’t know if there’s any “one thing” that I’d look to improve. I think it’s about continual, ever increasing, improvement in all the areas that we’ve been discussing. So, maybe that’s the “one thing” after all!
This has been truly insightful and we thank you for your time. Our final question, however, might be a bit of a curveball. If you had a choice to either fly or be invisible, which would you choose and why?
Dar Dixon: Fly.
No human being desires to be invisible…Generally speaking, of course. Every human being desires to fly. Literally and/or metaphorically. I’m no different. How wonderful it must feel to soar with the winds.
Literally and Metaphorically.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Dar Dixon for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Dar Dixon or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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