A passion for creativity, storytelling, and disrupting the status quo were instilled in Joe Towne from a young age. Joe’s mother was an artist, his father was a rock & roll DJ, and his stepfather was a videographer. Their early influence, combined with time spent living in an artist commune, laid the groundwork for a career in the arts. Joe has spent the past 30 years fulfilling that destiny as an actor, a content creator, and an acting coach/mentor. Additionally, he worked as a life coach, a feng shui consultant and a producer.
Born in upstate NY and raised on Long Island, Joe’s professional journey has taken him from coast to coast and across the Atlantic. He graduated with a BA in Theater from The University of Southern California and interned at 20th Century Fox. Joe then headed back east, where he pursued a career in theater and embarked on a 30-year journey that took him to the UK and back. Along the way, he studied at NYC’s Stella Adler with June Stein and with Gary Austin, founder and creator of The Groundlings.
A huge sports fan, Joe began noticing that athletes at the highest levels were training their minds in much the same way they were training their crafts and bodies. Researching the science behind this, Joe was determined to implement for actors what he was finding worked for athletes.
In 2018, The Performers Mindset was born to complement actors and creatives of all types with proven mindset tools and techniques to take their work to the next level, while helping relieve stress and burnout. Through his mindset coaching, Joe hopes to encourage the next generation of actors, athletes, broadcasters, and corporate professionals to bring that high level of authenticity to all their endeavors.
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Table of Contents
Welcome to your ValiantCEO exclusive interview! Let’s start with a little introduction. Tell us about yourself.
Joe Towne: I am a performer, first and foremost. I’ve spent the better part of the last thirty years performing on stages either in New York, Paris or Edinburgh Scotland, and on film and TV sets in Los Angeles, Vancouver and even Pakistan.
As a creator, I have made animated films, live action films and short form television. I have written for radio and written books and both short and feature length screenplays. Some of them have already been produced and several are currently in development.
As a coach, I mostly work with artists, athletes and executives, although I love when we get to work with students as well.
A few years back, I started a performance training company based in Los Angeles. In the last few years, we have been across Canada (both in person and virtually), the East Coast of the United States and are starting to work virtually in Europe as well.
NO child ever says I want to be a CEO when I grow up. What did you want to be and how did you get to where you are today? Give us some lessons you learned along the way.
Joe Towne: My first dream was to step inside the stories I was seeing on screen: The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars. I went up to my parents and asked how I could get in. As I grew up, I played sports (soccer and baseball mostly) and then I fell in love with baseball and played locally. Later, I went to baseball camp in Trenton, New Jersey and for a hot minute, I thought that might be my path. When my eyes changed, I became afraid of the high, inside fastball and my thinking shifted about being a ballplayer.
I wanted to act but had no confidence. Fortunately, I had a school that invested in the arts and ended up being a part of thirty plays in High School and doing local theatre before heading off to study at USC. I was also passionate about psychology. I was interested in it from the perspective of humanity and as a child who had gone to a therapist but mostly through the lens of understanding the characters, I was playing a bit better.It wasn’t until the last ten years that it all started to come together in the coaching space: Sports. Acting. Psychology.
A few lessons along the way are that being vulnerable is a superpower. Artists learn skills to share their vulnerability in and around their craft but for athletes and executives it can be quite scary. It seems like vulnerability leaves us exposed in some way, but I believe it is a deep strength and I am happy for the world to have champions like Bene Brown standing on the table and letting us know what’s up.
Another lesson has been that taking risks requires an environment that celebrates them. I’ve worked in exacting harsh conditions and many purposefully space spaces and the most growth happens when risk leads to failures and learnings and ultimately growth. It is easier when celebrating risk is championed and baked into the culture, though it is possible for someone to become their best ally no matter the external circumstances.
Lastly, I have learned that there is nothing more important than flow. Whether we call it being in the zone, or a runner’s high or we call it letting The Force flow through you…it’s the same thing. It’s the most optimal state a human can perform in and though it happens to us all at times (like when we get so focused on something we lose track of time and space) it’s important for us to understand how to work with our bodies and minds to make it possible to happen on purpose and with more frequency.
Tell us about your business, what does the company do? What is unique about the company?
Joe Towne: We are a training company for performers. I started working with actors on auditions and preparing them for set. This expanded to coaching creatives for talks, interviews and concerts. Slowly, I started to meet and work with college and professional athletes across multiple sports from football to MMA fighting and vertical runners.
We started working with executives from multiple disciplines whether that be cosmetics, or film and tv studio executives or marketing firms.
Our team now works with business executives, television and film actors/producers, acting schools, sports teams, universities, and more. Many of us are parents, partners, professional doers and thinkers, who strive to be the best in our fields while investing in the people and things that bring us joy… much like you.
Many hard-working professionals train and develop specific parts of their process – what we think of as “craft” or “technique”, but neglect training their mindset and daily practice habits.
We examine ways to effectively process feedback, how to transform our relationship with nerves and stress, the positive impact of mindfulness training, alternatives to negative “self-talk”, exercises to build confidence, and performance training both on camera and in front of live audiences. What is unique about the company?
We are at the intersection of art and sport. It’s one thing to say we want to be confident and it’s another thing to train it. We feel that there is a ton for artists and athletes to learn from and teach each other. The combination of the two is part of what we don’t see happening elsewhere.
Our tools are unique in that they apply to any craft. We train performers across many different career paths. We use proven, science-based mindset tools and principles to achieve innovative ways of managing motivation, stress, and to building confidence and connection. This is not just applicable to business and craft, it is invaluable in everyday life.
We come from a bunch of different viewpoints on performance: Where else can elite broadcasters, film creators, voiceover stars, and world class improvisers all be found?
Many of the leaders in the performing arts space are decades removed from putting themselves out there in their work. We are working professionals and everything that we are suggesting we put into practice ourselves…often hours or days before sharing them in our classes and coachings.
As Teddy Roosevelt said: “It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena.”
We are constantly told two things: These feel obvious, why isn’t this being done already? Where were you 20 years ago?
How to become a CEO? Some will focus on qualities, others on degrees, how would you answer that question?
Joe Towne: The first thing I would say is to be additive, meaning: seek to provide value by leaving things better than you found them. This impacts every position you will ever finds yourself in, including leadership roles.
Second, recognize the value of and invest in relationships. If you can put relationships at the center of what you are trying to do, then people will feel valued because they are valued.
Third, lead by example. Everyone is watching what we do, whether it’s in a moment of celebration or disappointment, public or private. As we know is true with children, they will act on what is modeled not just doing something bevies someone said so.
Be a CEO before you are a CEO. Become that leader that you seek to be recognized for. We get rewarded in public for all the efforts we practice in private and so by the time the opportunity arises, not only will you feel more confident making the leap into this role, but others are also more likely to trust putting you there as well.
What are the secrets to becoming a successful CEO? Who inspires you, who are your role models and why? Illustrate your choices.
Joe Towne: I think a large part of it is making time to do the lonely work. This is the work that no one else can do for us but us. Some of this may be getting quiet. Some of this is figuring out who you are, what you believe in…and the most important aspect as it pertains to being a success is to know your why.
If you know your why, then you can communicate that why to others and hopefully inspire them to do the same. If the entire company knows their why (not just for themselves but also for the work, they and the company are doing) then the people engaging with the company and seeking its products and services are more likely to connect and come back as well.
Another key ingredient for me is servant leadership. Putting our customers at the top (everything is in service to them) and then having the entire organization under them, holding them up and supporting the result they are seeking, which is finding ways to do and be better. In this inverted pyramid, we would place ourselves at the bottom. Embodying what it means to truly serve and be of service.
I think that coach Pete Carroll does this well at the Seattle Seahawks. I think that Microsoft is seeking to do this well. Brené Brown. Steve Kerr. Adam Grant.
So often, I think that artists balk at or are embarrassed by working in the food service or some other service industry. I wonder if part of that is to instill in us the idea that even when we reach the highest heights…we remember what we are there to do.
I think it was Michael Jordan who talked about not being able to take a night off or phone in his effort because someone paid good money to buy a ticket to see him play and that is why he does what he does.
Lastly, it is the idea of getting one percent better, consistently and over time. This requires having a growth mindset and being willing to humble ourselves and think again. The idea of constantly going around proving ourselves all the time is exhausting and it can make us more stressed. Being interested in growth and growing as a goal serves us in more ways than one.
Many CEOs fall into the trap of being all over the place. What are the top activities a CEO should focus on to be the best leader the company needs? Explain.
Joe Towne: Starting the day with an intentional practice, however short that sets us up for the rest of the day. This is a time that is just for us. That allows us to connect to what matters the most and then to fill up before stepping into other people’s stories and worlds and demands. This practice has been essential for me to not get pulled towards everyone else’s urgency and to stay connected to what matters the most.
The specifics of this may be personal and evolve over time but making the time to do this consistently is important.
The second is having moments to touch base on the intention we set for ourselves earlier in the day. As Yogi Berra once said, “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”
Lastly, develop skills and tools around deep listening. Practicing deep listening not only connects us to the moment we are in, but it makes people feel seen and heard as we re-share what we take in from them and it allows us to have better recall on what we are discussing.
The Covid-19 Pandemic put the leadership skills of many to the test, what were some of the most difficult challenges that you faced as a CEO/Leader in the past year? Please list and explain in detail.
Joe Towne: The first thing was adjusting our plan. We had just hit some great momentum and were excited to be offered opportunities to travel to different cities and work with people in Vancouver and Toronto and soon New York, Colorado, Nashville and Atlanta. When the shutdown happened, we had to pivot and that required us to get to the essence of what we were seeking to do and decouple from the form it was taking.
The second thing was losing employees as people were fighting hard battles everywhere. It takes time to create chemistry and workflow and each employee matters to us so much. We wanted to celebrate whatever they were being called to next while also balancing the impact it was having on us to bring new people up and online, sometimes catching up to a moving train.
Lastly, I would say trying to be all things to all people. Sometimes the battle is between people that are geographically challenged, and they prefer us to be virtual so they can participate. At a certain point people are zoom fatigued out so the idea of being on a screen is something they are now very allergic to. We are also trying to be conscious of people’s budgets at a time when things are tighter while also holding our own value and attempting to sustain ourselves during this growth period. Lastly, people sometimes wanted us to do things that, in the spirit of collaboration or experimentation we said yes to, but our systems weren’t really set up to do. So, we must remind ourselves of what we are intending to do and focus on doing that better than we have done it before.
What are some of the greatest mistakes you’ve noticed some business leaders made during these unprecedented times? What are the takeaways you gleaned from those mistakes?
Joe Towne: I have noticed some companies ignoring peoples changing priorities. They want to keep doing things that have worked for them in the past while not hearing feedback or reading signs that people want something new now.
I think that some companies tried to get everyone back in the office too soon. We saw that in the spring after vaccinations came out and with new variants rising, the back to the office schedule got adjusted. But it’s not just about coming back to the office and productivity, it is also about allowing for peoples to process coming back into.
During a remounting of the Broadway Show Hamilton here in Los Angeles, castmates were invited to walk away for a few moments to take care of themselves if they needed a mental break. The more we can do this, the fewer instances of elite athletes tapping out of competitions altogether, we may see. The fewer people that may seek to transition out of their jobs.
Lastly, I would say that people are doing “performative DEI.” This is where they are doing things on a surface level as a way of showing others that what is being asked for in the world matters to a company, but employees and others see through these actions. We are struggling with incorporating diversity, equity and inclusion into our teams and structure, but we know it’s important for us to do things the right way and for us that sometimes means it’s going to take a bit longer.
We need to do the lonely work (as referenced before) and know what matters to us the most. And then put it up on the wall or over a doorway as Ted Lasso does.
The second thing is that we sometimes need to go slow to go fast. Too often I feel the pull to other people’s urgency and try to do things in a way that feels out of alignment. I have found that if we go slower at first, we can easily start moving faster but if we start fast, we have to keep stopping and it ultimately is less efficient.
Ultimately, we have found that we need to value authenticity. We need to know who we are and the risk and vulnerability it takes to do that is epic. It isn’t always easy for us, but we know we can do hard things.
In your opinion, what changes played the most critical role in enabling your business to survive/remain profitable, or maybe even thrive? What lessons did all this teach you?
Joe Towne: I would say firstly embracing virtual. At first, it was something that we weren’t sure how to do well and we weren’t sure we could deliver an experience that was up to our standards of excellence. Once we figured out ways to play around within the constraints of working online and noticed that we were still impacting people, it became something we embraced and something we are extremely proud of. We give good Zoom!
Another thing was hiring amazing people who were willing to learn. We were less interested in perfection or requirements that people were experts in certain areas…it was again about relationships, growth, risk and collaboration and it’s turned out well for us.
Another thing has been to show up for people as much as possible and really listening to them. We know that people will tell us what they need if we are willing to make space to hear them.
Some of this new way of working is here to stay. Auditions in the Entertainment industry will likely remain most virtual (live or self-tapes). Working remotely is likely to be at least a part of most people work lives for a while. We cannot go back to “normal.” There is only forward.
And forward will have its own wrinkles and challenges. Mostly surrounding the unknown and uncertainty. If we can train these things and be willing to accept the new landscape, we will likely adapt quicker and ultimately be more successful. I am also very optimistic about the hybrid format of working. Both in-person and virtual at the same time.
What is the #1 most pressing challenge you’re trying to solve in your business right now?
Joe Towne: For us, it’s finding ways to remove bottlenecks on our systems. Particularly with regards to me.
As we adapt and things re-open, we are trying to do a lot at the same time. Also, our processes and visioning are inclusive of others and working across time zones and with other obligations it’s just taking longer right now.
I need to do a better job of delegating, but as things are moving fast and furious its harder to create space for front loading and framing and then discussing afterwards ways, we can act on what we learned and improve for next time.
Lastly, we are really interested in how we start to engage with people while we sleep. We have always worked with people directly but in order to scale sharing these offerings we need to prioritize our recorded content and continue developing our apps and books etc.
You already shared a lot of insights with our readers and we thank you for your generosity. Normally, leaders are asked about their most useful qualities but let’s change things up a bit. What is the most useless skill you have learned, at school or during your career?
Joe Towne: I don’t really believe there is any such thing as a useless skill, only on a limit on the application of those skills. They all helped us become the thinker and the do-er we are today. For example, I learned Microsoft excel back when I was working in sales at a book publishing company out of college. It is now incredibly helpful when producing my own projects.
It seems like we are back to dissolving the form and embracing the essence. And the essence is that learning new skills is in and of itself a worthwhile skillset, as is the mindset of what comes up when we are attempting to learn.
In the spirit of your question, however, I would say my first job at nine which was sottering computer parts, and later painting Disney characters. Both of which really helped me with eye hand coordination and motor skills and training deep focus. When I rushed, I had to go back and do it again.
Thank you so much for your time but before we finish things off, we do have one more question. We will select these answers for our ValiantCEO Award 2021 edition. The best answers will be selected to challenge the award.
Share with us one of the most difficult decisions you had to make, this past year 2021, for your company that benefited your employees or customers. What made this decision so difficult and what were the positive impacts?
Joe Towne: The most difficult decision we made was stopping what we were doing and taking a pause. It is something we value in what we have learned and coach and teach and the idea of turning off the faucet of productivity for a period of time feels incredible disruptive of our hustle culture. It risked us killing our momentum and it was just so uncomfortable to do. The positive impact is that we were able to come back fresher and stronger and clearer on the other side.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Joe Towne 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 Joe Towne or his company, you can do it through his – Instagram
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