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A Leadership Conversation with Tareneh Manning (and who wins the epic battle: Yoda or Michael Jordan?)

Some of the most inspiring leaders do their highest impact work during the odd hours, away from typical office settings or boardrooms. They’re people who bring enormous talent and energy to supporting community-based nonprofit organizations, often without thought of financial compensation as they give the best of themselves to initiatives and programs that provide broad benefit to countless others.

Tareneh Manning is one of those servant leaders, supporting the Arts Center of the Ozarks in Springdale, Arkansas with untold time, passion and unique expertise that comes from her own brand of common sense—always with a twist. She has served the nonprofit arts center for years as a dedicated volunteer, board president and even interim executive director as it searched for new permanent leadership. Her work has spanned the center’s struggles to clearly define itself and it’s programming in a rapidly changing community landscape, as well as the organization’s efforts to find the funds to make the facility and staff sustainable. Through it all, Tareneh has been encouraging and motivating others to dig in and do their best work.

Her perspectives and guidance are in the context of her own art nonprofit leadership experience, but their application is relevant for any leader in any setting:

Please tell us a little bit about what you do and what inspired you to become involved in it.

I am one of those quirky people born knowing my purpose in life was to raise myself out of abject poverty and extraordinarily rough experiences, so I would be able to identify potential and opportunities to support others as we cocreate a better world and lives. I have always trusted my inner guidance.

 Art is a calling and a healer. It is more than academic to me when I say that the arts and sciences are central mechanisms of highly developed societies; they are neither inherently good or evil as they can be used to build or destroy. Our western culture grew out of the scientific revolution and industrialization, the value we have placed on the sciences has overwhelmed the importance of the arts to edify our quality of life. I deeply believe in the power of the arts. It is time to restore the balance, be intentional, and use the power of art for good.

 In our current cultural landscape, we have the opportunity to use the arts to bridge communities, develop economies, heal, educate, and create beautiful, healthier places to live and work. I am also committed to the arts because I contend that we are created in the image of the creator, so we ourselves must inherently be creators. It follows that the act of creating (as in making art) is the most straightforward and possibly one of the highest approaches to tapping into this significant part of our true selves as individual—and as a collective. My work at the Arts Center of the Ozarks is profound to me because it is builds authentic connections through community-focused arts. Growing an inclusive and dynamic arts center in a part of the Northwest Arkansas region that was long neglected is an opportunity to uplift that I am called to do. For me, it is a spiritual labor of love. 

What are three principles you have discovered over time that are non-negotiable when leading or influencing others?

Three principles I find have become non-negotiable in leading are:

  1. To instill the team with the concept that everything is ‘figureoutable’ and to empower us all to discover and create the solutions
  2. To lead by example and show up to move the needle every day
  3. To truly care about the people you are working with even if some of them try to make that impossible: love is unconditional or it really isn’t loving at all

What is one characteristic you believe every leader should possess?

Every leader should BELIEVE in what they are doing!

How do you encourage creative thinking with employees or volunteers?

Ha! Sometimes when working with creatives the trick is not how to encourage creative thinking, but it is how to get them back on track without squishing their creative flow. It helps to encourage the flow, to let people talk, roll on tangents, or even digress. Whether in a formal or casual scenario, the aim is to identify the most effective, efficient, or innovative ideas and bring those back into the fold by asking how we should structure our next steps to implement them. 

Who is someone who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Why and how?

I guess I can’t say Madonna because I’m not 15 anymore. Over the past few years there are four women I view as real Super Women: Marsha Jones, Susan Schallhorn, Lynn Carver, and Debby Weiser. I adore that they all show up in myriad ways that usually include providing brain power, financial support, and elbow grease as they get busy rolling up their sleeves to help make it happen. I often model what I have learned watching them as they have worked by my side. Some of the more useful skills include engaging with leaders across many fields, planning strategies, leading volunteers, leveraging, and on occasion I still find myself trying to emulate Lynn’s quiet leadership style. If you know me, then you know that last one is all for naught. 

What are your favorite questions to ask those you lead?

Are you happy doing this work? Do you find it meaningful? Is it serving you by building towards your goals? Do you think it serves or impacts others? 

What do you believe is most important for developing the next generation of leaders in your world?

If we truly want to create a better, healthier, and happier world then we must educate our leaders to pair critical thinking with critical caring. 

How do you steward your personal relationships with clients, customers, staff, peers and other leaders?

I borrowed my personal motto from Louise Hay: “I truly believe that we are all here to bless and prosper one another.” This is a foundation built from love—which permeates my actions and hopefully my interactions with others. I conscientiously try to bless others by being helpful as often as I can. Blessing others and receiving blessings is a beautiful way to steward relationships even if others are not aware it is occurring. 

How do you fuel yourself to keep your commitment and engagement fresh?

Going deeper into or discovering new, varied spiritual traditions feeds my soul. I really love diving into religion, philosophy, and seeing how science is finally corroborating the deep spiritual truths taught to humanity throughout the ages. Spending time exploring the divine and connecting with God, or the quantum field if you want to be “scientisty” about it, is the perfect way for me to recharge when I have depleted myself. 

What would you say has been your greatest career accomplishment—or makes you most proud?

Truthfully, I don’t have an answer because I am at a midway point toward my goals. I am very proud though, that I have repeatedly overcome my own deep-seated fears and inadequacies and I keep showing up every day to move the needle in big and small ways. 

What questions are you asking yourself lately?

Sometimes when the fear of failure creeps into my thoughts, I find myself pitting Yoda against Michael Jordan. Which of their wise ways will serve me best? How can I reconcile Yoda’s tough love, “Do or do not. There is no try,” against Michael Jordan’s experience? “I’ve missed 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” It’s a conundrum. I never seem to settle on an answer, but I do reassure myself that it is impossible to truly fail at my objective if I get back up and keep moving forward every day. And, after all, in reality the successes and failures are all just illusions that I experience to grow.

At Milestone Leadership, we celebrate leaders like Tareneh Manning. We recognize that when people bring the best part of themselves to their work with others, the possibilities are infinite. Whether leadership is taking place in the boardroom, the classroom, the sports arena or a theatre, incredible things happen when it is conducted with solid values, conviction and consistency.


Kelly Hale Syer
Milestone Leadership

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