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Copy the Leader: Derek Kwan

Jayhawks in leadership positions are everywhere you look, including through the Jayhawk Career Network. KU Alumni, in partnership with SumnerOne, is highlighting Jayhawk leaders who are models for others in their industries with our “Copy the Leader” program.

Derek Kwan is the Executive Director at the Lied Center of Kansas, the university’s performing arts theatre.

What do you do in your work?

It is my responsibility to ensure the Lied Center serves KU and the region by effectively functioning as a catalyst for the arts, creativity, engagement and community building. We do this by presenting a diverse and relevant series of renowned guest performing artists, engaging stakeholders of all ages through experiential learning opportunities and serving as a communal gathering space for shared experience.

What are the qualities of a good leader?

A good leader:

  • Knows when to follow and when to lead.
  • Embodies humility and would never ask a team member to do something they wouldn’t do themselves.
  • Embraces and celebrates those team members who excel and raise the entire organization’s performance instead of feeling threatened by them.
  • Takes full responsibility for the organization’s shortcomings and implements the necessary steps to educate and improve outcomes.
  • Provides the space for each team member to express themselves and is transparent about decision making.
  • Exemplifies the highest ethics and cultivates an environment of professionalism.
  • Pushes for continuous improvement for themselves and the entire team.
Derek Kwan and the cast of North
Kwan (back row left) with the cast of NORTH: The Musical

How do you practice leadership at your job?

I am committed to doing everything I can to ensure our team is successful, which can take many forms on any given day. I love the opportunity to do work in a manner that builds trust. When we are hosting a national tour of a Broadway production, I may assist with unloading the four semi-trucks of equipment if we are unexpectedly short-staffed. In preparation for the KU Powwow & Indigenous Cultures Festival, I may assist in setting up dozens of tables, chairs and tents. Or, I may brainstorm with a team member on how best to manage a personnel situation. I will never ask a team member to do something I wouldn’t do myself.

What makes a team or group successful?

A successful team is a group that is all rowing in the same direction. This does not mean there isn’t diversity of thought, but the greater mission is understood and embraced by all instead of individuals only looking out for their own silos. Building mutual trust between all team members is essential as well as finding the time to laugh together.

How can leaders in your industry help their organizations adapt to change?

The pandemic really turned the live events business upside down. As an industry we learned so much, and the sooner organizations accepted the fact that they would never return to the pre-pandemic environment, the better off they have been. Organizations that had already adopted a continuous improvement mindset prior to the pandemic have been much more resilient.

The Copy the Leader program is brought to you by SumnerOne. SumnerOne is one of the largest independent office technology dealers in the Midwest, with offices in Missouri, Kansas, Illinois, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. We’re a family of respected companies united by ONE goal: to exceed your expectations and help you get the most from your investments in printing, IT, and document technology.

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