Richard Masur Talks About The Act of Leading Unions

Each week students in SMLR’s Leadership in Work Organizations course take part in an in-depth examination of leadership—what it is, where it comes from, and how people develop and exercise it—with a focus on leadership within work organizations, including labor unions that represent workers in the workplace.

Above: Actor Richard Masur (farthest left) attends Dean Susan J. Schurman's (on right) class to discuss how he became a union leader.

On September 24, 2012, Dean Susan J. Schurman and Professor Rebecca Givan, the leadership course instructors, invited Actor Richard Masur to attend the class as a guest speaker. Masur is a longstanding member of all three performers' unions—Screen Actors Guild (SAG), American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), and Actors’ Equity Association—as well as several other entertainment unions. He is a former national president of SAG, board member of the Motion Picture and Television Fund, and served on the board of the SAG Foundation and the pension and health funds. Masur played a key role in drafting the newly merged SAG-AFTRA’s constitution and bylaws. He currently serves as a member of the executive committee of the New York SAG-AFTRA Local and has a role in the new HBO hit, Girls

“Everyone in this room has the potential to be a leader,” said Masur, addressing the class. “If you pick up tools—life lessons—along your way, you can do a vast array of things you didn’t think you can.”  

Masur discussed how his ability to understand and embody another person’s point of view helps him as a union leader. He also explained the dynamic between leadership and membership, noting that good leaders are humble, facilitate group discussions before taking action, and do not assume they know the best solutions.

Richard Masur shares the necessary tools for leadership.

“I was impressed that in the unions’ merger, he was able to get hundreds of actors to reach a goal. I also took away the importance of listening to people and not imposing your own views on issues,” said Laura Pinto, a student in the class.

After answering several questions from the class, Masur shared a key lesson about failure. He underscored this point by drawing similarities between actors on auditions with students on job interviews. “You have to detach with respect and redefine failure,” he says. “A leader’s job is to let go of winning.”

Professor Givan was pleased with the class discussion. “With his many years of experience, Richard was the perfect person to discuss what it is like to lead in an entertainment union,” said Professor Givan. “He gave our students a great deal of insight into the challenges and rewards of leading a complex organization.”

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