As executive director of Ballet Austin for 13 years, Cookie Ruiz has successfully led the company, alongside artistic director Stephen Mills, onto the national and international arts scene. Even more than that, her vision, savvy, and soul have touched almost every part of the Austin community. She has led us in ways both formal and informal-by serving large institutions and by mentoring young women one at a time.
Much to Austin’s delight, Cookie has signed a ten-year contract with Ballet Austin through 2021. In the meantime, here’s what Cookie shared with my career accelerator site, WomenAdvance.com, about becoming a leader:
Do you have a woman leader role model?
I was tremendously impacted by the appointment of Sandra Day O’Connor as the first female Supreme Court Justice–not because of political views, but because I saw that a woman could finally be chosen to sit on the Supreme Court. This became an important filter through which I began to consider new possibilities. The world grew a little in my eyes. Any time a child can see “someone like me” succeed, it opens up the possibilities in that life. Justice O’Connor did this for me.
What do you think are the top three habits of a good leader?
- Articulating a clear vision to board and team members
- Surrounding yourself with amazing people passionate about attaining the vision
- Excellent hearing . . . and the willingness to use it
Could you share a story about one of your hardest lessons-learned as a leader?
There is a terminal disease that can easily infect leaders, particularly in the nonprofit sector. While infected, you see yourself much like the Dutch boy in the children’s story who physically prevents his village from drowning by plugging up holes in the dam with his fingers and toes. . .