Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Managers as directors

I've long been curious about the parallels between managing business projects and directing movies and plays. It seems like the work has many similarities: ad hoc teams; one-off goals; short-term timelines; fixed budgets; nebulous decision rights and chains of command. I've even got preliminary notes for a management book based on the study of highly successful directors -- Hitchcock, Lean, Capra, Spielberg -- gathering dust in my file drawer.

So, I enjoyed reading the new paperback edition of Notes on Directing: 130 Lessons in Leadership from the Director's Chair (Walker & Company) by Frank Hauser and Russell Reich. Written for stage directors, it's a slim book of brief lessons (most are just a paragraph or two), many of which are applicable to anyone responsible for leading a project or people. Here's a couple:

7. Learn to love a play you don't particularly like. You may be asked -- or may choose -- to direct a play that, for any number of reasons, you don't think is very good. In such cases it is better to focus and build on the play's virtues than attempt to repair its inherent problems.

65. Never, NEVER bully...either by shouting or sarcasm or, worst of all, imitation. It will get a laugh and make an enemy. Using imitation to show an actor what he's doing wrong is allowable when all else has failed; but do it, if you have to do it at all, privately.

73. Know your actors. Some like a lot of attention; others want to be left alone. Some like written notes; some spoken. Get to know them. It doesn't have to take long. It's a good investment that will pay enormous benefits later.

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