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Leadership Through a New Lens: Running Your Company Like a Film & TV Set

What constitutes a great leader?  This is a hotly debated topic in the business world — and rightly so. Our obsession with great leadership is founded on our pursuit of success. A company can’t be successful unless its employees are successful, and employees won’t be successful unless there is great leadership presence within the company. […]

What constitutes a great leader? 

This is a hotly debated topic in the business world — and rightly so. Our obsession with great leadership is founded on our pursuit of success. A company can’t be successful unless its employees are successful, and employees won’t be successful unless there is great leadership presence within the company. See the cycle?

This is why you read countless headlines about leadership. This is why you’ve noticed the rising influence of great leaders. We consume articles about people like Sheryl Sandberg and follow people like Jeff Bezos on social media because of what they’ve achieved in their respective industries. We know we have something to learn from them.

What do we already know about great leaders? We know they eat, sleep, and breathe their business. We know they spend most of their days running around putting out fires. We know they live in a constant state of busyness, yet can effectively manage their time. We know they must be both goal and people oriented. When I think of these leadership normalities, and when I think of the structure of a company, I am reminded of how similar it is to being on a film and TV set. 

It’s time we look at leadership through a new lens. Here are some lessons you can learn from the entertainment industry that will inspire organizational change:

Don’t stop until you get it right

Stanley Kubrick made Tom Cruise walk through the same door 95 times just for one shot while filming Eyes Wide Shut. David Fincher averaged around 50 takes per scene shooting Gone Girl. Kubrick, Fincher, and dozens of other directors have been made famous for their attention to detail — or, as some would call it, obsessive natures. Some might think it overkill, but directors want their creations to long outlive them. In order for that to happen, they must do what it takes to get every shot right.

The same goes for business. A company might not live forever, but no founder wants to watch their company fold before its time. It’s important that everything — internal processes, culture, development, strategy — evolves into a better version of itself. But don’t fall into the trap of trying to be perfect either. A great leader knows they aren’t perfect, so they use mistakes and inefficiencies as markers for improvement.

These are the leaders who are determined and relentless in pursuit of their goals. They aren’t happy until they get the best results and refuse to settle for anything less than that. Some employees may find these leaders more challenging to work with, but it’s these traits in a leader that attract better employees. This is why reputable actors continue to flock to directors like David Fincher.

Mark Ruffalo, who starred in Fincher’s Zodiac, told the NY Times: “You can put your expectations aside and have an experience that’s new and pushes and changes you, or hold onto what you think it should be and have a stubborn, immovable journey that’s filled with disappointment and anger.” In other words, if you want to work for a truly great leader, seek the kind that will grow and develop you.

Encourage the team to support one another

An office is more enjoyable when employees can make friends with their coworkers, but many leaders don’t realize just how important these relationships are. It’s about more than just cultivating a space where people “get along,” it’s about encouraging a happier, healthier workplace. Better social connections can actually influence lower stress levels, higher productivity, and stronger feelings of job satisfaction. This is especially important when 55 percent of employees are more likely to turn to a coworker with a question than seek out a manager.

The dynamics on the set of a film or TV show are just as important, especially because directors often have little time to give direction to people — especially those with smaller parts. You’re expected to show up and give it your all so the director can get the best shot. Because this can be daunting, some actors choose to stay on set to (silently) support another actor through multiple takes even if they aren’t in the same scene. As for toxic relationships on set: you’ve heard stories of how bad enough feuds can actually get shows canceled

Working relationships matter — for the longevity of a show or a business.

Expect a lot, but not at the expense of your team

It’s no surprise that shooting schedules can be grueling. Directors and producers often face long hours on set, but the 17 hour days and the 70-90 hour work weeks affect below-the-line staff the most. While this is still a serious issue facing the entertainment industry, people like Haskell Wexler (before he passed in 2015) advocated for overworked Hollywood film crews his entire life and inspired conversations for change. This is still an ongoing conversation, but the studios and above-the-line workers that are being more mindful of worker’s schedules should encourage business leaders to do the same.

In our society, busyness has somehow become a badge of honor. Employees, particularly men, even boast about working more hours when they’re already working over 50 hours per week. We believe overworking ourselves is comparable to being motivated and driven when, in reality, the opposite is true. Being overworked actually decreases productivity, resulting in unhappy employees, higher turnover rates, and negative effects on the company’s bottom line.

Pay attention to how much you work. Look into how many hours your employees are working per week. What do you notice? In some cases, you’ll get an overzealous employee trying to do too much, but more often than not, it’s an organizational and leadership problem. Your employees are the backbone of your business, so protect them at all costs.

Film and TV sets can be chaotic and intimidating, but they are so full of inspiration, creativity, and collaboration. Make it so your company is the same way.

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