When I was the lead carpenter for the Before Broadway Players, my director asked me to create a special effects box that looked high tech and gave the audience the sense that it was beyond this world. Having been empowered, I quickly put everything I had into the tech and the final stage prop created a great publicity buzz.
I was only able to use my ingenuity because I had a director who understood that controlling his team’s decisions would kill their creativity and force the audience to pretend the box was more than just junk parts glued in place.
There’s a fine balance between setting vision or giving a project direction, and controlling everyone involved. The latter tends to dilute creativity and drives creative types to withdraw their best efforts and replace it with something mundane.
It’s true that at certain key moments control is necessary to get things on track with market needs, but continuous control robs the team of unique successes and slaughters their inspiration for innovation in the arts. Put simply: long-term control kills the art form.
So why is it that new directors tend to control the actors and crew, rather than collaborate with them?
It might be due to insecurity. Or, maybe watching previous works demolished by the wrong choice in team or talent selection. In any case, I believe all directors can find a balance between control and collaboration by practicing three important steps.
EVALUATE YOUR ACTIONS. Most controlling leaders are not aware of their grasp on people. They make decisions based on their goal, not the person they work with. This causes them to stifle innovation from those around them, which is detrimental in all of the arts, but especially motion pictures.
To break free of control issues a director can ask himself several questions:
A. Are my ideas always the best?
B. Have my cast and crew stopped contributing?
C. Do people constantly ask questions for approval, rather than risk their creativity?
D. Have all of my projects gone flat and are no longer interesting?
If any of the answers above are yes, then the director must practice letting go.
PRACTICE LETTING GO. The word practice is critical in revealing the ongoing process for the controller. No one can throw a one time switch and suddenly turn everything into a great collaboration. It takes single daily steps to accomplish the change. There are a handful of questions a director can ask himself to move forward in letting go:
A. What responsibility can I delegate?
B. How can I measure the delegate’s success without taking over?
C. What new responsibility can I use to fill my time?
D. What new behaviors can I develop to keep my hands off the delegate’s details?
By letting go of the minutia and filling time with more important focuses, the director can empower his team to put their soul into the project.
LEARN TO EMPOWER. The best way to empower someone isn’t by understanding their ability to perform a task, but rather understand their behaviors and how they make choices. It’s the choices that determine if the individual will follow the vision or head off in a different direction.
A director, who spends a lot of time understanding people and how characters develop, can plan how behaviors can be triggered. To move in this direction, the director can ask himself the following questions to prepare:
A. What behaviors are needed to accomplish the responsibility?
B. What choices must be present to give comfort when I let go?
C. How can these behaviors be inspired or given to the person?
D. What support is required to empower the person?
Empowered individuals always out perform controlled people. Yet, it takes hard work on the director’s part to empower the people, while maintaining his vision.
Some new directors who get past the control factor shift to the opposite extreme with a mishmash of unclear activities. Empowering people does not stop the director from painting a vision and directing everyone towards it, as there is a great difference between getting buried in the minutia and inspiring everyone’s behaviors to reach the goal.
Whether you’re a film director or a manager, what do you do to empower your people?
Copyright © 2015 by CJ Powers