What managers can learn from directors

Once more with emotion, darling!

Directors, like managers, come in different shapes, sizes and smells, and their styles are equally varied.

One type of director will microdirect you - to the point of telling you how to say your lines (or even saying them out loud for you to copy), telling you precisely when to stand and to sit, and even when to glance where. This approach is not popular with actors and has lead to the defenestration of several promising directorial talents (usually accompanied by cries of "don't tell me how to act!" and much piqued twitching of neckscarves). On the other hand it can lead to some very precise work and is certainly necessary when directing more physical sequences or stage "business".

Another type of director will only talk to you about your character's motivations, background and feelings, emphasising different aspects thereof until you both come naturally to the effect the director is looking for. They will rarely tell you what to do at all, but will try to make you develop actions from within. This can be a slow process (and it feels a lot like that therapy session you never told anyone about) but the results are convincing.

Last year I worked with a director of the first "micromanaging" type. He was a great guy with many great ideas and the show worked out well - but several actors felt we were basically playing the director, rather than playing our part. We had particular problems when the show required us to react spontaneously in character - because we didn't really have a character, just a sequence of moves and vocal intonations.

If you are managing people who work with customers, are you micro-directing? Are your people trying to "be" you, to do things as you would do them (or worse still, by the book)? Or do they understand the motivations behind their actions?

To avoid micromanagement, copy the motivation-based director. Never tell your people how to do anything, or even what to do, but talk about goals and meanings with them, inviting them to suggest their own strategies. Not only will your staff be far more motivated and really believe in what they are doing, they will be better placed to deal with new problems.

And I guarantee you, some of their ideas will be better than yours....

pic of groundbreaking director Dorothy Arzner from moah.org

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