Posts Tagged ‘Careers’
Leadership lessons from a top Hollywood mover and shaker
It doesn’t matter if you’re directing a tiny start-up business or Hollywood’s next blockbuster: Success hinges on your ability to tell (and sell) a compelling story. That’s not to say that Bear Stearns chairman Jimmy Cayne would still have a job if he had spun the occasional yarn with his staff. Rather, “You have to nurture an emotional connection between your audience and your mission, regardless of whether that audience is filled with VPs, employees or investors,” says Peter Guber, the CEO of Mandalay Entertainment, in Los Angeles, and the producer of such films as “Batman” and “Seven Years in Tibet.” “The better you are at tapping into that natural storytelling ability – and weaving a tale of drama, action and risk – the more likely you are to get people to buy your product, support your brand and pledge loyalty to your vision.” Here’s how to become a master narrator and a true leading man.
Best Life: Why is skillful storytelling so important to professional success?
Peter Guber: People aren’t moved by numbers. They can’t identify with facts and figures. Data is soulless. You have to narrate your products, your mission and your company into a story that resonates with people’s hearts before their minds. Ten years ago, while I was chairman of Sony, I took a group of our Japanese executives to a Los Angeles Kings game. I knew that getting Sony to buy the Kings, not to mention the Lakers and Prime Ticket, was a sound business move, but I also knew that I couldn’t convince them of that with flowcharts. Having great seats, meeting Wayne Gretsky and seeing the cheering crowds provided the context for my story. I convinced them to buy the team by eliciting their emotional response.
BL: Which leaders best employ this technique?
PG: Nelson Mandela is a master storyteller. I once heard him talk to a group of very influential folks about investing in South Africa. Not once did he mention rates of return, gross profits or tax benefits. He simply told the story of his country. Sure, the investors would pat their pockets, but that’s not what they were talking about when they left the room. They were abuzz with the impact their investments would have on future generations. That’s another key to effective storytelling: Make your listeners feel not only generous but also like the heroes of a great story.
BL: What, besides storytelling, can inspire success?
PG: I always try to give my staff an early victory so that they’ll be motivated to achieve even greater goals. Back in the 1980s, when we were making “Gorillas in the Mist,” there was a point when the film was on the cusp of not being made. Instead of pleading with the studio, I sent an Oscar-nominated cinematographer, Alan Root, to Africa to film the primates. It was a risky move, but I needed to give the studio and my staff a tangible success – a taste for how great the film could be – and that’s what Alan gave me. It narrated why I was so passionate about the film. It gave them a reason to believe in it – and in me – and I channeled their excitement into a box-office hit.
BL: What other qualities must a leader possess?
PG: Unflinching flexibility and the ability to delegate intelligently. If I didn’t nurture those qualities, “Seven Years in Tibet” might never have hit theaters. We were filming this $70 million Brad Pitt film in India when the Indian government heeded China’s “request” to throw us out. Some might have fought the decision, but rather than waste limited resources on a losing battle, we asked Argentina if we could film there. They welcomed us with open arms, especially after we told them that the story would be their “Out of Africa.” Things go bump in the night. They rarely work out according to the script. And if you want to survive, you have to be nimble. The more willing you are to embrace change as part of the process, the more likely you are to succeed.
To rule effectively, you have to find your assertiveness sweet spot
Whether you run a sales department or a crime syndicate, you’ll eventually have to tackle the same Machiavellian question: Is it better to be loved or feared? Model your managerial style after, say, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and you’ll achieve obedience through fear, but you won’t have your followers’ loyalty. But if you try too hard to befriend and appease them, your team will languish without direction. Assertiveness is the X-factor that can make or break a leader despite strengths such as intelligence, charisma and self-discipline, report Columbia University researchers in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. “Truly effective leaders tend to tread a middle ground,” says Daniel Ames, PhD, the study’s coauthor, “pushing hard enough to get their way, but not so hard that they can’t get along.” Here’s how to follow their lead.
Find opportunity in disagreement. “The most effective leaders engage in cooperative problem solving,” says Ames. Not to be confused with compromising (which entails losing ground by splitting the difference), cooperative problem solving begets novel solutions that meet everyone’s needs.
Listen to yourself. Do you blame a lazy team for stalling your career? Perhaps you complain about subordinates’ not understanding your directives. “Such negative internal dialogue means you’re not being nearly assertive enough with a key team member: yourself,” says Carollyne Conlin, founder of Full Spectrum Coaching, an executive coaching firm in Canada. “Get yourself back on track by creating a list of leadership goals and holding yourself accountable for meeting them.”
Speak with your body. “Fifty-five percent of communication is non-verbal,” says Joyce K. Reynolds, an executive business coach whose corporate clients have included Lucent Technologies and Noven Pharmaceuticals. Effective leaders use this knowledge to their advantage. To place someone at ease, assume a relaxed, open posture with your body leaning slightly forward to indicate interest. Before making a point, perform a decisive hand gesture; a recent Harvard study shows that doing so implies credibility and honesty. More generally, present an image of assertiveness with an erect, comfortable posture and maintain good eye contact.
Read the situation. Effective leaders adjust their behavior as necessary. When a subordinate won’t take no for an answer, ratchet up. When an agitated client just needs to speak his mind, tone down. “Take cues from the situation and gauge how your behavior is playing with the other parties involved,” says Ames. “Sometimes you can push harder than you may have initially guessed. Other times, your behavior may be crossing a line and you need to step back and really rein it in.”