Go Ahead, Make Their Day

Posted 10.27.2008

Picture 2 In his long career, Clint Eastwood has pretty much done it all.   At 78 years old, he’s become increasingly better known for his work as a director.  In reading a recent profile in Investor’s Business Daily, I was surprised to learn that he’s directed 31 movies thus far (with more coming up on his calendar).  The article notes that people in Hollywood know Eastwood as an “actor’s director.” 

As Eastwood puts it, “If you overinstruct people, you can stifle their creativity.  I like to let things unravel."  Angelina Jolie, the star of his recent release, Changeling, explains:

When you work on a film with him, he treats every single person on the crew with an enormous amount of gratitude and respect no matter what they're doing.   And he really makes a point to show it and encourages the best in everybody. If somebody screws up, he makes them feel like it wasn't their fault and they can try again. That kind of leadership and grace is very, very rare.

As someone who has appeared in almost 70 films himself, Eastwood has learned that directors, like all leaders, need to focus more on defining what to do and less on telling others how to do it.  When I’m with a group of leaders, as I was several times last week, I usually ask them to think of a time in their career when their development as a leader took a dramatic leap.  For example, in talking with a group of newly promoted Coast Guard admirals and senior executives in the Department of Homeland Security last week, I heard stories about standing up a new command and developing new security procedures after 9/11.  In these cases, like so many others I’ve heard about, the “what” to do was very clear.  It’s hardly ever the case, though, that these leaders had someone looking over their shoulder telling them “how” to do it every step of the way.  And yet, the leaders always look back on these experiences as one of the most formative of their careers.

That’s probably the same way that Angelina Jolie looks on her experience in working with Clint Eastwood.  What opportunities do you have coming up in the next week where you can build the capacity of your team members by focusing more on what to do and less on how to do it?