3 min read

The Best Actors Lead Twice

Who's an actor you'll never forget working with? Who's an actor who changed how you now see our craft?

There are a handful of actors we'll share a stage or screen with whose influence will remain with us forever. Those who stay etched in our minds as unquantifiably outstanding will share one thing in common: they are first-class leaders.

First-class leadership alone is rare. But where the very best set themselves apart is by leading twice. Not once. Twice. That's what makes them the 1%.

Working with these next-level ninjas should be savoured for the exquisite blessing it is. AND we should aspire to one day step into their shoes to provide the same exquisite blessing for the next generation. Fortunately, we can start this training today — whether we're already at the top of the call sheet or still a decade off.

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Capital A

The first domain of leadership is the obvious one: setting the standard of performance. We call this the "Capital A" actor.

Leading as a Capital A actor means raising the bar of what "performance" looks like here. Everyone will come to the job with a different perception of what's acceptable. But "acceptable" doesn't fly with Capital A actors. "Exceptional" is where it's at. We won't always succeed, but as legendary NFL coach Bill Walsh said:

"If you aim for perfection and miss, you're still pretty good, but if you aim for mediocre and miss?"[1]

How we can start to train:

  • Work. Do your homework. Do your homework five times over. Not so we stay wedded to it, but so that we're always on our A game — prepared and poised. Arrive first and leave last. Model the work ethic that excellence requires.
  • Dare. Make bold choices where appropriate. Don't let fear of failure keep you playing small. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Show that "failure" is something to be championed if it leads to otherwise unattainable magic.
  • Deliver. Your best, that is. Take after take, night after night. People pay attention when they see someone consistently taking full responsibility, making 0 excuses, and fighting complacency from creeping in.

Lowercase a

The second domain of leadership is the more subtle: setting the standard of vibe. We call this the "lowercase a" actor — however, the lowercase letter in no way signifies lesser importance.

Leading as a lowercase a actor means paying just as much attention to the well-being of the ensemble (cast and crew) as to our performance. It means making it crystal clear that excellence as an actor is the result of producing well as a professional and showing up well as a person.

How we can start to train:

  • Listen. First and foremost to the director, but also the wider team. Practice active listening — nodding, taking notes, asking pertinent questions. When the director says pivot, pivot. When another member suggests something valid, give it a go. Doing so fosters a strong sense of equality and respect, two vital ingredients for a conducive creative space.
  • Celebrate. When someone makes a great offer, point it out. When someone delivers something gold, applaud. When someone is courageous/vulnerable enough to try something, but it doesn't quite land, clap that shiz. To quote the unswerving Bill Walsh again: "Few things offer greater return on less investment than praise".[2]
  • Care. Gridiron coach Amos Alonzo Stagg put it this way, "I loved all my players the same, I just didn't like them all the same". There's no expectation that we have to become best friends with everyone — or even like every single individual — but we can always love them. We can always ask, "What do you need? What can I give you?".

Bart Simpson "You've raised the bar" GIF

There's a reason that the ability to lead twice is the possession of the best and the best alone: it takes intention, and it takes work. It also requires the sensitivity to "read the room" each job (and each day) and quickly adapt to the present reality. No small feat.

But what could be a more worthwhile endeavour than striving for our fullest potential as both capital and lowercase actors?

We're yet to find anything.

Thoughts / feedback / challenges? We'd genuinely love to hear.

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[1] The Score Takes Care of Itself: My Philosophy of Leadership, pg. 19

[2] The Score Takes Care of Itself: My Philosophy of Leadership, pg. 139