What you can learn from a film director

February 27, 2014 by Joshua
in Art, Awareness, Creativity, Entrepreneurship, Events, Leadership

The reason we on the Distinguished Leaders Committee of Columbia Business School’s alumni club booked a director for this evening’s talk was something one of last year’s speakers, Rita McGrath, said. If you’re near New York City, I recommend you come (click here for details of location and how to sign up, you don’t have to have graduated from Columbia to join).

She pointed out that as people work at companies for shorter times, their personal networks that they maintain become more important. That is, someone you hire in their twenties today may not have worked at any company for even a year, yet the most effective ones will have something generations before didn’t: a personal network of people at diverse places they can call on to help solve problems. She described a case where a recent hire finished a project they in a fraction of the time people expected. When her managers asked how she finished so quickly, she said she just posed the problem to her network online and they all contributed part of the solution.

Rita McGrath pointed out that business leadership could learn from the film industry, which has always worked this way. Film projects consists of many people with diverse talents, most of whom never met before, yet have to create flawless output in a short time. They all have worked with many people before who might not work on this particular job, but they’ll help their friend. You get hired based on your experience, knowing that you’ll draw on outside resources like that.

Today’s speaker, Corydon Wagner, won a Young Director’s Golden Lion award at Cannes, so he’s succeeded in the thick of that environment. He’s also great to speak on business because if you looked at his resume but ignored his profession, you’d see someone who started his own firms, worked on multi-million dollar projects with the largest companies in the world, led teams with hundreds to thousands of people reporting to him, had millions of people viewing his work product (talk about accountability), and had billion-dollar campaigns and brands depend on his decisions. Most of us don’t work under that kind of pressure. And most of his teams consisted of what Rita McGrath described—people who never met before working under tight deadlines, often in remote parts of the world.

What I think will emerge from his talk is what I think is one of the most important lessons we can learn as leaders and human beings from someone with his experience in such harried conditions transcends the day-to-day tasks of leading groups. Underlying his success is his awareness of his vision, both for each project and for himself. As an artist in an expressive field, his success depends on it, but we as leaders and human beings benefit from the same relentless and never-ending introspection and courage to understand and express ourselves.

An hour is a brief time for great depth to emerge, but having worked with Cordy on preparing this evening’s talk, I’ve heard him talk about this personal element of leadership so easy to lose when projects pull us in a million directions. Different people will glean many things from what someone with his success in his field shares, but I will look to learn what he’s learned to understand more about himself to stay centered and self-aware in environments that make others less so.

I’ll also mention that speaking with him makes you feel like he has something to learn from you, which I find engages you listening to and sharing with him.

He also has great anecdotes about working on great projects and what he’s learned from the great film-makers and how to realize life-long visions.

I hope to see you this evening.

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