Creative Leadership – Lessons from Theatre Directors

Creative Leadership – Lessons from Theatre Directors

This is the first of two blogs to accompany the latest 4D podcast on creative leadership which you can listen to here.

 

The pace of change today is as slow as it will ever be. The world of work is changing rapidly; creativity, collaboration and communication are becoming ever more important qualities that we look for in our teams. This may mean leading and working together in different ways. How might leaders respond and what models are there for us to draw upon from other fields?

 

The business world can learn a great deal about how to lead creative teams from the work of theatre directors. Over the last 18 months I have held interviews with theatre directors Sarah Esdaile, Natasha Rickman, Liz Stevenson, Sue Dunderdaleand Giles Havergal – all superb theatre directors at different stages in their careers.

 

From these conversations and building on my own knowledge and experience of both worlds, there are 8 Principles that hold true for leading teams of actors and also have great relevance in other fields. The first four are here and the second four will follow in a blog later this month Enjoy!

 

 

1. Leading, Not Controlling

 

Sarah Esdaile: “The misconception is that you are a puppeteer. That you are a controlling choreographer, and everyone sits and nods and writes down what you say and does it! Actually, the political complexity of leading and inspiring and collaborating is not what people think it is – they think it’s about ruling with an iron fist and asserting and controlling and it’s far more nuanced than that. It’s about empowering people to do their best work, making people want to do their best work and making the whole greater than the sum of its parts.”

 

The best directors create an environment where each member of their team is working hard and able to express themselves, experiment and takes risks. This enables the director, rather than simply imposing their will, to edit from the work created in the room with the actors.

 

That requires a deep level of confidence as a leader – to ask a team to trust you to lead them even though you can’t be sure exactly where you’ll end up, or the route you’ll take!

 

Similarly in business, as Daniel Pink argues, the key drivers of motivation are Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose. If we micro-manage people, preventing them from owning the ways they will achieve their objectives, we stifle their ambition and energy. Simply telling them what to do or how WE would do it teaches them little about how they might approach a similar problem in future. It also stifles purpose – reducing what might have been a successful team endeavour into what could look like simply a way to make the boss look great.

 

However actors, like employees in other fields, often seek specific instructions from the leader on how to approach a challenge or solve a problem (in acting perhaps, how to say the line or where to move). If they are given the answer they are ‘safe’ – they have done the ‘right thing, and they don’t have to go through the challenge of exploration and experiment. Unfortunately, this approach rarely delivers anything alive and interesting, instead, we get ‘result acting’ – often tired and cliched.

 

In business too, the employee who is given all the answers is not helped to develop, and the leader is swamped with a constant need to provide answers and affirmation. To counteract this ‘result acting’ it is vital that the director does not direct on the basis of results. Instead, we keep encouraging actors to play, to push, to experiment and to continue to commit to the rehearsal process.

 

For the business leader looking to foster more creativity in their business there are a number of parallels to be drawn:

 

  • How can we foster an atmosphere of creativity where employees won’t simply reach for the simplest solution or the way things have always been done?
  • How might we reward individuals who are trying new approaches, who are looking to tackle problems in new ways?
  • How might we use technology to encourage greater collaboration?
  • How will the culture of the organisation deal empower those questioning orthodoxy?
  • How will we encourage play, curiosity and humour?

 

The challenges of the future demand more creativity and collaboration – this is at the heart of how the theatre works.

 

 

Giles Havergal: “Although one is totally in charge, I feel much more that I’m working with people rather than that they’re working for me and that is actually how I feel about running a theatre or running a business.  I think you get a better response.”

2. Motivating with Vision

 

Natasha Rickman: It’s about having a clear process the actors can then prepare for and know what’s going to happen

 

There is an idea that directing is about moving actors around the stage and telling them how to say the lines – this could not (now) be further from the truth.

 

Acting is a joyous but also scary thing to do and this can lead actors of all ages and experience levels to seek to fix a performance and to get it ‘right’. However, this approach to acting rarely delivers anything truly alive and interesting – it too often leads to cliché and, in the worst cases, over-acting, where the actor strives for an emotional pitch, but with little grounding in truth. In business that might mean the same old solutions to problems – turning out an unimaginative marketing campaign, sales incentives or partner kick-offs – because everyone is too busy, lethargic, or simply uninspired, to try anything new.

 

To counteract this ‘result acting’ it is vital that the director does not direct on the basis of results. Rather they keep encouraging actors to play and to explore, keeping the performance alive by continuing to commit to the rehearsal process. And it is vital through all of this work that the director assumes ‘best endeavours’ – the premise that everyone is doing their best to improve and achieve excellence.

 

 

For the business leader, there are a number of lessons to be learned. Most obviously, how can we foster an atmosphere of creativity and freedom where employees won’t simply reach for the simplest solution or the way things have always been done? How can we set a clear process that will get us to the goals we seek; so that individuals have a degree of autonomy over their performance and can focus on what is in their control.

 

Sue Dunderdale: They have to have confidence in you. You have to be both an equal and the leader or focal point. We are doing equally important tasks just different, but if you don’t fulfill your task of having a structure to work from, having a focus in the room of creating an atmosphere that releases them and relaxes them they’re not going to get anywhere.

 

3. Creating Trust

 

Sarah Esdaile: I think a lot of directing is about trust. It’s about showing, not telling. I’m deliberately emotionally open which makes people feel safe and that’s partly my personality and that’s partly practical. I think that makes people trust me and I have an emotional vulnerability, as well as toughness. What I aspire to is being able to say, “Oh god don’t do that you look like a ****” and that’s absolutely brilliant for both of us.

 

The director creates a place of trust where actors can be freed from self-limiting beliefs and self-consciousness to play, stretch themselves and learn from failure.

 

The rehearsal process demands that actors take risks – sometimes emotionally, but most often trying ideas where they make look or feel daft. They have to play with what is possible to get beyond obvious and cliché. The director rewards this commitment to play and risk to encourage yet more fearlessness from that actor and their colleagues – they reinforce the behaviour with praise and by building on the actors’ ideas.

 

The director has to foster a team dynamic quickly. Unlike in business where the leader is often working with a team for years, in the theatre, the director brings together a group of actors, often with vastly different life and acting experiences, and has to rapidly form them into a functioning team.

 

This can’t be achieved with a few trust games or an away day building rafts (although that might be fun!) Instead, the director has to quickly help the team to collectively agree on goals. In the theatre, this means most obviously having the production ready for ‘opening night’ but can incorporate much more than that. The measures of success may be far wider than full houses – perhaps what we learn as a group about acting and ourselves, what new understanding we achieve about the play or our world.

 

In the same way, in business, there’s a revenue, market share or profit number to be hit, but we can also create richer and deeper goals to increase the sense of team purpose and achievement. The work of Simon Sinek here is especially instructive.

 

We might create a Team Charter or a Team Alliance to align on what behaviours and attitudes will get us to our stated goals.

 

In the theatre, once we have a clear sense of the team’s goals and purpose the director can focus the team on building towards those goals. They will take care to ensure the room is a ‘safe’ environment where people are free from humiliation, encouraged to try new things and to take ownership of their own performance. There is little more damaging to fostering a strong sense of trust than fear. A culture of fear can result in team members vying for position, when their ego becomes more important than the collective endeavour, whilst others may simply disconnect from the process and stop contributing.

 

However, a safe environment should not mean no disagreements – indeed, healthy conflict is vital to driving the team on to create their best work. Once we are all clear on the goal and have a sense of trust robust discussion can be channelled in service of getting the best result for the team.

 

As a leader what space do you give to new ideas? How do you celebrate when people try new things (even if they aren’t always successful)? How might we reward individuals who are trying new approaches, who are looking to tackle problems in new ways? Can your team have challenging discussions without damaging their relationships?

 

Liz Stevenson: Admitting errors reassures actors. It also creates an environment where people can fail and I think it shows an element of confidence in your leadership, that you can criticise yourself; that you can say I don’t know, but it’s ok and we don’t need to panic – we will find a solution.

 

4. Intentional Energy

Sarah Esdaile: I think part of the leadership is for you not to be the hero, for them not to know all the work that you’re doing. It’s like being a duck swimming along not knowing all the shit you’re dealing with. It’s not my job to overload them with all the crap that I’m dealing with – it’s my job to liberate them.

 

The good director, like the good leader in sporting, military or business fields, needs emotional control and patience. These are vital in the projection of authority. The director’s energy is the most crucial in the room, she understands that her energy provides an example to the team and so cultivates the ability to excite with enthusiasm and engender calm in a crisis.

 

A positive, engaged and calm presence is vital to settle the team and help them to understand that you are in control and able to cope with any of the challenges thrown at you. The actor can then relax and concentrate on their performance. It is a simple and effective way of communicating to the cast what energy is expected of them and of the atmosphere that one wishes to work in. It is the classic show, not tell.

In business too, uncontrolled swings in mood and energy can have an unsettling effect. When times are tough the team will look to the leader to assess the situation and react calmly and confidently. We cannot think clearly when in a state of very high emotion and a team cannot function effectively if they worry their leader will panic.

 

By cultivating a sense of emotional control and patience the leader can engender confidence in their team and help ensure they are in the right state of mind to give their best creative work.

 

Whilst some people are more naturally ‘calm’ than others, a heightened awareness of our physical and emotional impact is crucial for the leader and is at the centre of the work we do at 4D. Whether it is your breath, voice, posture or gestures you have far more power to control the energy you project into the world than you may believe.

 

Liz Stevenson: It is important because your energy, your mood filters through to everybody in the room so if you’re really stressed and unhappy and frustrated they will pick up on that and you can’t always help the way you feel. You’re a human being, but you should make a conscious effort to stay calm. If you blow up and say what you’re thinking sometimes it can have a really damaging effect that means they won’t trust you so I think you’ve got a responsibility to stay calm.

The team at 4D have over 50 years of theatre experience, coupled with strong business backgrounds; we have a passion and expertise for Psychology and a practice grounded in Integral Theory.

Through our work on Communication, Wellbeing and Team Performance we bring simple and clear tools combining our experience to businesses across the world. If you’d like to explore how the 4D tools can help bring these principles to life for your team, please contact Matt Beresford on matt@4dhumanbeing.com

Creative Leadership – Directing Principles

Creative Leadership – Directing Principles

The business world can learn a great deal about how to lead creative teams from the work of theatre directors. Over the last 18 months I hheld interviews with a series of terrifc theatre directors.

From these conversations and building on my own knowledge and experience of both worlds, there are 8 Principles that hold true for leading teams of actors that also have great relevance in other fields.

This is the second of two blogs on Creative Leadership (you can read the first of those blogs here) and look out for our new 4D Leader Masterclass podcasts where Matt will be speaking to theatre directors about their leadership philosophy and process.

 

5. Being Adaptive and Empathic

Sarah Esdaile: “There’s an aspect to being a director that is finding where the Venn diagram is between how they like to work and how you would like to work. Sometimes you can end up with what feels like quite different processes in one play and sometimes you’re almost not the same director with different people.”

The theatre director, like a leader in any field, must be adaptable to the situation she is working in and the people she leads. She is empathic, sensitive to the different personalities in the rehearsal room and will apply different techniques to differentiate in the rehearsal room to bring the best out of her team.

The director develops these ‘tools’ in the same way as any leader – through formal training, through the plays she has seen, the experience she has had and the feedback she receives. Unlike in business the director is rarely lucky enough to have the opportunity to get feedback about her work in the rehearsal room – we normally have to wait until the audience lets us know how successful we have or haven’t been!

How do you develop your own toolbox? How aware are you of the way you approach the different personalities in your team? How naturally does this come and are there areas you can work on to improve your range as a leader?

Liz Stevenson: “Someone said to me once it’s all instinct that’s all that’s all it is you can read 1000 books you can watch 1000 plays and all about parts but ultimately your instinct is you… I think developing a toolkit and experience massively helps of course, but it made me go ‘alright I’ve made choices before and they’ve worked so there’s something about my instinct that’s there and that works.”

6. Stimulating Creativity

Sue Dunderdale: “Very few actors do not want to be pushed. If they don’t want to be pushed at all then you’ve made a mistake in casting. If you can’t produce the bad ideas and the stuff that doesn’t work, you’re not going to get to the stuff that does.”

Creativity is, paradoxically, best released when it is ‘bound’ in some way. Structure is vital and within that the confident, creative leader understands that people need both stimulus and space to play, explore and discover.

If all I have at the end of a rehearsal period is the version of the play I saw in my head before we began, I have failed. I have failed to use the experience and intelligence of all the people I am collaborating with, I have failed to inspire them, and I have failed to create an environment where the actors and designers are able to produce their best work.

The director provides stimulus by asking questions, framing ‘constraints’ (“What if…”) and posing scenarios. The same can be true in business. What if we doubled our pricing – what would be the impact? What types of new customers would we gain, what reputation would our product gain/lose? What if we stopped all press advertising? What if we combined our leading product with x?

It takes great confidence to allow your team to self-discover rather than fixing an early ‘result’ to calm your own fears or satisfy a nervous cast. There’s little point hiring creative people and then telling them what to do, or, even worse, doing it yourself.

How much time do you spend asking provocative questions about the basic assumptions of your business? The answers may not immediately suggest a ground-breaking new initiative, but encouraging your team to think imaginatively and creatively, can provide an environment where boldness of thought is positively embraced and is more likely to generate the exciting new ideas of the future.

Liz Stevenson: “It’s play. Keep Playing. Keep trying. Keep exploring. Keep Discovering. It’s never finished. it should never be a finished product. You want to get to a place where you can repeat it in some way, but in the rehearsal room it should never feel fixed. You want them to know there’s a shape, but it should always have a sense of, ‘we’re still learning, still developing, still progress

 

7. Providing Constructive Feedback

 

Natasha Rickman: “I think I’ve been really struck by watching other directors in terms of how much psychology there is involved. When I was an actor, I assumed you get the note [from the director] when they think of it, but there are times when it’s not the right time to give the note, or that actually you don’t need to give that note because you know that performer will get to that stage later..”

The director is careful with their language and the balance of challenge, critique and praise, whilst assuming that all are seeking to achieve excellence – an assumption of positive intent.

So he gives feedback that is specific and constructive to help the actors adjust, using a mixture of intellectual, emotional and physical stimulus and in so doing they provide both specific feedback and praise commitment to the ‘process’, what is in the actor’s control, as much as the final ‘result’.

To produce excellent work actors must stretch themselves by approaching scenes, lines, moments in many different ways. If they’re good the results will always be fruitful. If, however, the actor feels that genuine attempts to try something bold will be met by dismissal or, even worse humiliation, they will sink back into a shell of safe, often clichéd performances.

A calm attitude and nurturing environment provide safety and confidence. In theatre rehearsals, ‘offer and feedback’ is constant – not held back for 1-1’s or appraisals. Feeding back positively is vital. Repeating back to an actor what they did ‘wrong’ is largely pointless and likely to dishearten or irritate. Instead we positively encourage the actor to move on with a new suggestion or idea.

We must also be careful of delivering praise as this can also have unintended consequences.

I directed a play several years ago where a particular moment called for the actor to reach an emotionally heightened state – plenty of tears… In one rehearsal he nailed it and I (enthusiastic and generous director that I was) praised him to the skies. Whilst on the surface this seemed like fine leadership – reinforce and publicly celebrate the success – what it resulted in was the actor trying too hard in future rehearsals and performances to recapture the RESULT rather than simply be alive to what was happening with the characters and himself in the moment each time the scene was done.

Unfortunately, his acting then became over-done and untruthful the more desperate he became to deliver what I had praised so highly. Instead of praising the result I should have praised his commitment and not made him feel that delivering the tears was the only marker of his success.

Is there an opportunity for you, likewise, to celebrate the process that your staff are committing to, rather than the result? In business the result can often be out of our control, but the process we are following each day (the sales calls, the marketing communications, the relationships we build) is not. We might end up praising a lazy salesperson who hits target based on a ‘bluebird’ and criticising another who is building a disciplined sales process that will eventually pay off with sustainable results.

Are you finding time to give constructive feedback, with the right balance of coaching rather than ‘telling’, to help your team grow and ultimately become more confident and self-sufficient?

Sarah Esdaile: It’s a kind of exciting discourse between us that I’m saying, “You’re really skilled and you’re already doing great work and here is something that might make that even better”, it’s about that collaboration – it’s not about point scoring or one upmanship.”

 

8. Having Humility and Humour

Natasha Rickman: “You will just have a better time and do better work if you have some humility. You need to take it seriously but not yourself and I’m still early in career as a director. There is no point pretending that I’m perfect and I know everything. You have to have some confidence in yourself (otherwise why you taking this room full of people on a journey?) but that is different to letting your ego get out of control.” 

The good director, like the good leader in sporting, military or business fields, needs emotional control and patience. These are vital in the projection of authority. The director’s energy is the most crucial in the room, she understands that her energy provides an example to the team and so cultivates the ability to excite with enthusiasm and engender calm in a crisis.

Laughter is a vital part of the creative process. There are countless studies demonstrating the importance of fun in enhancing creativity, especially when it is focused in some way. So, good directors approach work with humour but also with the self-confidence and humility to admit errors. By doing so, and therefore demonstrating vulnerability, leaders can suggest to their teams that the errors they also make, when in the pursuit of excellence, will not be met with criticism, but with feedback and coaching. This makes them more likely to embrace creativity and take calculated risks in the future – and without needing to seek continual permission from the leader.

Many leaders bemoan the fact that their teams seem unwilling to take initiative. What are you doing to create an atmosphere where this seems possible – how are you creating permission and responsibility?

And the serious business of business doesn’t mean it can’t also be fun. Indeed recent studies have shown that a happy work environment boosts productivity meaning fewer sick days, smarter working and reduced waste.

How conscious are we of creating fun in the workplace? That doesn’t mean throwing a few bean bags around the office. Are their opportunities to remove the grind which drains morale from people’s work.

Are you able to bring your team together for activities that are not always work related, can you inject moments of fun into each day and each meeting – perhaps simple icebreakers (challenges and problem solving games) as well improvisation exercises (which will also aid collaboration and creativity).

Sarah Esdaile:  I think humour is really important. When I was younger I think I thought I had to fix everything. You’re not saying it’s all me and you’re not saying it’s all them – you’re saying, ‘we’ve made this together’, and it’s very strange being a director because it’s a bit like parenting, but ultimately all of your work is in other people’s hands. Which is frustrating too!

The team at 4D have over 50 years of theatre experience, coupled with strong business backgrounds; we have a passion and expertise for psychology and a practice grounded in Integral Theory. 

Through our work on Communication, Wellbeing and Team Performance we bring simple and clear tools combining our experience to businesses across the world. If you’d like to explore how the 4D tools can help bring these principles to life for your team, please contact Matt Beresford on matt@4dhumanbeing.com

Hybrid Working in 2021

Hybrid Working in 2021

We are all talking Hybrid Working!

It’s coming and for some it has already arrived. When people talk about hybrid working, they are usually talking about the split between working from home and from the office or a mix of people WFH and WFO (Working From the Office).

We know this hybrid working is happening (the WHAT) and we know WHY this is happening. This shift has been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic. What we really need to be talking about is the ‘HOW’ !? How we make an impact in a hybrid world, how we hold meetings and give presentations. Engaging teams and being able to inspire customers whilst maximising attendees participation are key elements to a  successful delivery & impactful communication, which can be translated into successful business. 

Research suggest that “The main challenge will be ensuring collaboration remains equitable, with half of meeting attendees in the room and half dialling in over video, and that methods of communication remain consistent.” That is what we are good at, at 4D. This challenge of hybrid will only be a challenge if companies don’t help their leaders and people become experts at facilitating and communicating in a hybrid world.

Leaders now need the skills to unify, connect and engage people across both mediums simultaneously – in other words, they need to be highly creative hybrid leaders. As experts in communication, 4D can help you and your people discover the tools and methods to bridge these worlds and to unite an online and live workforce into a shared, productive and powerful experience.

How we can help

4D Human Being designs and runs engaging interactive seminars, workshops, trainings and keynote on mastering the art of communicating in a hybrid world. We can help you learn the tools to navigate both worlds – to bring people together, to use creative tech to break down location boundaries, to maximize your personal impact, to engage both online attendees and those in the room.

Furthermore, once experiencing the 4D communication program, you will be able to understand how to adapt presentations, meetings, material and questions to make sure everyone feels engaged and contributing. All of these elements are vital to a strong and resilient communication – the foundation of a successful business. Find out more specifics on how to make an impact during Hybrid Working here.

To make sure you and your leaders have the skills to navigate a hybrid world and to ensure your workforce have a very ‘Happy Hybrid’, do get in touch with us at 4D penelope@4dhumanbeing.com.

Email us at philippa@4dhumanbeing.com to find out more or get in touch below!

 

6 + 15 =

Back to work…

Back to work…

More and more people are talking about the reality of going back to work. What does that mean? What will it look like? While on one hand we can celebrate the light at the end of the tunnel and the chance to return to what we are calling the new normal, on the other hand lots of us are experiencing anxiety at this next phase.

Issues that are coming up include how will we agree social distancing? What is okay in terms of boundaries? Will I be expected to go straight back to networking? What stories, narratives, tragedies and difficult emotions will I and others be bringing back to our workplace?

Many of us face these anxieties or at least the thought of them coming soon. While the uncertainty continues, this moment is also a wonderful opportunity to press reset and to make some conscious choices.

Going back to the workplace after such a long time gives us all the chance to make some clear choices around our behaviours and intentions. We have a chance to make a conscious and a positive new ‘first impression’ and set the tone for how we want to be and be seen from now on. So as well as acknowledging the challenges ahead, we can also grab this moment and get excited by the new page we are turning; start writing ourselves a new chapter. Here are some thoughts and tips on how you can take care of your own well-being and re-launch into this new phase with energy, self care and positivity.

 

1. Engage the platinum rule…

We are all different and this is an important time to respect our own choices and those of others and that they will be different.

 

2. Look behind…

If people make choices that you don’t like try looking behind the choice for challenges, anxieties and reasons that may inform their decisions. We are all different and we are all complex. Look behind for the wider story to connect to others with empathy.

 

3. Re-launch your brand…

This is a wonderful time to make that new first impression. You can choose that first moment of impact and set a new tone for who you are in the workplace.

 

4. Micro moments…

We are all bringing a lot back to the workplace. You don’t have to empty your year of narrative in one go. Take it easy moment by moment and keep it simple with a ‘good to see you’ or a shared coffee break. Your Covid experiences suitcase can be unpacked slowly and you might even choose to leave some things safely tucked inside.

 

5. Big boundaries…

Use this reset opportunity to set the boundaries on your time and stress levels that perhaps you always wanted to set. You, your team, your colleagues and your workplace will be more focused than ever on well-being. Use this moment to make sure you take care of yours. 

 

How we can help

The 4D team can really help you take charge of your energy and well-being in all 4 Dimensions. Focussing in turn on your: Physical, Emotional, Mental and Relational wellbeing. Our impactful and practical 4D Energiser Program has just the right tools, insights, care and fun to help you, your team and your organisation re-activate the well-being, creativity and energy that will make 2021 the game changing turnaround year, that you can all be proud of.

Treat your team to the 4D Energiser Program, now! Only ONE hour a week, for ONE month, to ensure a super-charged and successful launch into the year ahead.

Email us at philippa@4dhumanbeing.com to find out more or get in touch below!

 

4 + 11 =

Let Go to Let In

Let Go to Let In

 Let go, to let in!

After a tough year, the 4D Energiser programme is all about getting you, your people and your organisation back to thriving.

It really feels like time to hit refresh, to turn the page on a tough year and reboot the system. Sometimes, we need to make room for new and positive changes, as well as new and positive energy in our lives.

So, if you are looking for more wellbeing, energy and motivation at the moment, it’s time to “let go, to let in.” Let go of the old, the unhelpful and the negative to let in the new, the exciting and the expansive. As the great writer and professor on human Experience, Joseph Campbell said: “We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

It’s over a year since the pandemic started and we are all now going into various stages of lockdown and disconnection from loved ones and colleagues. The year has brought it’s stresses, strains and sadness for a great number of us. Many of us will feel our wellbeing has been impacted and at 4D we are aware of the support many teams, leaders and organisations are looking for to help re-energise their people and take care of the well-being of their employees.

The spring is a wonderful time to think about letting go of the tired energy, emotions and baggage to give space for new narratives and possibilities to blossom and flourish. Here are a few practical tips you can think about to let go, lighten your load and increase your own, your loved ones’ and your colleagues’ well-being this spring.

1. Physically let go

Take a moment to scan your body. What muscles are you tensing and holding unnecessarily? Many of us hold our shoulders, legs, jaw, stomach – wasting and draining our energy. Holding tension is associated with anxiety. Simply releasing and letting go of unnecessary tension will kick start your parasympathetic nervous system and signal to your brain that your anxiety has reduced. Give it a go and drop that tension, to instantly increase your well-being.

2. Say “NO” to negative narratives

Whether it is a question of forgiving someone else or changing your negative internal narrative, there are so many health benefits to letting go of toxic thoughts. Telling a different, positive story will allow your brain to build new and inspiring pathways.

3. Boot out bogus beliefs

Let go of beliefs that simply aren’t true anymore, if they ever were. Sometimes, we have been holding onto beliefs because we were told them when we were young or because they are social myths that no one has questioned. Health Psychologist Kelly Mcgonigal has researched a wonderful example of this. She found that it is not stress that kills 20,000 Americans a year, it is the BELIEF that stress is bad that kills them. People who viewed stress more positively and believed they could cope, didn’t die of stress. What belief could you drop about yourself, your workplace or the world is weighing you down right now?

4. Drop the diary and move through each moment

So many of us wake up on a Monday morning holding the whole day, week or month diary in our heads. That’s a LOT to hold. Letting go of your whole diary and simply choosing to move through each hour, of each day is far better for our wellbeing. Try only holding your next meeting or event in mind. Finish it, take a deep calming breath, reset and then look at the next appointment! Let go of your mental schedule and start simply being in the conversation you are actually having.

There are so many health benefits to letting go, of getting back to the present, trusting you are good enough and simply saying yes to the present moment. View my TEDx Talk on this subject here.

Finally, while many of us had plans that the pandemic spoiled, we are where we are and there are new opportunities available if we clear the space to look for and create them. Someone said to me the other day in reference to the Covid crisis – “What do I do when my dreams have been ruined?” I simply said, “Let go of the past, start from where you are…and dream again.”

How we can help

The 4D team can really help you take charge of your energy and well-being in all 4 Dimensions. Focussing in turn on your: Physical, Emotional, Mental and Relational well-being. Our impactful and practical 4D Energiser Program has just the right tools, insights, care and fun to help you, your team and your organisation re-activate the well-being, creativity and energy that will make 2021 the game changing turnaround year, that you can all be proud of.

Treat your team to the 4D Energiser Program, now! Only ONE hour a week, for ONE month, to ensure a super-charged and successful launch into the year ahead.

Email us at philippa@4dhumanbeing.com to find out more or get in touch below!

 

7 + 6 =

Creative Leadership – Lessons from Theatre Directors

Creative Leadership – Lessons from Theatre Directors

This is the first of two blogs to accompany the latest 4D podcast on creative leadership which you can listen to here.

 

The pace of change today is as slow as it will ever be. The world of work is changing rapidly; creativity, collaboration and communication are becoming ever more important qualities that we look for in our teams. This may mean leading and working together in different ways. How might leaders respond and what models are there for us to draw upon from other fields?

 

The business world can learn a great deal about how to lead creative teams from the work of theatre directors. Over the last 18 months I have held interviews with theatre directors Sarah Esdaile, Natasha Rickman, Liz Stevenson, Sue Dunderdaleand Giles Havergal – all superb theatre directors at different stages in their careers.

 

From these conversations and building on my own knowledge and experience of both worlds, there are 8 Principles that hold true for leading teams of actors and also have great relevance in other fields. The first four are here and the second four will follow in a blog later this month Enjoy!

 

 

1. Leading, Not Controlling

 

Sarah Esdaile: “The misconception is that you are a puppeteer. That you are a controlling choreographer, and everyone sits and nods and writes down what you say and does it! Actually, the political complexity of leading and inspiring and collaborating is not what people think it is – they think it’s about ruling with an iron fist and asserting and controlling and it’s far more nuanced than that. It’s about empowering people to do their best work, making people want to do their best work and making the whole greater than the sum of its parts.”

 

The best directors create an environment where each member of their team is working hard and able to express themselves, experiment and takes risks. This enables the director, rather than simply imposing their will, to edit from the work created in the room with the actors.

 

That requires a deep level of confidence as a leader – to ask a team to trust you to lead them even though you can’t be sure exactly where you’ll end up, or the route you’ll take!

 

Similarly in business, as Daniel Pink argues, the key drivers of motivation are Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose. If we micro-manage people, preventing them from owning the ways they will achieve their objectives, we stifle their ambition and energy. Simply telling them what to do or how WE would do it teaches them little about how they might approach a similar problem in future. It also stifles purpose – reducing what might have been a successful team endeavour into what could look like simply a way to make the boss look great.

 

However actors, like employees in other fields, often seek specific instructions from the leader on how to approach a challenge or solve a problem (in acting perhaps, how to say the line or where to move). If they are given the answer they are ‘safe’ – they have done the ‘right thing, and they don’t have to go through the challenge of exploration and experiment. Unfortunately, this approach rarely delivers anything alive and interesting, instead, we get ‘result acting’ – often tired and cliched.

 

In business too, the employee who is given all the answers is not helped to develop, and the leader is swamped with a constant need to provide answers and affirmation. To counteract this ‘result acting’ it is vital that the director does not direct on the basis of results. Instead, we keep encouraging actors to play, to push, to experiment and to continue to commit to the rehearsal process.

 

For the business leader looking to foster more creativity in their business there are a number of parallels to be drawn:

 

  • How can we foster an atmosphere of creativity where employees won’t simply reach for the simplest solution or the way things have always been done?
  • How might we reward individuals who are trying new approaches, who are looking to tackle problems in new ways?
  • How might we use technology to encourage greater collaboration?
  • How will the culture of the organisation deal empower those questioning orthodoxy?
  • How will we encourage play, curiosity and humour?

 

The challenges of the future demand more creativity and collaboration – this is at the heart of how the theatre works.

 

 

Giles Havergal: “Although one is totally in charge, I feel much more that I’m working with people rather than that they’re working for me and that is actually how I feel about running a theatre or running a business.  I think you get a better response.”

2. Motivating with Vision

 

Natasha Rickman: It’s about having a clear process the actors can then prepare for and know what’s going to happen

 

There is an idea that directing is about moving actors around the stage and telling them how to say the lines – this could not (now) be further from the truth.

 

Acting is a joyous but also scary thing to do and this can lead actors of all ages and experience levels to seek to fix a performance and to get it ‘right’. However, this approach to acting rarely delivers anything truly alive and interesting – it too often leads to cliché and, in the worst cases, over-acting, where the actor strives for an emotional pitch, but with little grounding in truth. In business that might mean the same old solutions to problems – turning out an unimaginative marketing campaign, sales incentives or partner kick-offs – because everyone is too busy, lethargic, or simply uninspired, to try anything new.

 

To counteract this ‘result acting’ it is vital that the director does not direct on the basis of results. Rather they keep encouraging actors to play and to explore, keeping the performance alive by continuing to commit to the rehearsal process. And it is vital through all of this work that the director assumes ‘best endeavours’ – the premise that everyone is doing their best to improve and achieve excellence.

 

 

For the business leader, there are a number of lessons to be learned. Most obviously, how can we foster an atmosphere of creativity and freedom where employees won’t simply reach for the simplest solution or the way things have always been done? How can we set a clear process that will get us to the goals we seek; so that individuals have a degree of autonomy over their performance and can focus on what is in their control.

 

Sue Dunderdale: They have to have confidence in you. You have to be both an equal and the leader or focal point. We are doing equally important tasks just different, but if you don’t fulfill your task of having a structure to work from, having a focus in the room of creating an atmosphere that releases them and relaxes them they’re not going to get anywhere.

 

3. Creating Trust

 

Sarah Esdaile: I think a lot of directing is about trust. It’s about showing, not telling. I’m deliberately emotionally open which makes people feel safe and that’s partly my personality and that’s partly practical. I think that makes people trust me and I have an emotional vulnerability, as well as toughness. What I aspire to is being able to say, “Oh god don’t do that you look like a ****” and that’s absolutely brilliant for both of us.

 

The director creates a place of trust where actors can be freed from self-limiting beliefs and self-consciousness to play, stretch themselves and learn from failure.

 

The rehearsal process demands that actors take risks – sometimes emotionally, but most often trying ideas where they make look or feel daft. They have to play with what is possible to get beyond obvious and cliché. The director rewards this commitment to play and risk to encourage yet more fearlessness from that actor and their colleagues – they reinforce the behaviour with praise and by building on the actors’ ideas.

 

The director has to foster a team dynamic quickly. Unlike in business where the leader is often working with a team for years, in the theatre, the director brings together a group of actors, often with vastly different life and acting experiences, and has to rapidly form them into a functioning team.

 

This can’t be achieved with a few trust games or an away day building rafts (although that might be fun!) Instead, the director has to quickly help the team to collectively agree on goals. In the theatre, this means most obviously having the production ready for ‘opening night’ but can incorporate much more than that. The measures of success may be far wider than full houses – perhaps what we learn as a group about acting and ourselves, what new understanding we achieve about the play or our world.

 

In the same way, in business, there’s a revenue, market share or profit number to be hit, but we can also create richer and deeper goals to increase the sense of team purpose and achievement. The work of Simon Sinek here is especially instructive.

 

We might create a Team Charter or a Team Alliance to align on what behaviours and attitudes will get us to our stated goals.

 

In the theatre, once we have a clear sense of the team’s goals and purpose the director can focus the team on building towards those goals. They will take care to ensure the room is a ‘safe’ environment where people are free from humiliation, encouraged to try new things and to take ownership of their own performance. There is little more damaging to fostering a strong sense of trust than fear. A culture of fear can result in team members vying for position, when their ego becomes more important than the collective endeavour, whilst others may simply disconnect from the process and stop contributing.

 

However, a safe environment should not mean no disagreements – indeed, healthy conflict is vital to driving the team on to create their best work. Once we are all clear on the goal and have a sense of trust robust discussion can be channelled in service of getting the best result for the team.

 

As a leader what space do you give to new ideas? How do you celebrate when people try new things (even if they aren’t always successful)? How might we reward individuals who are trying new approaches, who are looking to tackle problems in new ways? Can your team have challenging discussions without damaging their relationships?

 

Liz Stevenson: Admitting errors reassures actors. It also creates an environment where people can fail and I think it shows an element of confidence in your leadership, that you can criticise yourself; that you can say I don’t know, but it’s ok and we don’t need to panic – we will find a solution.

 

4. Intentional Energy

Sarah Esdaile: I think part of the leadership is for you not to be the hero, for them not to know all the work that you’re doing. It’s like being a duck swimming along not knowing all the shit you’re dealing with. It’s not my job to overload them with all the crap that I’m dealing with – it’s my job to liberate them.

 

The good director, like the good leader in sporting, military or business fields, needs emotional control and patience. These are vital in the projection of authority. The director’s energy is the most crucial in the room, she understands that her energy provides an example to the team and so cultivates the ability to excite with enthusiasm and engender calm in a crisis.

 

A positive, engaged and calm presence is vital to settle the team and help them to understand that you are in control and able to cope with any of the challenges thrown at you. The actor can then relax and concentrate on their performance. It is a simple and effective way of communicating to the cast what energy is expected of them and of the atmosphere that one wishes to work in. It is the classic show, not tell.

In business too, uncontrolled swings in mood and energy can have an unsettling effect. When times are tough the team will look to the leader to assess the situation and react calmly and confidently. We cannot think clearly when in a state of very high emotion and a team cannot function effectively if they worry their leader will panic.

 

By cultivating a sense of emotional control and patience the leader can engender confidence in their team and help ensure they are in the right state of mind to give their best creative work.

 

Whilst some people are more naturally ‘calm’ than others, a heightened awareness of our physical and emotional impact is crucial for the leader and is at the centre of the work we do at 4D. Whether it is your breath, voice, posture or gestures you have far more power to control the energy you project into the world than you may believe.

 

Liz Stevenson: It is important because your energy, your mood filters through to everybody in the room so if you’re really stressed and unhappy and frustrated they will pick up on that and you can’t always help the way you feel. You’re a human being, but you should make a conscious effort to stay calm. If you blow up and say what you’re thinking sometimes it can have a really damaging effect that means they won’t trust you so I think you’ve got a responsibility to stay calm.

The team at 4D have over 50 years of theatre experience, coupled with strong business backgrounds; we have a passion and expertise for Psychology and a practice grounded in Integral Theory.

Through our work on Communication, Wellbeing and Team Performance we bring simple and clear tools combining our experience to businesses across the world. If you’d like to explore how the 4D tools can help bring these principles to life for your team, please contact Matt Beresford on matt@4dhumanbeing.com