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Ariel Intermission: Leadership Lessons from Great Actors

2 min read

Do the self-reflection required to know who you are and where you come from, and what your strengths and values are. That preparation will enable you to show up and be a present leader, and to be available to the moment.

When I ask participants in our Leading with Presence program, “Who is the actor or actress who most moves you or engages you?” three names inevitably come up: Robert DeNiro, Meryl Streep and Al Pacino.

DeNiro is famous for his preparation (remember Raging Bull?), and so are Streep and Pacino. They all come from a school of acting called ‘The Method’, which requires an actor to be completely present and available to the moment. DeNiro achieves this presence, this authenticity, by getting to know deeply the character he is playing – everything from their favorite color to what values they hold most dear.

Meryl Streep prepared for her role in The Bridges of Madison County by living on the farmhouse set for a week. She was playing a housewife who had lived there for thirty years. As she put it, she needed to know how many steps there were from the sink to the stove and how sticky the refrigerator door was.

When asked what his number one piece of advice for young actors was, Al Pacino said, “Learn your lines.”

So what does all this have to do with leadership? If you want to be the DeNiro, Streep or Pacino of leadership, follow their best practices (adapted for the business stage):

Best Practices from the Greatest Actors:

  • Know your character. Do the self-reflection required to know who you are and where you come from, and what your strengths and values are. That preparation will enable you to show up and be a present leader, and to be available to the moment.
  • Walk the stage. You don’t have to live in the boardroom for a week before the presentation, but do what stage actors do. We walk the stage before performances so we know how many steps it is from chair to coffee table. If you walk the boardroom, you’ll know how to avoid the LCD light and which chair is most likely to trip you.
  • Learn your lines. What’s your message? What do you want people to walk away with from your meeting or presentation? Make sure it’s brief and “sticky”. Think of the business version of “I thought I was out but they pulled me back in!” You’ll be quoted for years afterwards.

All of these techniques will allow you to show up and be a present, authentic leader. And, if all else fails, give ‘em an offer they can’t refuse.

What lessons have you learned from “the greats”?

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