Anyway, while musing about resolutions the other day, I was reminded of the recent passing of Colin L. Powell, General, Secretary of State, Security Advisor, etc. I confess that I didn’t always agree with him, but I always respected him and thought that he at least tried to know and tell the truth as he understood it. That’s enough to put him on my “good guy” list, unlike many others of our “leaders.”
After his passing, I learned of his 13 Rules of Leadership, which I think may be worth considering as the source of many worthwhile resolutions which one could do much worse than consider at this time. So, here they are, with brief commentary from yours truly.
1. It ain’t as bad as you think! It will look better in the morning.
It MAY not always be true, but I confess that I have found that when a situation arises which is uncomfortable and/or unhappy, there is often something to be gained (whenever possible) by not forcing yourself into some sort of immediate response. It’s not always possible, but in most cases, giving yourself s bit of time to consider your options and think through the situation is more likely to lead to a better result than just insisting on taking immediate action.
2. Get mad then get over it.
Everybody gets angry. There are lots of reasons why that can happen, sometimes it’s even justified. The trick here, however, is how you deal with it. I would agree with Powell that it’s okay to get angry, but it’s NOT okay to let that anger ruin your day, week, life, or decision as to how to deal with the situation. Letting your anger “stew” doesn’t accomplish anything worthwhile. Use it to motivate good, clear thinking by expressing it and then letting it go. It will save you, and those around you, a lot of long-term grief.
3. Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls,
your ego goes with it.
Your ideas are NOT you. Everybody can have good and less-than-good ones. Accept the fact that you are not going to always get your way and save the fights for the really important issues. It’s easy to start to think that “winning” is the important point. It’s not! Arriving at the best possible solution should be the goal, not whether or not you get your own way.
4. It can be done.
I have heard it said that to accomplish things one needs time, money, and people; but that most things can be achieved with any two of these. I think both are probably pretty close to being true. Even very difficult tasks CAN be accomplished if one works at it. Thomas Edison spent a long time trying to develop a practical electric light. There are many versions of quotes which he is supposed to have made about that process. I like this one: “I know of over 3,000 ways [that] a light bulb does not work.” The important thing is that he kept at it because he was convinced that it was possible.
5. Be careful what you choose. You may get it.
I like this idea because it reminds me that, like most people, I have, on occasion, been very insistent that some desire of mine was of supreme importance only to discover in the long run that it really wasn’t as good a choice as I had thought it would be. True happiness, for example, seems unlikely to be purchasable from any store, no matter how much you think you want something. Think things through.
6. Don’t let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision.
Sometimes one has to make a decision based on less than complete information. That doesn’t mean that you can’t make a decision, but that you have to do all that you can to consider what’s the best decision you can make given the information available.
7. You can’t make someone else’s choices. You shouldn’t let someone else make
Leadership is decision-making, making choices. While I see no reason why someone in a leadership position can’t ask for other people’s opinions, advice, and ideas, ultimately the DECISION belongs to the leader. The buck really does stop somewhere, and that “where” is with the leader. If you can’t accept that, be a follower!
8. Check small things.
There actually are relatively few BIG things. Most major concerns are a combination of a number (sometimes a great number) of smaller ones. Resolving the small issues not only reduces the size of the big ones, you may find out that dealing with some of the smaller ones first leads to a better overall solution to the entire problem.
9. Share credit.
It’s understandable that one wants to be recognized for their work. Very little in life, however, is solely the result of one individual’s contribution. This is certainly true in the theatre. I don’t care how much Gordon Craig wished his theatre to be the complete product of a single mind, I don’t believe that that is truly possible, unless we change the definition of what we mean by “theatre.” I would suggest that the theatre, like many other human activities, is a group effort and a group experience. That means that one individual really can’t create it. A leader acknowledges that by recognizing the efforts of all of the others involved. After all, the world’s greatest script, performed by the world’s greatest cast, in the world’s greatest performance space, with the world’s greatest scenic and costume designs are just a bunch of people wandering around in the dark until somebody turns on some lights! Theatre people know that they need each other and are willing to share the credit appropriately. That’s probably good for most situations!
10. Remain calm. Be kind.
Little is gained by emotional upheaval. I know from my own experiences as a stage manager that maintaining a sense of calm (even when you are panicking inside) and using that calm to be kind will do much to control most situations. Yelling and screaming does little good under any circumstance. A lack of kindness never helps with anything.
11. Have a vision. Be demanding.
This is similar, in my mind, to my insistence that theatre demands a seeking for excellence, even while knowing that it’s highly unlikely that it will be achieved. If you can’t envision the results of whatever you are attempting to accomplish, you’ll never get out of your rut of mediocrity. Decide what you want to achieve, insist that others work with you to achieve it. Don’t settle for half-hearted attempts. If you insist on people’s best and show them that you are setting the example by doing your best, most of the time, they will respond to help you achieve a good result. You may never achieve perfection (few do), but you are likely to get better results than if you don’t even try.
12. Don’t take counsel of your fears or naysayers.
Everybody has fears. One has two choices, as I see it. You can let your fears control you, or you can say, “Okay. This scares me a bit, but I’m going to do it anyway.” I’m not sure how many people knew it (although my shop assistants probably did), but my policy in all of those productions for which I served as scenic and/or lighting designer and/or technical director was to try at least one new thing on every one of them. Much of the time the “new thing” was simply something I hadn’t tried before, but I had seen somewhere else, read about, or seen a picture of. But I always wanted to try to do something which was new to me. I never wanted everything to be standard practice, routine. Things didn’t always work out as I had hoped, but see the Edison quote in #4 above. Finding out what doesn’t work can be valuable, too.
13. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.
An optimistic attitude is, generally, a GOOD thing. A belief in yourself, your team, your ideas, etc. is much more likely to lead to success than starting out with the assumption that one is “doomed” to failure. An overall sense of optimism is always a helpful way to get started. On the other hand, being aware of the fact that there are likely to be challenges is not a bad thing, either. If one always assumes that everything is always going to work out quickly and easily, one is likely to discover that this is NOT always the case. As a consequence, a certain, pessimistic, but realistic sense of wondering where the unforeseen difficulties may lie is not, necessarily, a bad thing. It might be wise to remember, as Sherlock Holmes said in Rick Boyer’s The Giant Rat of Sumatra: “It's best not to be too optimistic. Remember; pessimists are surprised as often as optimists, but always pleasantly.”
So, there you have it; Powell’s Rules of Leadership with some commentary by Beam. If you feel the desire to make some New Year’s Resolutions this year, this may assist you by providing some food for thought about desirable qualities to encourage in yourself. I think there are ideas here worth considering. I freely admit that I haven’t always followed them, but I never claimed to be perfect. I’ve just lived a good while and, being retired, I now have the time and opportunity to think about a lot of stuff which I wish I’d consciously thought about before.
I confess a certain curiosity about people’s reactions to the ideas I sometimes express in these posts. If you have thoughts to share about my posts, or ideas for me to discuss, or just want to say “Hi!”, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ll be back in a couple of weeks. Next time I’ll try for something a bit more light-hearted, but I haven’t given it much thought, yet, so that COULD change.