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Leaders on Stage: 7 Dimensions of a Successful Production

| October 11, 2022

by Vijay Menta

[Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Vijay Menta, CIO of Middlebury College.  Vijay may be reached at [email protected].]

We all have heard that leaders are always on the stage. Leaders need to be aware that they are always being watched. It is not at all easy for a leader to be on stage and be in the spotlight every day.  Yet we see amazing things accomplished, and inspiring forward-looking announcements that are all because of exceptional leadership.  So what makes leaders “perform” at the highest level every day on the stage?  What energizes them?  What does it take for them to sustain that energy?

Like any great stage production, an exceptional team comes together to put on a great show.  Drawing from the entertainment industry, here are 7 dimensions that we in our non-entertainment industry careers can closely relate to our everyday lives when leading on stage and thriving.
Let’s examine the dimensions that start with you:

1. Dialog, Story, and Screenplay: Remember words matter, and how you say them matters even more.  Be aware of context, be aware of the recipient, be aware of the relationship, and be aware of the intent. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason.  Think twice as hard before saying things out loud.  Choose your words very carefully.  Depending on the timing and tone of your message, and your organizational position, your words can do damage without even you realizing it.  On the flip side, when you say what you mean, you are building a team that is ready to follow you as they have built that trust with you.

What is the story you want to tell the world?  What are you bringing to the table?  Make sure you have a potent screenplay that is executed as flawlessly as possible.  It is all about how you show up every day to every meeting, every interaction, no matter what pressures.  Develop a storyline that plays on your strengths and most importantly connects the dots to the institution’s mission.  Be ready to improvise your screenplay since your script may sometimes go out the door due to circumstances out of your control.  Be strategically patient but tactically impatient and continue to work towards the end goal.

2. Music: Think of “music” as your daily inspiration playing in the background.  We all have our ups and downs and each day brings new challenges and opportunities.  Who inspires you to be your best and continues to uplift you?  Who are your biggest cheerleaders?  Surround yourself with colleagues that continue to help you drown the noise and eliminate the negativity.  Surround yourself with pragmatists but not pessimists, visionaries but not dreamers, and keep that “music” on a continuous loop in the background to drive energy and overcome any setbacks in your daily grind.  Be aware of the tone of your background music.  Just like when the music changes in a movie or in a play to give you an advance warning of something bad is going to happen, are you paying attention to those intangibles that signal something is problematic?  As a leader, you are expected to detect those early signs of warning.

3. Rehearsal:  It goes without saying practice makes one perfect.  I am aware of just a few leaders that don’t have to work too hard to be good at what they do.  Don’t be discouraged by failures or setbacks.  There are lessons to be learned with every failure and use your failures as building blocks for your success. 

The following dimensions are about the team you should be surrounding yourself with to put on a great production

4. Cast: This is your team that you manage or work with every day.  Surround yourself with a team that is willing and able to go the extra mile and complements your strengths.  You will not be good at everything.  Your strength may lie in acknowledging the areas in which you need to bring specialists to fill a gap.  At the risk of sounding cliché, if you want to go faster go alone, but if you want to go farther, going together is absolutely necessary for most of the environments we work in.  We need all kinds of individuals and professionals to come together to make a great stage play.  Make sure you are surrounded by those that are willing to travel with you and trust your skills to reach the destination.


5. Director:  While we could think of the director as the one calling the shots, the best directors are equivalent to a mentor, coach, confidant, or advisor that is always looking out for what is best for you and putting YOU ahead.  Truly and unconditionally mentoring and supporting you for the rest of your professional life.  The “Director” is someone that can make a difference to your confidence, realizing your potential and teasing out a performance that you didn’t think was possible.  Look for people with whom you are not afraid to have confidential conversations to express your innermost fears, who can provide a safe space yet push you to excel, and who always support you while the light is shining brightly on you.


6. Producer:  Ideally this is your boss and your sponsor.  For your career to blossom, you absolutely need a boss who trusts you, believes in you and has your back.  You want a boss that provides constructive and affirmative feedback to push you to excel.  They have invested in you.  Like any investment, professional advancement requires care and feed, so you want a boss who is not a micromanager and is able to trust you, get out of your way and provide sponsorship.  You and you alone are able to discern if this is working as expected or if it is time to find a new “producer.” Sometimes it is best to focus on things you can control and move on to a different stage.


7. Editors: Think of editors as your well-wishers that are genuinely interested in providing constructive feedback.  Proactively engage in 360 feedback surveys every few years and whenever there is a change in your role.  Review your 360 feedback and take it to heart.  It is most important to focus on what you are doing to improve based on the critical feedback.  Always “control the controllable” and never forget to manage and balance the three dimensions of managing up, down, and across. Continuously pay attention to what dimension of management you need to focus on as your role changes.

In summary, don’t forget to surround yourself with an amazing team of Directors (mentors) and Producers (sponsors), Editors (colleagues genuinely interested in your growth), and a cast (a team that complements your strengths).  Continue to rehearse (practice, practice, practice) while Music (inspiration) is in the background armed with an exceptional Dialog, Story, and Screenplay (how and what you say and do).  Get out of your comfort zone to be on the stage.  Go win a Tony or an Oscar or a Grammy or a BAFTA, or just simply perform and take center stage.  Have a great week everyone!


This Week’s Survey

Which dimension resonates most as the one you’d like to improve to be on the stage?


From Last Week
Last week we asked: How do you express gratitude in the workplace?

  • 56% said openly expressing authentic appreciation as a personal practice.
  • 17% said recognizing colleagues for more than their talents.
  • 16% said seeking out delegation opportunities which emphasize professional growth.
  • 8% said leading teams in a practice of thanks for lessons learned after a difficult situation.
  • 3% said I don’t often express gratitude, as it impacts the power balance at work.

When we think of the team that surrounds us while we are on stage, there are plenty of opportunities for expressing the authentic appreciation that more than 1 in every 2 of us do.  If you haven’t done so recently, today is a great day to thank your cast, director(s), producer(s), and editor(s) for the results you accomplish together.  The prevalence of our expression of gratitude is a wonderful thing.  Also, while it was “only” 3% of us, it is noteworthy to consider that roughly 1 in every 33 of us feel we cannot express gratitude due to concerns of power balance.  How might we change the dialog, story, screenplay, music, and rehearsal of our own time on stage to create the conditions where we feel gratitude can more fully thrive.