PERSPECTIVES: I’m Not The Boss

 

So, I am working on updating the corporate identity materials here, and looking over my business cards. My title says “Executive Producer”, which is technically correct. In showbiz speak that generally means “Boss”. But I am not the Boss.

Bosses are so last century. They are constructed of laughable stereotypes, narrow-minded hierarchies, and generally unproductive thinking. They harken back to serfdom (if not slavery), and the idea that people need to be “bossed around” in order to get things done.

In almost four decades working, I’ve never found that to be true, and although I’ve worked for a few bosses, I usually didn’t work well, hard, or for very long.

People don’t need to be bossed. Success is built on leadership, not bossing. It’s a totally different thing.

Leading people is complicated. If you want to boss someone, all you have to do is say “do this thing (or else).” The “or else” may be implied, but, trust me, it’s always there. So people do the thing. Without enthusiasm, pride, or personal investment in the thing. The thing gets done, but just barely. Just well enough to avoid “or else”.

On the other hand, if you want to lead people, you have to figure out why they should want to do the thing. Why do people work, after all?

Well, duh, for money, of course.

But do they? Do they work for money, or do they work for what money buys them? That’s not the same thing.

And is what the money buys them just the stuff and things they accumulate? I grant that we all need basic things, food, clothing, shelter, etc. But we choose how we spend the money because of intangible considerations. We buy what we like. We buy what makes us feel good. We use the money to ultimately feed our self-image and self-esteem.

We are working to make ourselves happier. If it’s the ditch digger looking forward to that beer at the end of the day or the young director hoping for the Best Picture Oscar, it’s the same. We do it because we have defined a reward that means something to us personally.

So the trick to effective leadership, if there is one, is in figuring out what each person needs to feel that reward, and then figure out how that need can be satisfied by doing the thing.

This is especially true with creatives. Our weird value systems even sometimes ignores money completely. But there’s always a reason someone is willing to work, to give time and effort, make accommodations and compromises, and deal with frustrations and setbacks that are a part of any project.

If you can identify that, and make them aware that you get it, and respect it, they’ll follow you through multiple retakes and late night sessions and cold pizza dinners and all the fires of hell that it takes to make it work.

But they’ll never do that for a boss.

 

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