Of all the management lessons I learned during my HBS career, I certainly didn't expect any to come from actor Jeffrey Tambor, probably because I associate him with one of his famous characters: George Bluth, CEO of the Bluth Company, who is always on the run from the SEC. Does this look like the kind of character you want to take business lessons from?
But let's divorce Tambor from Bluth, since one is real and the other is not....
Tambor led an acting workshop at SXSW that I was lucky to attend. During the workshop he had an actor and actress on stage to help him illustrate some lessons. The most interesting parts of the workshop -- for me at least -- were not acting lessons, though, but managerial ones.
The first thing I noticed about Tambor was that he was a coach who wasn't afraid to give out some tough love. In one instance he reminded the actor, 'It's a love scene, Romeo -- [don't play] some Camus existential motherf*cker.' But he also made a point to compliment the actors' strengths and push him to go further with his talents. It was almost like Tambor was a therapist up there and you could see the two actors really reacting to what he was saying (in a few moments they were moved to tears).
Tambor also made a point to tell the directors in the crowd not to critique their actors on-set. Instead he advised walking your actor over to the craft service table and having an honest conversation there, away from the set and the key grips, cameramen, best boys, etc, who were uninvolved. As a general manager, this makes sense, too. Why embarrass someone that needs coaching by criticizing them in front of peers or coworkers? Have important conversations in settings that allow you to be honest and helpful, not hurtful.
Here are some other things I took away from the session:
"We know that in the fifth act Oedipus is going to pluck out his eyes, but let's get there first." I thought about this in relation to our case studies... when we know the ending, it is easy to try and rush to it and work backwards... but there is a lot to learn in the stepping stones and chapters in between.
'Do not teach acting on the set. Take care of business.' This made me think about start-ups and why they are hesitant to hire people who can't work autonomously. You don't want to be teaching people how to do their job when it's time to perform. On this point, I also thought of what one case protagonist said at HBS: "If someone I hire fails at their job because they weren't ready for it, it's my fault -- not theirs." Teach during the read-thrus, not when the tape is rolling.
"You have to shatter the work to get it right. 'Is this good?' is wrong. You can always repair it. F*ck it up first."
"Be a pencil with an eraser at the end."
And my favorite...
"Losing the love is what is hard about being a human being. But we get to use it as art. It isn't about a scene; it is about our lives."