All great managers are alike

Hollywood and Silicon Valley often seems worlds apart. While movie making and startup building may always be very different endeavors, great managers use the same techniques in every discipline to empower their teams, hire the right people, and change the world.

Over the weekend, I watched Woody Allen: A Documentary which profiles the great director through the words of his actors, editors and producers. Allen’s management ability shone through every interview.

Work in every role within your team. Woody has performed every major key role within a film: actor, writer, director. Because he understands the nuances of each role, he can articulate the characteristics for the right hire, he can evaluate job quality, and he can speak with authority.

Hire great people and get out of their way. Allen relies on his actors' own internal motivation to elicit great performances. Actors interviewed in the documentary said Allen was the least hands on director and consequently the best they had worked with. When actors did solicit feedback, Allen explored their challenges with them, showing them tape and letting the actor reach the right conclusion.

Be aggressive. Try new things. Allen is the most prolific filmmaker in history setting a pace of 1 movie per year for 40 years. Many of those films have been flops or failures. But he has a litany of awards including 4 Oscars. In his own words, he says he is unafraid to fail.

Build it because you love it. Despite his fame, Allen has never made movies that were certain to be commercially viable. Instead, he worked on projects that excited him. He explored new ideas like the all black and white “Shadows and Fog”, tinkered with novel technology that transposed his face on famous scenes in “Zelig” and tested his hypotheses for new ways of approaching old stories “Midnight in Paris”. As a result, he created a system of values for his teams of genuine passion. Passion elicits the best work.

These practices are useful for every employee, manager and founder at a startup. All great managers are alike.

Aug 8, 2012

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