The Wisdom of Woody

woody allenI brake for Woody Allen movies. Or, more accurately, I break for Woody Allen movies.

Let me explain. Last Wednesday, realizing I had booked myself into phone interviews from 3-9 pm, I decided to treat myself to a movie during my lunch break. I can assure you, this is not my usual “MO,” but the thought of it felt so good, I knew it was the right thing to do.

I drove to my local multiplex theater (with stadium seating and state-of-the-art surround sound, of course) and caught the 11:45 showing of Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen’s latest offering. The critic’s reviews of Blue Jasmine were good – not great. But, as I always say, even a bad Woody Allen movie is far better than most of what’s out there.

I thought Blue Jasmine was excellent, albeit certainly more serious than most of his offerings. While it had some charming moments, it also has some very “edgy” ones. (This is Allen’s paean to Wall Street greed and a retelling of the Bernie Madoff story.) The edginess is superbly provided by Cate Blanchett, who is nothing short of astounding in the role of Jasmine, the now-broken (and broke!) wife of the Ponzi-scheming investment banker. A roller coaster of emotions is stunningly portrayed by the vodka-swilling Jasmine, who is absolutely shocked that her life has taken such a turn and is determined to get it back. Blanchette’s performance is so gritty and honest that I thought, “No wonder actors love to work with this guy.” He brings out the best in them and their craft.

Isn’t that what good managers do, as well? Good managers bring out the best in their employees. Well-known and highly paid actors (Blanchett, Sean Penn, Jarvier Bardem, and Owen Wilson) are thrilled to be chosen to be in one of Allen’s movies. And when they are, they work for pay that is much less than their “going rate.” Why? Because Woody Allen lets them actually practice their craft! He writes the stories, hires the actors, gets the crew together and, most importantly, gets out of the way to let the creative process happen.


Just how does this “letting go” and allowing the creative process to happen make Allen’s films so successful? There are two elements of his directing that stand out.

  • “Outside of the Box” Casting (read: Hiring): Allen casts actors in roles that are not “typical” for them. This means that his choices sometimes raise eyebrows. In Blue Jasmine, his choice is Andrew Dice Clay to play the ex-husband of Jasmine’s sister. Most people consider Clay outrageous, to say the least, and not a particularly fine actor. But Allen didn’t shy away from Dice Clay, whose performance is solid and believable.

    Ask yourself how creative you are when it comes to hiring. Have you been clearly “inside the box”? Yes, you must define the job, and then look for candidates who fit the qualifications, of course. But, have you given yourself room to look creatively at candidates who may be “outside of the box” for the role? For example, a recent college grad who has done lots of alumni fundraising or telemarketing in school may be a perfect fit for that inside sales position. That marketing communications manager on your staff might just be ready to move into your important field marketing role.

  • No Micro-Managing: Stars want to work with Allen because he trusts them. Once the story is written, the actor is given his lines and the scene is set, Allen steps away and gives a “wide berth” to the actor to perform her craft. He is not a micro-manager and allows some improvisation. Because of this approach, he elicits performances from his actors that are genuine and strong. He TRUSTS the actors to know their craft and he lets them DO their craft. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

    Well, it isn’t. It’s more than human for managers to want total control over what is happening with their employees. Many think that is their job – to control. I’d be a rich woman if I had a dollar for every candidate leaving his company because of gross micro-managing by his supervisor!

    I think the job of the manager is NOT to control – it’s to CREATE! Like the story-teller or the movie maker, the manager is there to create an atmosphere where good things can, and do happen! A manager is there to bring out the best in her employees and create an atmosphere where they can thrive and succeed.

Playing hooky at the movies was the best thing I did all week. I came back to my office refreshed, relaxed and ready for my interviews. I came back wanting to be like Cate Blanchett – the best at my craft. And, I came back wanting all of the hiring managers I know to be less Jack Welch and more Woody Allen.

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