The other night, my husband and I were watching the Netflix show “Off Camera with Sam Jones.” Sam Jones is a photographer and film director who does in-depth interviews with actors in an unconventional way. They aren’t selling a movie or pitching an idea. They are just talking about their craft, riffing about art. We watched the episode featuring Robert Downey, Jr.
In this interview, Downey said he was reading a book called The Tao of Leadership by John Heider. The author encourages readers to trust the process and let go of the typical philosophy of leadership – controlling and managing people. Heider makes the point that managing people and controlling situations is virtually impossible.
So, isn’t managing the essence of leadership? No. And it is even possible to lead effectively without holding the reins too tightly.
As an example of this type of leadership, Downey told a story about what it is like to be an actor in a Guy Ritchie film. He said Ritchie keeps a very laid-back set. He even noted it’s almost impossible to see Ritchie as the director because he is usually in the background. Sometimes, he’s even playing chess while scenes are in progress. Although it looks as though he’s not paying attention, Downey says Ritchie is keenly aware of everything that is going on. If something goes awry, Ritchie will be the first one in line to remedy the situation. However, his interferences are minimal.
So, what does this story mean to someone who is a teacher and writer – read control freak? Have you met any of us before? We want to manage everything! Classrooms, content, instruction, choice of books, etc. Add to that, we have two children on the autism spectrum in our family. Control means more than choice. It means safety, security, predictability. We’ve had schedules and routines since the kids were infants.
I guess it’s time to unlearn some of my instinctual moves.
I really like the idea of being aware, but not having to be in charge of everything. I think that this trust issue can apply to our kids and my students. I need to learn to trust that my children will make good choices and not kill each other when they argue. I want them to become problem solvers, not problem makers, without my constant supervision. As for my students, I need to trust that they are in my class to succeed. If they choose to not hand in their work or fail the course, that has nothing to do with me or the quality of instruction they received.
The poet Barbara Guest talks about the writer’s need for control. “Invisible architecture engages the productive tension between the desire of the poet to control and that something within the poetry desires the invisible.” She further explains that invisible architecture is supporting the poem and interrupts the process of writing for the poet. Perhaps this interruption is a shift in perspective or a letting go to allow the art to blossom more organically.
There are so many things out of my control these days. Trust is difficult when there is so much uncertainty. Maybe there is an invisible architecture at work that is disrupting my status quo, but will benefit me in the future. Or, maybe I need to stop thinking so much. I need to, you know, be like Guy. Play a game of chess.
3 thoughts on “Chess”
I think it’s definitely a good idea to relinquish control sometimes, but that doesn’t mean you should necessarily let go of that responsibility, either. Guy Ritchie may not be controlling every little thing that happens on his set, but he is still ready to correct anything that goes wrong. It reminds me of a line from the 2016 musical Hamilton: “I’m not standing still, I’m lying in wait.” This style of management, which might seem a lot more hands-free initially, can actually be a lot more stressful for some people because they have to be ready to spring at a moment’s notice to take responsibility for anything that goes wrong.
That’s why, for people like you and me, it’s easier to be in the center of things; that way, it’s clear to others involved who the point person is, and where to go if there’s an issue. Your problems come to you, rather than forcing you to keep a watchful eye on everything at once and run to the accident when it happens. The problem with this is that you can’t detach yourself from the situation when you need alone time, and the issues will keep coming even when you don’t want them to. So, both styles have their pros and cons.
When you detach yourself from a scenario and relinquish responsibility, this can lead to apathy, which is rarely a good thing. When you say that it’s a student’s own fault if they fail, this worries me. Of course, I’m sure you didn’t mean it as literally as all that and it’s a very circumstantial thing, but I’ve had my share of teachers over the years who do take that stance and use it as an excuse to allow students to fail.
So, just keep in mind that “management” and “control” are two very different things. You don’t have to control everything in your life– but you do have to manage at least a few aspects of most things, just to keep your head above water. Don’t let your “letting go” become apathy or irresponsible ignorance. Stay informed, stay aware, and when your problems aren’t coming to you, be ready to pounce.
That’s just my take, as a critical reader. Love you!
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Oh, how I love you! Thank you for your insightful comments. This piece was mostly observational and reflective. It’s not in my nature to be so aloof.
By the way, I’m writing a story this summer as part of a 40 day challenge. The main character’s name is Ben. See? I miss you!!
Yep, I know your thoughts on here aren’t always representative of how you are in day-to-day life. Still, I can’t help but poke my nose in whenever I see an opportunity for unsolicited advice!!
And what’s this challenge?? That sounds difficult but super fun!!
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