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.