If you were unlucky enough to have my company on Friday night after work you would have been assailed/assaulted by my views on why ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ is one of the greatest films ever. More specifically you would have had to put up with me talking about the George Bailey and how perfectly he is played by Jimmy Stewart.
I woke up on Saturday morning and ambled downstairs and was lucky enough to find BBC2 was showing a selection of interviews with Jimmy Stewart. A career that included a number of exceptional films including Rope, Rear Window and Mr Smith Goes to Washington.
In a couple of interviews from 1973 Stewart talked about acting in a way that that I think applies to good leadership.
He described the art of acting as ‘the opportunity to create moments’ that had real resonance. Moments that stick with people for years and have a profound positive impact. He talked about the fact that people didn’t necessarily recall the titles of his films or the plots, but would often tell him that they had seen a film years ago and one scene had remained with them. His duty and role was simply to ‘prepare yourself as best as you can to make these moments happen’. They didn’t always happen, but when they did they mattered.
‘To think that I had been part of creating a moment that this man had liked and had remembered for 20 years, that was very special to me’
Stewart described a director asking for the same scene to be reshot 30 times. The actors eventually asked the director what was wrong. The director replied ‘You are perfect, but I’m just waiting for something to happen.’. It’s the same with leadership, it isn’t about the process – it is about the impact. The deep impact that you can have on another person, the kind of thing that resonates through the years. They don’t happen all the time and you need to respect and understand that. Good leaders just make these moments happen more often.
When asked why characters he played were so timeless Stewart gave a lovely summary of what we might now term ‘authentic leadership’.
‘I’m a pretty good example of human frailty, I don’t really have all the answers, I have very few of the answers, but for some reason I make it. We get across that river’
A final thought:
When Stewart started his career employees really were treated as assets. He was traded by his studio to another for 7 stunt horses.
Here is Stewart creating a moment in It’s A Wonderful Life – and if you ever wanted to know why my old company was registered as Oddbody Consulting it is tucked away in this clip…