Inspirational Leaders Are Masters of Appreciation

They Know How To Focus On Blessings It was a hot, muggy night years ago, and we were rehearsing a professional "workshop" musical in a long-vacant warehouse building in Denver. It was that phase of the rehearsal period in which we had to go over the crowd scenes - nobody's favorite part. You stand around in clusters for hours, waiting for instructions, waiting for each scene's principal performers to "get it" to the director's satisfaction. That night, as even pro actors often do, we started acting like children.

The kids you went to school with who grew up to be musical theatre performers, well, those kids were the funniest, most clever, most creative kids in your school. They did voices. They did awesome impressions. They made up great jokes on-the-spot, with lightning-fast wit, wonderful timing, and impeccable delivery. In short, they were very entertaining. And by the time they'd become adults, they'd honed their ability to entertain to a fine art, learning in great measure by practicing on each other.

So you can imagine what it's like when you get, say, 20 or 30 of these folks together in a sweaty warehouse, standing around in clusters, bored. You're supposed to be quiet, but that just adds another layer of challenge. How quietly can I crack up the other people in my group? How hard can I laugh without making any noise?

I was part of the problem that evening, more than I was part of the solution. During the scenes in which I was one of the principals, I took care of business, got my movements and instructions down, and tried as best I could to facilitate the group's opportunity to move on to the next scene. But in scenes during which I was just a "villager," another face in the onstage crowd, I joined right in with the misbehavior. What began as whispering soon became quiet speaking, accompanied by some laughing, then more loud laughing, and finally the din in that hall was deafening.

You see, it didn't matter to any of us that the producers had invested their life savings in us, and in the workshop of this world-premier show. It didn't matter how much it had cost them to rent this lousy rehearsal space, hire the musicians to accompany us, dress us in elaborate costumes, or even how much they'd agreed to pay us. We wanted to get the boring stuff over with and get out of there (possibly moving our shenanigans to a nearby watering hole for after-rehearsal food and drink). We were, to varying degrees but to some extent all of us, in it for our own personal amusement.

The producers had even hired and flown out from New York, at no small expense, a "real" Broadway director to lead us. Funny, but none of us were all that impressed with David when we first met him. He was our age, pretty much, with long hair and a very casual sense of dress. This guy was the world-class directing talent we'd heard so much about? He looked like what he was: another actor, another overgrown child, just like the rest of us. But by the end of our first week in his production, every one of us had come to respect David as a consummate pro, and certainly by the evening of crowd scenes we admired him greatly.

David was a true inspirational leader, and the way he handled our tomfoolery on crowd scene night was a perfect example of how he used his appreciation (and his ability to bring a sense of appreciation out of each of us) as a central tool in his leadership arsenal.

As I recall, we were working one of my principal scenes, so for the moment I was feeling kinda self-righteous in the knowledge that other people were acting up more than I was. David was giving instructions, never raising his volume louder than a moderate speaking voice. At one point, when it finally became too loud to hear him, and he tired of repeating himself, he just smiled and stopped talking. He looked around the room, like an elementary teacher does, waiting for the chatter to cease.

"Oh boy," I remember thinking, "Now we're gonna get it. He's gonna lose his cool and yell at us." This was probably what all of us expected, since every other director with whom we'd ever worked has a little breakdown - usually right around that crowd-scene point in the rehearsal schedule - and yells at the cast. We started to hang our heads in anticipatory shame.

But David's voice was soft, clear, and even upbeat.

"I know," he said, "I know. This is boring. I mean, who doesn't hate crowd-scene rehearsals? I think I hate it more than anyone. In fact, if a director dies and goes to Hell, I'm sure he is told he's to direct 'An Evening Of Crowd Scenes' for all eternity."

We laughed. Like us, David was very entertaining when he wanted to be.

"So look, I'm not gonna yell at you. I just want to remind you of one thing. We had auditions for this workshop about three weeks ago, and we got about three thousand resumes, and then we heard about 300 people read and sing for the parts you all have."

We all got very still... he had our undivided attention. Every one of us, I'm sure, was remembering the stress of the audition process for this prestigious production, and the exhilaration of being cast.

"Also, you may not know this, but they interviewed a lot of directors before I was lucky enough to get this gig, and come out here, and enjoy this wonderful city and these beautiful mountains, and all that."

You could see us shifting our weight from foot to foot, listening intently.

"So there are, I don't know, a couple dozen REALLY good directors out there who would love to be running this rehearsal right now, crowd scenes and all, but they don't get to do it, because I'm the one who got the job.

"And it also means that for every crowd scene, for every costume change, for every time you have to move a set piece or keep track of a prop, there are at least a hundred good actors out there who'd love to have the privilege of doing that costume change or moving that set piece... or even standing through this boring rehearsal... but they don't get to do it. Those hundred people don't get to do it, because we chose you to do it. And you practically begged us to choose you."

David let about ten seconds of silence go by.

"So, are we a lucky bunch, or what? We're very blessed, very privileged, and let's none of us ever forget it."

After about ten more silent seconds, David repeated his last instruction to the principals, and the rehearsal moved on. And from that point forward, it was the most efficient, most brief, most "professional" crowd scene rehearsal I remember ever taking part in.

It's funny; as I write this, I can hear my more cynical side claiming we'd been manipulated by a skilled communicator that evening. But I sure don't remember feeling manipulated at the time, nor did I ever hear one of my colleagues say anything about David's brief speech but that it blew them away. It was a good reminder, and everyone in the room - including David himself - needed it at just that moment.

I remember that story often when I'm coaching talented business leaders. It's easy to forget how fortunate you are to have the position you have, and sometimes you need to stop for ten silent seconds and just remember how you felt when you landed this job. How many other good leaders would love to have the chance to put up with the parts of your job you don't like... but don't have that opportunity because you have it instead?

Whatever you might find yourself griping about, even if it's just simple boredom, you live in an age in which you can change it. If you live in the United States, you are even more fortunate to live in a free country where you have even greater opportunities. Think about it... if you hate your job, you can change it. You can even start your own business, and replace your income working at home (I did). If you hate your body, you can change it by going on a "health kick" and developing a few simple habits to give yourself more energy and vitality. If you don't like your government, you can change it at the ballot box.

Don't get sucked into the cynical, mean-spirited misbehavior of your own personal crowd scene. Remember that you have a lot of good stuff of which you should be appreciative, and that whatever bad stuff you have to endure, if you really want to, you can change it. Take personal responsibility, and stand out from the crowd.


Michael Hume is a speaker, writer, and consultant specializing in helping people maximize their potential and enjoy inspiring lives. As Founding Consultant of Agents of Personal Change (APC), LLC, he coaches executives and leaders in growing their personal sense of well-being through wealth creation and management, along with personal vitality. Those with an entrepreneurial spirit who want to make money "one less thing to worry about" can learn more about working with Michael...

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