Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What is the key to flexibility?

There was an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where the captain and chief medical officer are trapped on a planet and are trying to escape--only this story had a twist. For some reason, I don't recall why, they could now hear each other's thoughts. At one point, they come to a fork in the road, and the captain, being the captain, says, "It's this way." The medical officer stops him and says, "Wait a minute! You don't really know that. You are just guessing." He ends up admitting that being a leader doesn't always mean you know all the answers--and sometimes you have to make your "best guess". The key is to sound confident when you are doing it. Often, people need someone to believe in, or at least look for guidance, even if that person is just doing their best to guess which is the best path to take.

In my non-writing life, I've held various management positions over the years. There are times I simply don't know for sure the right answer, or the correct action to take. However, I've learned that sometimes you have to show confidence in your decision.

Now, I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with showing weakness, or admitting you don't know. This is what I mean: there are times when people are following you and if they hesitate when you give the command, or haven't bought into what you are saying, it will fail, even if you made the right choice.

Nowhere in my life has this been more evident than when I've directed live TV shows. You see, the thing about being "live" is, well, it's like life--it's unpredictable. I like to say that never once did I direct a program where everything went according to plan. That's not to say it didn't turn out well, it just means that there were times when a decision came up that wasn't expected. As the director, your job is to tell everyone what to do and when. If you hum and haw, it's going to be too late. If you don't give the directions with confidence, the people taking your directions may have doubt and then hesitate. Like I noted before, sometimes that hesitation can cause even the right decision to fail.

At times, this would cause conflicts between the director and the producer. Let me put it another way. In live TV, the producer is like the architect, and the director is like the builder. The director looks at the blueprints the producer "drew" and then start building. But again, with things happening live, the producers were always changing things on the fly. Sometimes it is minor tweaks like, "the carpet will be blue and not red" or "wallpaper instead of paint". Then there were other times when it was more along the lines of "Okay, move the bathroom that was on the third floor to the first floor and add a pool in the living room."

When the changes were too dramatic, and given too late for me to make, I'd tell them "No." Producers don't like to be told no. In fact, that was one thing that one of my news directors criticized me about. He said I wasn't being flexible enough. My response was always that we did whatever we could to accommodate the producers, but sometimes they would decide too late, or hum and haw, not wanting to make a decision. If they couldn't, or wouldn't, make the decision, often the director would have to make their best guess, and sound confident about it or bad stuff would happen on air.

When I was preparing to leave that TV station to pursue other things, I was cleaning out my desk one day. I found a quote book I was given by one of my employees about business life in general. I had to stop and laugh out loud when I came across a quote that fit the situation perfectly. It was: "The key to flexibility is indecision."

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