This month’s fundraising workshop for His Story, The Musical was stunning. Loved everything about it. Was particularly struck by the choreography. Asked the amazing, rising choreographer Eamon Foley what he was thinking and took away three lessons for the rest of us:

  1. It’s the overall impact that matters most
  2. Know what you won’t give up
  3. Never underestimate the actors


Lesson 1. It’s the overall impact that matters most

For Foley, it’s not about the individuals, not even about the interactions between the individuals. It’s about “Creating a moment that takes you, that’s only achievable when they work as an organism, not as individuals.”

He went on to explain that the moments that take you are “What happens when you relax your eyes, when you’re looking at one place and take it all in.”

Thus, he thinks of his choreography as an “organic expression meant only to feed the music, emotion, or picture.”

Of course, he maps things out. Of course, he directs the dancers. But the moments that take you happen when he “moves into the piece with (his) energy that helps the dancers figure it out.”

The world needs three types of leaders: scientific, interpersonal and artistic. Scientific leaders connect with your minds to influence and impact knowledge. Interpersonal leaders connect with your heart to influence and impact actions. Artistic leaders, like Foley, feed your soul with “moments that take you” to influence and impact the way you feel.

Lesson 2: Know what you won’t give up

Foley knows that “theater is a constant compromise between the thing in your head and what you can actually make happen.”

Years ago, he expected his staging of Sweeney Todd to be Broadway quality. But he had no backers and no money. So, he staged it in a loading dock on a shoe-string budget. It was “grindy” and “jenky” but “still carried that amount of heart.”

He knew where he could compromise and what he wouldn’t give up on. He told me, “There has to be a standard that you’re holding yourself to.” He told Jamie Saxon that “I learned that if I keep up that conviction, that don’t-take-no-for-an-answer kind of attitude, then I’m going to get the quality that I want.”


Lesson 3: Never underestimate the actors

As Foley told Jean Korelitz about choreographing Annie, “The secret about professional children is that they’re hungry to prove that they are just as capable as the grown-ups. They adopt a can-do spirit that adult actors often lose. They thrive when they are given responsibility and love to overcome challenges. Which is why, when I work with kids, I don’t dumb it down. I treat them like professionals, and they appreciate not being condescended to. They work hard to live up to the high bar you set for them, which gives them an immense amount of pride when it’s achieved.”

He did the same thing with His Story. He tried to give the cast “technique a little beyond their ability” – enough to stretch them without breaking them so they’d come in every morning “pumped up for more.”


Implications for business leaders

You’ve already connected the dots:

1. Impact. It’s the overall impact that matters most. It’s not about the individuals. It’s about inspiring, enabling and empowering them to do their absolute best together to realize a meaningful and rewarding shared purpose. What matters most is that shared purpose. Inspire with your words and by moving into the piece with your energy.

2. Determination. Know what you won’t give up. Life is full of compromises. We all have to give to get. In larger organizations individuals have to give way to the collective – until they don’t. Know what matters most to you. Know your values. Know your brand. Don’t compromise them. Ever.

3. Appreciation. Never underestimate the actors. The secret about the professionals that work for you is that they’re hungry to prove that they are just as capable as others, if not more. Enable and empower them to stretch so they come in every morning “pumped up for more.”

Click here for a list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #763) and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.

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