( 4 min read ) Having directed for more than 35 years, I feel that I have consolidated a number of skill-sets along the way. And they can be synthesized into the art of managing expectations, which means understanding people’s expectations and developing leadership skills.
Sure, I know how to direct, I know how to put a production together, I know how to edit a film or video, I know how to block a shot, I know how to quote and approve a budget, I know the importance of preparation. These are all work-in-progress learning curves for me. But it has been my relationships with the broader team that have continued to grow, bringing me a greater understanding of the industry. These include relationships with my producer, my crew, the talent, the client, advertising agency, and the target market: the viewer.
Hence, when in a pre-production meeting at an agency with 15+ attendees seated around you, something happens. You see clients, agency personnel, and the production team. Not to mention another two or three clients connected in a conference call on the other side of the world. You then quickly realise you are more than just a director.
I feel like I have become more of a Manager of Expectations.
Understanding and setting people’s expectations
1. Team Management
Matt Eastwood agrees and adds another layer.
If you’re trying to do a turnaround of an agency, a lot of the time you have to change people’s expectations of themselves and what they think they can achieve.
When I started at DDB New York, DDB New York hadn’t won a Lion at Cannes for nineteen years. Which amazes me because I think it’s DDB New York. So there had almost become an expectation that we couldn’t win it. That’s who we were and that’s what we’ll continue to do. So a lot of what I did when I first got there was to change the belief and the expectations of the people who worked there.
You know that we can be the amazing agency that we want to be. We can be a global leader in creativity. So there was almost a sort of a lot of cheerleading to people that convinced them we could do that. And you look for little signs along the way. It might be winning a competition or winning a new piece of business, that they go wow, that was us.
2. Client Management
And the same is true of clients. When I started, we had some clients that hadn’t really explored the depth of creativity within the work that they were doing, so I had to convince them that they could do better. I remember one client in particular, sitting down with him and he actually said to me, “I’d love to win at Cannes.” And I said, “To be honest, the work you do right now is a long way from that. But let’s talk about what you need to do to get there.”
So I guess getting his mind around this idea of, “Well, these are the expectations that Cannes has of you, if you want to be part of that community.”
So I think it’s about re-jigging peoples’ expectation or giving them a new set of expectations to strive for so they at least know where they’re heading.
Handling different stakeholders expectations
There are so many people involved in the production process. In the commercial production process, there are the clients (they are the ones that pay the bills) and the creative teams who come up with the original idea. Also, the account service team who guides the media and ensures that the client is getting serviced. And you, the director, attached to the production company that nurtures and builds the idea, and then presents the finished product.
And this does not pertain just to TV commercials. As the director on a feature, short film or TV show, your job is to ensure that all stakeholders’ expectations are fulfilled. This takes a lot of personal skill in order to guide everyone to the finish line, all with happy smiling faces, and eventually a healthy bank balance.
Managing expectations and developing leadership skills
Over the years, you develop a wide range of leadership skills:
1. You have to display effective communication.
Effective communication means you are able to discuss marketing strategy with the CEO of a corporation at one level, or branding details in a 240 million target market on another level. Not only that, you can also share your thoughts on wardrobe selections with a dress maker, or brief a make-up artist on how thick the powder should be on a talent’s face, to briefing an editor. You are managing expectations and communicating your view, all with total confidence and respect for all parties. Your leadership skills are recognized by all.
2. You must become a good listener.
You need to possess the ability to be an ear to concerns from a disgruntled crew member, listen to talent on a subtle voice delivery via an interpreter, or listen to the inflection of a voice-over talent, ensuring that the emotion they are delivering matches the vision that you have shot… Listening is an essential part of communication. And please note: listening is not hearing. What you are doing by becoming a good listener is seeing an issue through someone else’s eyes. This can help to open up your understanding, and bring into play the important element of empathy; it ensures that you have taken on board and understood the feelings of others.
3. You need to be a delegator.
It can get very frustrating, at times, as a director or head of a department, when things don’t go the way you have anticipated. You may have delegated some tasks to team members only to find that they have stuffed it up, or just not listened. It is so important, when leading a team, to embrace the notion of delegation. To gather round your team, delegate tasks, and let them get on with it. If they don’t deliver, though, the one thing that you don’t do is blast them, particularly in front of the team.
Rather, take them aside, highlight the points that need attending to, and send them off with the chance to redeem themselves. By doing that, you will guide them in the right direction and, most importantly, revive their self-esteem and respect for you.
3.1 – An example on how to delegate and handle feedback
Here’s how Alfa Aphrodita, ECD and owner of Arcade, Jakarta uses her leadership skills to tackle the sensitive issues.
I learned by my lessons by taking that role to be Creative Group Head, because it is scary because there you stand on your judgment. At first I am probably being too blunt. Some people may consider me too blunt for an Indonesian and when you are being too blunt you might be considered being rude. And rude is not good because you might offend people.
So I learn how to become diplomatic in taking ideas because instead of criticizing or pinpointing the negative or why it doesn’t work, you just pin-point the positives. They all have positives, like it’s cute, it’s good, it’s interesting, there’s something in there. You know, give them the encouraging thing BUT, “I wonder if we can make it sharper. It’s cool already but I wonder somehow if we can put the role of the brand somewhere in there, seamlessly.” Instead of saying, not cool, not good, crap, crap, crap. That’s how I work.
4. You must be a quick thinker
You need to think on the run, come up with innovative solutions to tricky problems, to script or visual challenges that are placed before you.
Generally on your movie journey, you are extremely time-poor. So you must have quite clear in your mind what you want from the film, and, hence, be connected to all aspects of the production. It goes from the set build to wardrobe, camera crew, gear and post… everything. Things are no doubt going to pop up that need your instant decision. It could be a set idea of yours that didn’t work. Or certain crew members who are at one another’s throats over a senseless point of difference. It is not easy to deal with people’s expectations. It takes a calm head, an ear to both sides, advice from a fellow manager, then an intelligent resolution.
Do not drift off and think about these issues for a few days.
That would be a waste of time, waste of money, waste of effort.
Producer Sue Taylor sums up her take on managing expectations
You are managing a lot of expectations at all ends of the spectrum. And managing those expectations is as much as anything about being as honest as you can be with the information that you have. I think people really respond to that. I think keeping people in the dark doesn’t help. Expectations are always going to be tricky because you’re never really going to know what you’re getting into … until you get to the other end. But the process of getting there is a unique exercise.
Master your leadership skills by managing expectations:
- Learn to listen to others…
- Delegate: don’t think you can do everything