Ever hear Tom Hanks talk about being directed in a feature film by Clint Eastwood? Says Hanks, ” He treats everyone like horses. Seriously.”
Eastwood, a veteran of the film industry and star of so many old spaghetti westerns, knows the drill. He’s spent a lot of time working with horses on film and understands what’s required on set is a calm, soothing tone from everyone in order to keep them at their most serene and productive. That’s a tall order to fill as Hollywood film locations are loud, active places. Equipment whirring, grips, and stagehands moving set pieces, and directors trying to work above the constant din of collaboration all contribute to an environment that is less than quiet and ambient controlled.
Which is why a director yelling “ACTION” every time he wants to start filming doesn’t jive so well with the large, equestrian giants. Unlike other directors who use bullhorns or amplified systems, Eastwood just waves his finger in a circular motion and quietly says “okay, go ahead.” The same methodology applies when the take is finished. No loud, directorial “CUT!” Just a silent wave-off and a modest “that’s enough of that.” To do otherwise in a loud fashion only spooks the horse.
“It’s intimidating as Hell,” quips Hanks.
Yeah…I’ll bet. As if being told how to act on film by Dirty Harry himself doesn’t rattle your cage in the first place. Imagine being directed by the guy who famously coined the words, “Go ahead. Make my day.” I’d be shaking in my Nikes too just knowing his menacing stare could appear over my shoulder at any given moment.
That story stuck with me for weeks after I heard it re-told by Hanks in the clip above. Both gentlemen rank highly among some of my favorite actors, plus, it’s funny as Hell. Professionally speaking, the anecdote also speaks to a certain degree about treating others and how we innately respond to tensions in the workplace as well as our every day lives.
That was made even clearer to me during some recently well-deserved time off.
Not long ago, my wife, kids and I spent time in the woods of Northern Wisconsin with other family members who were visiting from Colorado. We made a stop at a local stable down the road where the farm owners had no issue with us spoiling their three equestrian occupants with a little extra attention. With a spare bag of carrots and other assorted vegetables in hand, we went to feed the hungry trio.
Although I come from a rural mid-western farm country, I’ve spent little to no time around horses. I can’t say I know much about them, aside from watching them pull wagons during holiday parades where they would unfailingly stop and poop in the middle of the street. What I saw was always from a distance, so I seldom had a chance to interact. With the horses, not the poop.
The hour we spent feeding the trifecta (plus a goat, kept in-pasture alongside to help keep them calm) was made even better by observing their silent synergy through the innocent eyes of my young nieces and nephew, pictured above. A distinct, mesmerizing sense of calm overcame us all as we were momentarily swept away from the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives.
Workplace demands faded, and even the most complicated of issues we adults all faced previously took a back seat to this single moment of serenity.
Of course, I was on vacation, so the entire purpose was to get away, unplug and decompress from the moments in life where I want to pull my hair out and scream in utter frustration. Those occur far more than I want to admit, both at home and at work. Frankly, I think I’m better at it on the professional side vs my home life, but having teenagers living in your house has a way of warping your sensibilities and degrading your tolerance levels. That might have something to do with the fact that an employee can be dealt with in a cut-and-dried fashion. Your children? Not so much.
Still, there is a distinct parallel between the two sides. Getting the most from your employees takes an inordinate amount of patience, understanding, and development. In some cases, discipline and a strong resolve are required. Ultimately, the leader is not there to be a friend, but it does help the relationship significantly if a common bond is initially forged. The employee wants to identify on a personal level with the leader first before respect is given. That’s a relatively easy fix to handle by getting to know the employee before dictating expectations.
Conversely, a child wants to be understood by the parent, and they want to know the “whys” of the household. Why do I have to be back at midnight? Why do I have to clean my room? Why do I have to get good grades? If it’s anything like my home, “because I said so” doesn’t wash and only creates more issues. The sentence my children despise the most coming from my lips is “Because I’m Dad” as an end-all statement, most often used when I’m done arguing with them. It rarely works, plus it creates more exasperation from my kids as they want an explanation in order to fully understand the expectation.
In both cases, what’s required in spades is an extraordinary level of restraint, calm and composure. Eastwood knows this in a professional sense, and I’ll bet it carries to his personal life with his own kids and family. He doesn’t just practice it when he’s behind the lens, it’s an everyday method to existence. It’s a solid example of what can be accomplished when we approach daily challenges with a level head and an objective outlook, both in the workplace and in personal situations.
Frankly, we can use a lot more of it. You need not look any further than today’s turbulent times to see how calm has become a sparse commodity instead of an overabundance of supply. We want what we want now, without forethought of consequences or results of our actions, and I’m as guilty of it as anyone. Knee-jerk reactions indeed get the best of me at times… writing a tersely worded email when peeved, yelling at the driver of the car in front of me who just crossed three lanes of traffic, and most famously, ending heated conversations with my teenage kids by announcing, “Because I’m Dad.”
I’ve been blessed with some excellent role models in my lifetime who have exemplified the extremes on both sides. I’ve learned a lot about how not to manage personnel throughout my leadership career, much of which came from people who didn’t effectively grasp the concepts of stress management or employee engagement. From that comes a hatred of dealing with both work and life as a fire drill. One of the best leaders that I’ve worked with said it this way: “unless the client is pissed or someone is about to die, it isn’t an emergency.”
American self-help author Wayne Walter Dyer once put it this way:
Being relaxed, at peace with yourself, confident, emotionally neutral loose, and free-floating –these are the keys to successful performance in almost everything.
You can interpret that quote any way you want, but my takeaway is that from calm comes the confidence to deal with almost anything life throws at you. I’ll be the first to admit that’s easier said than done, as emotions can easily compromise objectivity and logical decision making. Even Mr. Spock had to deal with the incapacity of emotions.
We have choices in life, and those choices come from a place where we either accept the chaotic natures which we live in and strive to find balance, or we let it take us over. Finding those centering moments, no matter how small, make the difference. Above all else, I believe in the power of reflection.
And from time to time, stopping to feed the horses.