Life Immitating Art

Bob Hoskins’s sad passing this week reminds me of an intimate Grand Classics screening, almost 10 years ago to the day, when he shared his inspiration for a career in the movie business, Jules Dassin’s crime movie, Rififi. For those not familiar with the French crime film, it is an adaption of Le Breton’s novel of the same name. The centrepiece of the film is a 30-minute heist shot with barely any sound or music. The viewer is drawn to the difficulty of pulling off the heist at the heavily alarmed rue de Rivoli jewellery shop, the ability of the gang leader to communicate successfully through his actions and in so doing, to inspire the other gang members to follow him without fear for their own well-being.  While the rest of the tale revolves around rival jealousies and settling of old scores between different gangs, there are some interesting lessons for business leaders entering into highly ambiguous growth markets.

  1. Effective leadership is largely about “doing” (action), not “saying” (empty mission statements).
  2. It is about discipline and a clear line of sight  on the long-term objective (goals or improvement), while navigating foreseen (customer preferences, market demand) and unforeseen short-term obstacles (entrance of a large competitor) that might trip the alarm bell along the journey
  3. It is about setting clear accountabilities for everyone in advance (sales and marketing, operations, finance, human resources etc.)
  4. It is about establishing trusting relationships and powerful alliances with key individuals, who you implicitly trust and are critical to attaining your goals
  5. It is about coming to terms with your fears and maintaining the right perspective. “Perceived” but not real fear (failure, embarrassment),  “actual” fear (growth projections disabled by incorrect market assumptions) and those that might have catastrophic consequences (loss of personal wealth or your position).
  6. It is about doing a small number of things that you are competent and passionate about exceedingly well and often.
  7. It is about making the complex (breaking into a new market), simple (practical actions others can routinely undertake with measurable results and a clear understanding of the value).

Whether, you are a private banker targeting new Chinese billionaires, a senior partner in a Professional Services firm expanding into Indonesia or an global insurance company seeking to exploiting demand from your corporate customers for increased protection from cyber crimes, it is not so difficult to accomplish, so long as your focus is on what really matters.

© James Berkeley 2014. All Rights Reserved.

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