David O. Russell: The Confidence Game

Feb 25 2014, 1:04pm CST | by

Confidence is a cloth with many colors.

That thought came to me as I was listening to David O. Russell speaking to Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air as he was discussing his award-winning trilogy of films – The Fighter, Sliver Linings and the latest, American Hustle. Each film is about characters reinventing themselves because they are not satisfied with themselves. The degrees of self-invention range from a fighter trying to overcome his past, a bipolar man seeking normalcy and a hustler seeking a better outcome.

As a writer and filmmaker Russell himself says he has struggled with re-invention. He once wrote scripts for hire now he seeks to tell stories that he himself connects with and can portray on the screen. That takes confidence. Especially when things fall apart. He says you need to trust yourself.

This, as Russell says, is especially true in the parenting of his son who is also bipolar. For his son, Russell must be like a rock, a foundation that his son can trust. And to a degree so too must the actors in his films trust him. Russell tries to see the movie through the eyes of each of his characters – which as he notes make them overly long before editing. So too is Russell’s habit of auditioning for his actors. He wants to persuade each of them that he will do his best to enable their characters to tell their own stories on screen.

Russell radiates confidence himself, even as he perseveres through hardship, and in the process he instills confidence in the people who collaborate with them. Reflecting on the theme of American Hustle, which garnered 10 Academy Award nominations, Russell says, “You say to yourself, ‘Well, I can do this.’ Whistling in the dark, you know what I’m saying? That’s a great skill to have. There’s going to be many a day where you’re going to need to whistle in the dark or you’re just not going to make it.”

Confidence can be magical, but it does not emerge from thinking happy thoughts. It emerges from making a conscious choice to persevere. Russell quotes Jack Nicholson who said, “It’s good to incline yourself upwards because it’s too easy in this world to incline yourself downwards.” That is, make my best stand and in the process do what I do best.

Confidence is critical to an artist. Without a fundamental believe in oneself you would never muster the courage to present your ideas – be they words, pictures, films or dramatizations – to the outside world. All great artists get knocked down more than once before they succeed. They have the courage of their convictions, often steeled by a drive that points them in a single direction, to persevere.

What leaders can take from Russell and his artistry is that believe in oneself is essential to providing direction for others. If you don’t believe in where you are going, why should anyone else follow you? If you don’t have a good idea for where a project is headed, then how can you ask others to join in? And if you don’t have faith in the organization then how can you people together for common cause?

A self-confident leader does not have all the answers. In fact truly self-confident people are so centered that they not only want collaboration they understand that it’s their responsibility to bring out the best in others. They bring upon themselves to do what’s best by providing resources and support, but most importantly they get their people to believe in themselves so they can do their best work.

To adapt Napoleon’s famous quip about hope, leaders must be instillers of confidence in others. They must connect with people in ways that encourage experimentation as well as diligence. They must believe in others so they can help them believe in themselves. So often teams that go through the motions catch fire when a new team leader comes on board.

What has changed? The leader seeks to bring out the best by enabling people to think and do for themselves in line with team objectives. This frees individuals to focus on doing their best not second-guessing themselves or their leader.

We call it confidence.

Source: Forbes Business

 
 

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