What are the ideal qualities of a director?
I’m a director. And I will be the first person to say we need to be held accountable.
This is for Producers out there who want to hire a director but don’t know what qualities to look for, for would-be directors looking for what skills to develop, or for cast and crew who’ve been saddled with a director and aren’t sure whether they’re acting as they should.
The Director is the manager of the show.
Their whole job is to make sure the show goes on.
I can hear what you’re thinking and yes, of course, a director should do more than just stage the show. The problem with most directors you’ll work with, especially new ones, is they’re simply managing, and not leading. Directors have to fill both these roles; they need to manage people one moment and lead them the next.
Good directors are good leaders, as well as competent managers.
This dual role must be taken into consideration when hiring a director, as once given the role they will instantly be the head of the show’s organisational structure due to the fact they’re the manager and seen to be a leader.
A producer is just a manager, so while most people will look to them for day-to-day issues, the director’s leadership position with cast and creatives overshadows them and puts the director artificially at the top, which can make them hard to remove.
To ensure you won’t have to remove a director in future, I ask you to consider hiring someone based on their emotional intelligence as opposed to their vision. I’ve hired on vision alone before and it was a disaster yet hiring a person with high people skills meant the cast enjoyed their time and were excited for the finished product.
For an overview on emotional intelligence driven leadership, watch this:
The following tenets of emotional intelligence are paramount for a person who is both manager and leader.
Knowing one’s own emotions, strengths, weaknesses, drives, values, and impact on others
Someone with high self-awareness will be able to discuss openly and honestly about times they’ve regretted their actions, how their emotions may get in the way of a decision, or in explaining possible conflicts of interest that may arise during the show. They should be able to acknowledge short comings and their drives should be optimistic but achievable.
A director must be self-aware – everyone is looking to them for guidance, and they must be aware of the power they hold and realise the power is not based on them but the position they’ve been given. Self-aware directors are grounded and honest.
Controlling or redirecting disruptive impulses and moods
Thinking before acting. This is very important in a creative environment where people are baring their souls during a performance. A director must not get immediately upset if their vision is not followed or an actor changes their direction. The director is the ultimate decision maker with the ultimate power therefore they have no reason to be angry.
Self-regulation is important as it allows a director to take a moment and look for the source of the issue. With self-awareness, the director may realise they may have caused the issue by not being clear, or by not checking it was understood.
A director must be reflective, thoughtful, flexible, and comfortable with change.
Negative outbursts have never resulted in someone being an effective leader.
Being driven to achieve for the sake of achievement
A director must have a passion for the work. The work, in their case, is inspiring people to agree to their vision for the show and come together to stage it. These people love to learn and take pride in every moment where something comes together. They are driven by positive outcomes. They are energetic and eager to explore new approaches.
A self-regulated motivated director will never give in to a bad rehearsal, they will go away and come up with new ways to approach it and work toward a better rehearsal next time.
Understanding other people’s emotional makeup
In theatre, people are our currency. If you try to understand how they’re feeling and reacting, you’ll be well placed to ensure they’re comfortable and motivated. A director, as the leader of the show, should take the time to get to know everyone in the cast and crew, find out their motivations, and how they’re feeling about and experiencing the process. This helps a director to find common ground between people and learn how to approach directing and leading this group of people. This knowledge of the people around you can make a huge difference and help to inspire everyone to new heights.
Building rapport with others to move them in the desired direction
Someone with social skill has a knack for building rapport with new people. They can quickly find common ground by being inquisitive and genuinely interested in people. They know that nothing gets done alone and work to build a community. These people can wield all the skills above to be expert persuaders – which is self-awareness, self-regulation and empathy combined.
Directors with social skills build bonds widely. They’ll speak to everyone on the team, not simply the decision makers or their close network.
Hiring a director requires finding out if they’re adept at these skills. With the skills listed above you’ll have a charming, motivated leader who knows their limits, owns their mistakes, and is liked by the majority of the production.
For a good way to evaluate new leaders, this video is great:
I would also suggest using this article to gauge how emotionally intelligent directors and leaders are in shows you’re currently part of (or have previous been part of) to see which skills they possess, and how we may hold them to a higher standard.