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Grab these Spike Lee qualities … now!

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in Leaders & Managers,Workplace Communication

Filmmaker Spike Lee’s career shows the basic elements every leader needs. Here’s what we mean:
  • Passion. As a student, Lee received encouragement from a professor who notes that Lee “wasn’t the most diehard person to pick up a camera. But he always loved the editing process, and I used to have to kick him out of the editing booth. I told him, though, that a good editor would be a good director.”

  • Vision. Early on, Lee’s grandmother asked when he was going to make a “nice little film” she’d like. To reward her for financing his education, Lee created Sarah, not one of his most memorable films.

    “That was the last time I ever made a film for somebody else,” says Lee, “because I don’t get good results when I do a film that’s not for me, even for my loving grandmother.”

  • Trust. Lee requires actors to prepare weeks ahead, parsing the script and screening movies. When it’s time to film, he cuts them loose.

    “He sets up a shot and kind of walks away from you,” says one actor. “He doesn’t stand around and give you a lot of thematic talk about intentions or the mood of the scene. He just says, ‘Are you ready? You ready? You ready? OK, let’s go.’”

  • Discipline. “Everybody jumps,” says his brother and stills photographer David Lee. “It’s almost like a joke:You hear Spike yell and it’s time to hit the deck.”

  • Listening. Hearing a test audience groan, Lee learned that having the power of final cut doesn’t guarantee success.

    “Spike is a guy who’s going to listen,” says filmmaker Barry Brown. “Spike comes across as being this hard-ass, and once he’s formed an opinion, he is. But he usually comes to an opinion from an educated perspective.”

  • Learning. “I read a statement by [Japanese filmmaker] Kurosawa, who at the age of 85 said that there was a universe of cinema that he had yet to learn,” Lee recalls. “When a great master says that, it’s a very humbling experience. And it really makes you examine your own [career] and say, ‘Yo, I got to get in the woodshed and become tighter.’ ”
—Adapted from Spike Lee: That’s My Story and I’m Sticking to It, as told to Kaleem Aftab, W.W. Norton.

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