Why Leaders Should Follow Their Instincts

What did Francis Ford Coppola, David Frost and Alfred Hitchcock have in common (apart from the fact that they were all freakin’ geniuses)?

Perhaps more importantly…

What can leaders learn from these three men?

This formidable trio went to punishing lengths to achieve their vision, did not give up on what they knew was possible, and most importantly, they backed themselves, even when others deserted them.

The result of their faith –  in themselves and their ideas?

Some of the most seminal moments of filmmaking ever to reach our screens.

Francis Ford Coppola, the most talented, erratic, energetic and controversial director and producer the film industry has ever seen, demonstrated this self-belief and grit in making Apocalypse Now.

This film, which is now widely regarded as one of the best movies of all time, was infamously beset by troubles of epic proportions during its making. Script, shooting, budget,and casting problems abounded. Faced with setback after setback, many directors would have given up. But not Coppola. He continued to soldier on.

He also made a pivotal decision in casting a relatively unknown actor at the time, Martin Sheen, despite widespread pressure to use the actor who was originally cast in the role, Harvey Keitel.

It’s as if he somehow KNEW this was a key moment in his decision making as a director. That by choosing Sheen, despite the risk, the magic that would make this film legendary would unfold.

British journalist, David Frost, established himself as an interviewer par excellence when he extracted an apology out of disgraced former US President, Richard Nixon, for his role in the Watergate scandal.

This ground-breaking interview almost didn’t happen.

Why? No one would fund it and no one would buy it.   Frost only got the interview with Nixon because he raised the money personally.

As Lord Birt, the former BBC director general and producer, said – “He got the interview because he bid more than anyone. Only one of the American networks wanted it. He outbid the American network. He didn’t have the money at that point, he only told me very recently that he had to sell his LWT shares, which if he had held on to, would have been worth tens of millions of pounds,” said Birt.

“Then when he clinched the deal, he had another struggle on his hands – none of the networks wanted to air the interviews.”

The lengths Frost went to get the Nixon interview were phenomenal.

And Alfred Hitchcock? Just look at what he overcame to produce Psycho, now regarded as an historic piece of cinematic art.

  1. His initial pitch to create a film based on the novel Psycho was rejected by Studio readers at Paramount Pictures.
  2. Executives at Paramount harshly criticised the idea and wouldn’t provide his usual budget. Hitchcock responded by saying he would do it low budget, in black and white, using his own crew.
  3. Of course, Paramount executives slammed this approach and wouldn’t let him use their sound stages. Hitchcock came back by offering to personally finance the project and film it at Universal-International.
  4. Instead of being paid his usual $250,000 director’s fee, he proposed a 60% stake in the film negative. This combined offer was accepted and Hitchcock went ahead in spite of the naysayers.

What do these three stories have in common?

They backed themselves.

They trusted heir gut instincts.

They listened to their intuition even when logic may have told them to choose otherwise.

They did not compromise to cut corners on what they knew was the essence and magic of their dream.

When almost everyone else had given up on them, they didn’t.

They had the courage of their convictions.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

So if as a leader, you just know something is magical, has legs, and you know this in your bones, take a leaf out these dudes’ books and back yourself.

Don’t give up.

When have you followed through on your instincts, despite rejection, setbacks or backlash? Please share your story with us in the comments section below…I’d love to hear from you.

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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