Leading in the moment: Creating the performance of a lifetime

It’s easy to imagine the source of  satisfaction for an actor: the applause, the spotlight, the fans. But when I asked a New York film and theater actor—who has had his ups and downs over a 30-year career—about his work, he gave me some surprising answers. “The only way for me to survive as an actor is to focus on the moment. When I am doing a scene, whether an audition or a performance, I try to bring something extra, something of me to the scene that I haven’t found before,” he told me. What about the audition? Don’t you get depressed when you aren’t selected? “Most of the time I am not selected but I don’t think about that as failure. I only think about bringing something special to the audition. If what I bring isn’t right, and I’m not selected, then I can walk away feeling good about what I did in that moment.”

The actor acts because he must; it is existential. The small feeling of achievement doesn't stem from the applause, although we all like recognition. It comes from the feeling that, briefly, in the moment that mattered, he delivered something special.

Haven’t we all felt that exhilarating moment when all parties in a drama – be it a meeting, a sales pitch, a job interview – clicked on an intellectual and emotional level? Reflect on times in your life when you achieved this extraordinary result. Something resonated between the actor and the audience, or between two actors on the stage, in a way that resulted in an outcome that was palpable, intimate, elevating, and valuable. There was purpose.

Consider the entrepreneur, the job seeker, athlete, salesman, politician, corporate executive. Being in the moment brings out the artist in us. It forces relevance, focus and humility. It brings other actors into our personal drama in a way that delivers outcomes for everyone.  Says the actor, "Sometimes I fail. When I do, I reflect and hopefully learn."

Ask successful leaders who, like the veteran actor, have seen their ups and downs. There are no second acts. There is only today's performance. Again and again.