Lessons from The Wiz – PT5

The reviews for the TV week are out and “The Wiz, Live” ranked in the top 5 in the 18-49 demographic. So let’s continue our discussion to see what those of us in church production can learn from one of the key guys in terms of making it happen.

What’s that? Are you wondering why I used the word “continue”? It’s because we are in the middle of a great conversation. If you haven’t already done so, take a minute and jump back to Part 1 to get your bearings.


[Mark]: So Tom, we’ve talked about lots of things: planning, technology, budgets, etc. Let’s spend a few minutes on one of most important parts of production. The thing that can make or break it… the people.

How many people were involved The Wiz, Live?

[Tom]: The cast and crew totaled 340 people. I had four direct reports on The Wiz, Live! which were the show’s Engineer in Charge, Video Maintenance Person, Audio Maintenance Person and B unit Supervisor. All other crew fell under other vendor’s contracts or were direct hires made by the producers.

[Mark]:  With a cast and crew that large, leadership has to be a very highly valued skill. In the technical realm how does this play out?

[Tom]: Before we go any further I need to admit, especially since “Leadership” is somewhat of a cult topic among church tech folk and I sincerely hope my admission gives some of the readers encouragement, that “Leadership” is not a quality that comes naturally or easily for me. I am not a natural leader. It’s uncomfortable for me. I am the introvert’s, introvert. I am totally uncomfortable in social situations. I am perfectly happy being alone for a day or more. I am happiest when I am responsible for myself alone and not other people.

As a result, I have some natural qualities that tend to run against the grain of what we often call leadership or would otherwise hinder someone from being in a leadership role. I know there are many people in the tech-arts world that have a similar character traits as mine. So, I hope my admission gives those readers some encouragement.

My daily mission is not to be “a great leader,” as some of the presenters at the Global Leadership Summit are great leaders. My goal has been is to accurately recognize my strengths and weaknesses, leverage my strengths while mitigating the challenges brought on by my weaknesses.

Twenty-years ago when I started in the role I currently play, I thought leadership was telling people what needed to be done and then making sure that was accomplished. And while the communication of clearly defined goals and accountability are still important, I now have much more trust in the people I work with allowing them freedom to make decisions. Before, I thought I needed to be “the expert,” which then required that I needed to be the person who created all plans down to the minutia. Now I am comfortable in the fact that others can be the experts, that’s why we hired them, and my job is to give them the tools and resources they need to do their jobs as well as they can.

[Mark]:  What do you think the balance is between giving technical direction (“camera 5, push”) and actually relating to the people involved (“How was your weekend, Nancy?”).

[Tom]:  The giving of cues, if it is leadership at all, is leadership with a small “l.” When I think about the topic of Leadership, I think about leadership with a big “L.” Let me give you two examples:

I used to work for a manager whose name is Batch. Batch was the best big-“L” leader in the world. He got things done and people loved him. We would work out on the road on shows and in between road shows we would work in the shop. We all had the freedom when home to call up Batch in the morning and say, “Hey Batch, I don’t think I’m coming in today.” Batch would respond, “Why?” The technician would say, “It’s pretty sunny out today, I think I’m staying home.” Batch would respond, “Will I see you tomorrow?” To which the technicians would say, “Certainly, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

In fact I remember one day that about ten of us entered his office mid-morning and said, “Hey Batch, we’re thinking about going to a matinee.” Batch looked up from his desk, “What are you going to see?” It should be noted that this was part of Batch’s psychology, that he might say “no” if he didn’t like the movie title offered. We responded, “Hunt for Red October.” And then Batch would always follow up, “Are you coming back to work after the movie?” “Sure!” we would say. Batch would respond, “OK then.”

It should be noted that although Batch was more than flexible with his crew, we all knew that if Batch ever called for us to do something for him, we had to do it. Letting Batch down was not an option anyone really wanted to contemplate.

In my mind, “that’s Leadership.”

Another example is a Producer I work with who makes it his personal responsibility to call each crew member and book them personally. He does that because he wants the crew members to hear his passion for the project and that he personally values that crew member’s participation as evidenced by him personally making the call.

In my mind, “that’s Leadership.”

[Mark]:  Is church technical leadership different? Should it be?

[Tom]:  I think it’s the same. In church tech circles we put the emphasis on building teams, as if that is something somehow different than following leadership, together.

Both Batch and the Producer I mentioned were expert team builders without ever verbalizing that as a priority. They just lived it.

[Mark]:  I appreciate your observations. I think wise leaders should always be in a learning mode with people. Back to The Wiz, Live. Out of 340 people, I would imagine that there are some roles that are much smaller than others. For example, I’ve been involved in church productions where a person’s entire role may be nothing more than to move a prop from point A to point B… once. A simple, small, invisible task. Is anything done to encourage people in these roles? How do they stay motivated?

 [Tom]:  Very little needs to be done to encourage people on these shows to perform their jobs with excellence. Every crew member I know on all these shows are very much self-motivated to do the best job they can. I think there are a few reasons:

One is that success has a magnetic pull which attracts success. You see this even in church tech teams. If you have a team that is poorly led, or poorly supported, where the PA installation is poorly done causing feedback every week no matter who is at the controls, or the ProPresenter computer crashes every week just as it is switched onto the projection screens, the team becomes disheartened resulting in volunteer commitment and recruitment waning off. If on the other hand a team performs with excellence, despite the fact that they may not have the best gear and last minute changes get thrown at them, volunteer commitment will likely be sustained or grow because the team sees tangible fruit from their effort even in adversity.

Secondly, people who work on the shows I do are very self-motivated to do a great job. So much so that in general the only “attitude” problems that may occur is when a technician feels he is not being given the resources to do an adequate job. No one wants or plans to fail, especially on live TV with over ten million people watching, or behind a congregation that only seems to know who you are when something doesn’t work.

Thirdly, most of the people I work with have deep sense of gratitude for being involved in a project. I know I feel that way.

A good analogy would be a documentary I watched about the Navy’s Blue Angels aerial exhibition team. After each practice and air show the team holds a debrief (post-mortem). Any team member can point out something in their performance or someone else’s performance that could have been done better. The pilot or ground crew member who made the mistake listens without interrupting, and then only after the criticism is complete says, “I’ll correct that. I’m happy to be here.”

I love the “I’m happy to be here” part. It takes a proficient yet humble man or woman to not only be thankful they’re on the team, but also be open to criticism.

[Mark]: What a great perspective. That’s one we can all wrap our arms around. So, Tom as we near the end of this conversation, how would you feel about doing a bit of a “lightning round” in Part 6 along with some wrap up?

[Tom]: Lightning round! Sounds like fun!