“Silence is the true friend that never betrays.” – Confucius
Silence is golden. At least that’s what spiritual guides and famed movie critics tell us. The new black-and-white silent movie called The Artist triumphed at this year’s Oscars by winning the Best Picture. Apart from the top prize, the film also won five awards including best picture, best director and best actor for Jean Dujardin. Directed by French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist is indeed one of this year’s most creative, charming, and uplifting films.
The time setting for The Artist is Hollywood 1927. Silent movie star George Valentin is at the height of his acting career when he meets the beautiful Peppy Miller, a determined, optimistic, hardworking young dancer. While their attraction is immediate, George is married. To make matters worse, when the “talkies” arrive and gain popularity, Peppy becomes a star while George can’t find a job. Coupled with the crash of the Stock Market, the new talking movies cause George to loose everything, his money, his wife, and his pride.
The attraction for The Artist lies in much more than its cinematographic novelty. It is more than a reminder of how people attended showings in the not so distant past where patrons never wore t-shirts, flip-flops or played with cell phones during the movie. Its appeal for moviegoers does not hinge on dressing up in “retro” tuxedos and dresses or listening to a live orchestra accompanying the film. Remarkably, apart from demonstrating the volatile yet nostalgic history of show business in the early 1900s, the film provides contemporary leaders with a lesson in the power of silence.
During a film showing, it is usually the audience and not the movie that is encouraged to remain silent. The projection of The Artist, however, turns the table. Amazingly, the audience follows the film’s lead, remaining uncharacteristically quiet as black-and-white images traffic mutely on the screen. In fact, the influential quality of the The Artist could also be detected throughout the entire Oscar Awards ceremony via the clothing, set design, music and overall production!
Leaders of all types should develop similar attributes. They should ponder during their regular silent reflection if “staff members, employees and constituents adhere only to verbal directives, or are they influenced by the leader’s inaudible gestures and actions?”
In her recent book, The Silent Language of Leaders (2011), Carol Kinsey Goman, provides useful suggestions for using body language to lead more effectively in the workplace. While many have been trained to properly manage their verbal communication, leaders in a variety of areas are often derailed by nonverbal gestures, e.g. the way they sit in business meetings, stand at a podium, or make eye contact during a video conference. Dr. Goman explains that personal space, physical gestures, posture, and facial expressions often communicate louder than words and, thus, can be used strategically to help leaders manage, motivate, lead global teams, and communicate clearly in the digital age.
Leadership is golden when it is characterized by the artistry of strategic silence – the wisdom of knowing when to allow the power of sincerity to drown-out the cacophony of audible directives. Successful leaders are able to effectively influence others in such a way because they are not afraid to learn, develop, and change. Silence is the self-reflective way that such leaders learn how to lead others by first learning how to lead themselves. This should be the most important characteristic of the contemporary leader. This indeed, would make them an “artist” worthy of the highest award!