“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances …”
Jacques’ famous soliloquy in William Shakespeare’s As You Like It speaks volumes about the workplace of 2011.
In Elizabethan England and the chaotic times during which Shakespeare lived and wrote, it must have been difficult to keep a troupe of actors focused in an atmosphere of imminent war, disease, religious turbulence and political intrigue. That the Bard was able to do so plus create some of the most brilliant work in the English language—and achieve commercial success—is a tribute to his genius.
Shakespeare had stories to tell, characters to develop and audiences to attract. To make it all come alive, he had to recruit, retain and motivate talented actors.
Without stimulating roles and a sense of collaboration, their performances would have suffered or they might have moved on to another acting company. Without inspiring performers bringing his work to life, Shakespeare’s audiences may have chosen to watch bear-baiting exhibitions, public executions or visit local taverns, rather than use their discretionary income to see his plays.
Fast-forward about 400 years. Now with the Internet, Facebook and smartphones, it’s still a challenge getting people to focus in the workplace. And, in a sense, we’re still all on stage. Our leaders are like writers and directors motivating actors, stagehands, prop managers and others. They give us direction but it must be reciprocal to ensure the best performance.
In her book Actors Talk About Shakespeare, Mary Z. Maher writes, “A mutual trust is the first step in collaborating, and often actors have learned this the hard way. It has much to do with wanting direction but also wanting to be treated well.”
In the same book, distinguished Shakespearean actor Derek Jacobi comments, “I don’t like the confrontational type of director who terrorizes a performance out of you. You end up really only acting to please the director to get his approval, and to stop him chatting at you, to make him be nice to you. I hate that kind of director.”
Shakespeare probably set dramatic and artistic standards while still giving colleagues room to experiment and contribute. In fact, his plays exist in multiple versions attesting to his and others’ ability to adapt and improve what they learned in the staging process.
If he was alive today as a workplace consultant or thought leader, he would likely advise us to have a vision but would help us understand that we can’t realize it without the contributions of others.