Leonardo DiCaprio & Knowing Your Team


In recent years, Leonardo DiCaprio has talked about making the jump from actor to director. He’s also racked up a number of producing credits and appears poised to expand that tally even further.

Though he became a household name for his acting skills, DiCaprio is treading in well-worn footsteps. Brand names like Clint Eastwood, Ron Howard, Mel Gibson, and Charlie Chaplin have also successfully moved on to administrative roles in the movie business after they made it big as actors.

One of the reasons these Hollywood A-listers are so good at assuming movie-related roles beyond acting is because they intimately understand the work of the people they’re casting and ultimately directing. On the flipside, the actors in their films understand that the directors and producers have starred in many other movies before and know everything there is to know about what it’s like to act on the silver screen.

Part of the reason films like Gran Torino (Eastwood), Apollo 13 (Howard), Braveheart (Gibson), and The Great Dictator (Chaplin) have been so well-received is because everyone involved in the projects is motivated to do their best work—if for no other reason than the team leader (i.e., the director) can do the work of any of the employees on the set.

The link between managerial competence and team productivity

Recent research published by the Harvard Business Review revealed that “employees are far happier when they are led by people with deep expertise in the core activity of the business.”

It’s often said that you shouldn’t promote a writer to lead a team of other writers or a coder to lead a team of other coders. While a great writer may be able to lay down the best sentences you’ve ever read, the conventional thinking suggests he or she may not have skills that translate well to a managerial role. Instead of promoting someone who’s demonstrated they are awesome at doing their jobs, many believe that organizations should stick people who have managerial experience (or the requisite education and training) into leading positions. Instead of possessing the skills they expect their teams to have, it’s assumed that great managers need to be empathetic, charismatic, and well-spoken.

Those skills are definitely important. A completely introverted shy person who lacks emotional intelligence will almost certainly fail in a managerial role.

But it appears the attitudes toward what kind of person makes the best manager are shifting. Increasingly, studies suggest that the most effective managers need to possess a mastery of the skills they expect the members of their team to have.

That’s because when a manager can do your job better than you can, you trust what they have to say and value their input.

Unsurprisingly, research shows that workers are much more productive and effective in their roles when they’re operating in trusting environments. Consider the following statistics from a recent study. Employees in trusting environments report:

  • 76% less stress
  • 106% more energy
  • 50% higher productivity
  • 13% fewer sick days
  • 76% more engagement
  • 29% more job satisfaction
  • 40% less burnout

Quite clearly, trust is strongly correlated not only with productivity but also with the quality of the work that’s done.

Creating a more trusting environment

To create a high-trust environment, you need to be as transparent as possible. This means you need to communicate frequently about any major changes going on in your organization. You certainly don’t need to share every little detail with every single employee. But you don’t want to blindside them with any huge surprises.

Another way to build trust is to lead by example. Because the aforementioned actors had already earned distinction in previous roles, the folks they directed were inspired to follow their lead. If you’re an up-and-coming actor working on film someone like Mel Gibson is directing, of course you’re going to listen to everything he has to say and take his advice to heart. Say whatever you want about him, but the guy knows how to act—and no one would argue against that.

An organization will only be as strong as the employees that power it. Trust, communication, and managers who lead by example are absolutely crucial factors in retaining talent, keeping them motivated, boosting productivity, and helping them reach their full potential.

After being nominated for the Oscar for Best Actor three times and failing to win, the fourth time proved to be the charm. DiCaprio finally took home the coveted award last year for his role as Hugh Glass in The Revenant.

While DiCaprio will continue to produce films and star in them, it remains to be seen whether he’ll ultimately take the plunge into directing. But because of his skills and reputation, should he make the leap, you have to assume it’ll be a successful one. He’s already earned the trust of any actor he may one day direct—and that’s most of the battle.

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