Martin Scorsese: Leadership Lessons for Project Managers
Photo by Art Streiber
First, let’s cover the basics, and then we’ll get into the lessons.
Who is Martin Scorsese?
Some argue he is the greatest living director of movies. Others only know him as gangster movie director. Whatever your opinion, Martin Scorsese has directed several classic films, including Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Cape Fear, Casino, The Departed, Shutter Island, and one of my all-time favorites, Gangs of New York.
That’s obviously a huge list of creative accomplishments for one career. The number of people he’s collaborated with is staggering. The diversity of topic and location in his movies is amazing. Yet, even with all this experience, one thing stood out in the Fast Company interview: how Mr. Scorsese leverages past movies to convey how a future scene should look. Here’s some insight from Dante Feretti, an Oscar-winning production designer:
I read the script and then Marty shows me films. Many, many films, with many different references he wants me to think of for the look of our movie. He carries all these films in his head. He shows me whole films for just one shot, telling me, ‘Remember this image, that’s the feel I want.’”
As someone who has to frequently convey how I think things should be designed, both on the web and in mobile apps, I can say that taking this “immersive examples” approach has yielded much better results since I’ve started using it.
What Can Martin Scorsese Teach a Project Manager About Leadership?
This is where it gets really interesting. As I read the list of 7 questions that plague Mr. Scorsese, I had an a-ha moment: if Martin Scorsese deals with these same questions that I do, it makes encountering and tackling them that much easier to deal with.
Here’s the list of the 7 questions that plague Martin Scorsese, with my additional thoughts on each. One of the toughest things about being a leader is remaining creative in the face of these questions.
1. Is he going to get the resources he needs?
- The most frequent complaint of most project managers is a lack of resources. However, resources are only one piece of the “scope, time, resources” trifecta. Smart project managers know that they can adjust time and scope to fit the resources at their disposal. I’ve also seen my share of situations where “more” resources doesn’t always equal “better” output.
2. Will his bosses like what he’s doing?
- You have to first ensure you understand your bosses. After that, use their view as a “lens” with which to see your project and yourself. By doing this, you’ll be able to ensure the project executes on their vision as well as yours.
3. Will they give him another chance on another project?
- It’s very important to think of your projects as an ever-increasing portfolio that defines you. When you look at it that way, what’s the best method to get bigger and better projects? Ensure the ones you are working on right now are wildly successful, by any means necessary.
4. How much of his creative vision will get into this project?
- Anyone can get things done. However, it takes a special kind of leader to put their stamp on a project. Be curious and ask yourself, “Am I putting my own creative vision into this project?” You should do this regardless of if your project is an accounting system automation task or a TV ad. Doing work that matters means flexing your creative muscles on it.
5. How much will the powers that be screw with his vision?
- 80% of this battle is defining your vision but being flexible to evolve it. So many people jump into tactics and tasks without defining their vision first. Having both a strong, fact-based vision, while also being willing and able to turn on a dime, is a combination of skills that will help you achieve things you didn’t think were possible.
6. When does he say “no” to them? When does he say “yes”?
- The distance between “order taker” and “revolutionary” at work might seem far, but in reality it’s not. It really comes down to how you approach every interaction with your boss. Your goal as someone who leads projects is to find objective methods to assess any situation. Arguments of opinion are your enemy. So, use external research, quantitive insights and qualitative input to drive when to say “no,” and when to say “yes.”
7. Whom does he trust? And how in the world is he going to get away with doing the work he loves for his whole life?
- Trust is constantly evolving, earned and lost within relationships all the time. Use your experience to develop your gut instinct about trust, and stay aware for signs that someone is breaking it. Successful projects are the key to doing work you love. Projects are built on relationships. Relationships are built on trust. Ask yourself: “Am I doing everything I can to build relationships in my project(s)?”