Stretch but don’t break – and watch Nanette

“A leader is someone others choose to follow” ~ (me)

People follow leaders who are “keepers of the vision” and who create and maintain a space where people feel inspired and also stretched to be their best to be part of achieving that vision.

What if, however, a leader stretches things too far? It is always a risk, and should you stretch too far, the container, the space, can be broken and you can lose your audience.

So, who can leaders learn from who do this masterfully? Who stretch but don’t break that bond with their audience, their followers ?

Yes, many business, political, societal leaders. Who else? Actors and Comedians.

Two examples, one recent, one even more recent.

First, a reminder of a movement that continues to quietly build, and one I wrote about twice earlier this year.

I was absolutely inspired by Emma Gonzalez, the student from Parkland, Florida, who became the unspoken leader or a gun control movement. She gave incredible speeches first right after the massacre (video in post: “Unthinkable, unforeseeable leadership“),   then at the March for our Lives (video in post: “Emma, the world is changed by your example..“). Watch her speeches, masterful and moving.

One thing that I learned about Emma and some of her compadres from Parkland is that they are trained in drama, and their public speaking certainly reflects that.

So, that was recent. Even more recent, another person we can all learn from who comes from the field not of drama but of comedy. Yes, comedy.

Last year I went to the Kilkenomics “Economics and Comedy” Festival and wrote in: “Did you hear the one about the funny Economist ?” about the stroke of genius from the organiser, David McWilliams, to have professional comedians as panel moderators. Panels of economists could be, well, boring but not with comedians as moderators. They are such masters at managing energy, at creating and flexing tension, stretching the audience while not breaking the bonds between audience and performers. Keeping us engaged as well as entertained.

So, the comedian in question is called Hannah Gadsby, and Netflix released her show, Nanette, on June 19th, only a month or so ago. It has gone viral around the world, and if somehow you haven’t yet had someone you know tell you that you simply must watch Nanette, I’m telling you now! Go watch Nanette, now!

I was literally in floods of tears for the last several minutes, it was so powerful, so, so, powerful.

Comedy? Yes and then No. A professional comedian? Yes. Hannah began with comedy, great comedy. She then brought us more and more into her world, then signposted at a certain stage that she was going to shift. How did she do this ? She talked about tension, and how professional comedians are masters at creating tension then releasing it, and how they can only go so far. If they go too far, they can lose the audience.

In this case, she signposted really clearly that she was Hannah told us she was going to take us further, and she did. She took us into her world, her life, in a way that this straight white man had never and could never have empathised before.

She stretched the tension a long, long way, but didn’t break the bond with the audience.

Totally aside from this as a masterclass, I wasn’t crying because of her mastery, I cried because I was there, I was with her, I could feel her, I felt her humanity and identity. Thank you Hannah.

Go. Watch. Nannette.


Also published on Medium.

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