Postcards from the edge


Meryl Streep combines tough acting roles with authenticity. That works in business as well as Hollywood, finds Liz Mellon

Cathy Salit has dedicated her life to using her acting skills to teach managers how to improve their performance at work. Whether it’s giving feedback, entering a room with presence, making a presentation or chairing a meeting, it turns out that how we do it has as much, or more, impact as what we do. In her long-overdue book, Cathy leverages her years of experience and distils her knowledge so that her valuable work can reach a wider audience. Fundamentally, the challenge, as we grow older and get promoted, is to keep learning and growing – adding new tricks to the bag and maybe throwing a few old ones out. Instead of sticking to what we know, and maybe becoming stuck as a result, this book shows you how to stay authentic, but keep stretching and developing. The authentic part is very important.

The powerful example cited in the book is Meryl Streep – an accomplished actress who is capable of taking on a wide range of roles, while still remaining essentially Meryl. And that’s exactly the point. You have to remain essentially you – just with a wider skillset and a broader range of performance. If I could recommend two chapters, I’d go for Improvise Your Life, which is all about being in the moment and dealing with – and building on – what is right in front of you. In this busy, busy world, we too often run past what is really happening and so miss possibilities. There is a strong link here with mindfulness. The second chapter I’d pick would be We’re All Storytellers – and not just because it starts with a quote from my very favourite book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Storytelling is an art form that has been passed down through generations over aeons. If only more managers would use stories to communicate, delivering strategy would be a lot easier. Stories are compelling, inspirational, motivating and – above all else – teach us what to do and how to be. They are more memorable by far than pie charts and powerpoint presentations and connect human being to human being. For the super-busy reader, there is a handy epilogue at the back, which is actually a summary of all the exercises suggested in the book and a quick primer of the contents – the reader could start here and then choose which parts to read in more detail. For those of you who may be a little skeptical about the relevance of acting to everyday life, I would suggest reading it first and then deciding. I believe we act every day – but without a framework and preparation, most of us act rather badly. This book can help you to fix that.

Performance Breakthrough: A Radical Approach to Success at Work

Cathy Salit