Les Miserables and Personal Brands – going to extremes to achieve a Vision

Les Miserables is, arguably, one of the best musicals of all time. Now it has become one of the finest motion pictures ever made. That achievement goes beyond music, money and talent. The effort and commitment underlying this production speaks volumes about what is possible with a vision, with people who share common values about excellence, integrity, teamwork and more, and with a director, actors and others, who are so committed to their craft, to their body of work – in essence to their personal Brand – that they will stop at nothing to create a work of art so extraordinary that it (and they) will be remembered for generations to come.

Tom Hooper, the director, had a vision. He got everyone to buy into that vision. That is no different from what any leader can and should achieve whether it involves a Fortune 500 Company or a single individual.

The movie broke new ground. The actors sang their lines “live” during the filming. That had never been done before. Normally, songs are sung before the scenes are shot, then dubbed into the film after the scenes involving those songs have been completed. Tom Hooper had never directed a musical before. He had fresh eyes, not clouded over by meaningless tradition. He saw the emotional power and heightened reality that might be captured through this new approach. What he saw and did is a metaphor for creative approaches, for looking at established practices and blowing them to bits to deliver a more rewarding experience, for bringing in great talent, unburdened by clinging to the mindless mantra of mediocrity – “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

The effects his approach had on the actors was extraordinary. The story is based on Victor Hugh’s expansive novel, written in 1862. It is rich in elaborate details and narrative. Everyone was required to read the book before beginning the film. That equates to every person in an organization acquiring a depth of product knowledge sufficient in detail and depth to truly earn the title of “professional.”

Then the rigorous training began. Randee Dawn, in her article entitled “Les Miz Workout,” in the L.A. Times on December 27, 2012 chronicles what Hugh Jackman, in the role of Jean Valjean (the protagonist in the story) went through. She described how he combined extensive weight training with a diet that reduced him to looking sickly. And he sang during his bench press routine, “otherwise,” he said, “the neck strain could tighten him up so much he’d be unable to sing correctly.” Randee quotes Hugh saying, “People thought I was nuts, but when there’s that much expectation – and fead – you do whatever it takes.”

Do you and I do whatever it takes to achieve excellence – to make our personal Brand as strong as it could possibly be? Or do we sometimes do our best, but mostly just do enough to get by?

There’s more. Randee goes on to describe how Hugh protected his voice. “He avoided coffee, warmed up at least 15 minutes each day, kept Ricola lozenges at the ready, drank as much as seven liters of water a day, sat in a steam three times a day, took ice-cold baths and for plane rides, flew with a wet wash cloth over his face.” Hugh talked of needing to keep his vocal chords like a rain forest.

This represents the epitome of doing what it takes – not just to achieve a goal – but to deliver the essence of individual Brand excellence. For what Hugh Jackman, and Tom Hooper and Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe and all the other members of the cast and crew showed us is an example of the highest expression of individual and collective Brand excellence as defined by the what they delivered and how they delivered it.

All of us have similar choices and opportunities to do, in our respective fields of endeavor, what these artists did and undoubtedly will continue to do in theirs. How are you measuring up?

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