How to Lord It Over Your Employees: Charles Leggett

"A master of both bluster and subtlety" schools me on taking command of the conference room.

I could use a little more respect from the Seattle Weekly staff.I've been thinking that for a while now. But it really came to a head a few weeks ago over Friday afternoon drinks. One of the summer interns, then also working as a salesgirl at Nordstrom, made a joke about my fashion sense—a joke that suggested I was maybe deficient in this area. Now I certainly enjoy some good-humored ribbing. But how could she not fear my wrath? She's an intern! I'm the editor in chief!I decided it was time to carry myself with a little more authority around the office, to be a little more commanding. It's not that I want to be feared, exactly. But I would prefer that people treat me with at least a trace of...awe. And the most important place to start, I realized, was not Fridays, but Mondays, the day that sets the tone for the rest of the week.At our Monday morning editorial meetings, the staff gathers around the conference table to discuss plans for upcoming issues, brainstorm ideas, and receive stern warnings regarding deadlines. But how to convert the cheerful distraction on their faces to rapt attention and deference?For this I enlisted actor Charles Leggett. A regular on the local mainstages for the past decade or so, Leggett is what is often called "a bear of a man." A tall smoker, with slow, deliberate movements and an imposing gut, Leggett is somehow a master of both bluster and subtlety. As our John Longenbaugh wrote about him last year, "Regardless of the role, there [is] always something original about [Leggett's] interpretation." Leggett tells me that "people often assume I have a pugilistic history." And while that's not true, he says he doesn't mind at all that his manner is often found to be intimidating.A possible propensity for violence also marks Leggett's next stage role, as the husband Joe in Steven Dietz's Becky's New Car, premiering at ACT next month. Asked by his wife whether he'd prefer to know or not know if she were having an affair, Joe says he would want to know—so he could kill the guy.I brought Leggett to the SW conference room to get his advice: How should I run the editorial meetings? How would Leggett conduct himself if he were playing the part of a powerful, exacting, and remarkably handsome editor of an alternative newspaper?Needless to say, I'm doing everything wrong.For starters, no more sitting around blabbering with the staff while we wait for latecomers to drift in. "I would likely not be in the room until I wanted the meeting to be underway," advised Leggett. The key to projecting authority, he says, is economy. "Economy of movement. And often of speech. That's why it's better not to be gabbing with folks." The message I should be sending to the staff is that I'm interested in them "for what they bring to the table," he says, "not for how many drinks they had last weekend." Of course, with some writers, the latter may far exceed the former. But I'll let that go.The second key, Leggett tells me, is confidence. "And the best way to be confident is to be prepared—knowing everything you need to know to prosecute that meeting." Leggett says that in his business, you want to convey what the character is after in the scene; what does he want? And likewise "a good leader always keeps his goal in mind." In my case, the goal is to get a room of jaded young cynics to pipe up with some decent story ideas. I have to communicate that desire, but not by being all chatty and friendly about it, says Leggett. "Look people in the eye and say, 'Let's get started. I want to hear what you have to say now.'"Another clear failing of mine: excessive honesty and openness. "You don't want to necessarily be lordly," says Leggett. "But if you want to be seen as a leader, a certain amount of distance is involved—and can be put to good use."Employing an old showbiz saw, Leggett says I should "leave them wanting more. Holding your cards close to your chest engenders respect. If you spill them all out on the table, there's no reason for them to look at you anymore. The less they know, the more they have to listen."Also: No jerky movements. "Moving around dissipates your energy," says Leggett, who coolly embodies all these principles as he sits, gazing at me stone-faced. "It appears you don't have to do much because you don't have to. It's one of the gifts of aging."Finally I had to ask, while dreading the answer, about my habit of entertaining the staff and lightening the mood with self-deprecating humor. "I would be hard-pressed to think of ways that it would help you in this situation," Leggett dryly replied.Aargh! Stop the presses!mfefer@seattleweekly.com

 
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