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Student Report: A Fireside Chat with Tommy Kail

Student Report: A Fireside Chat with Tommy Kail

Student Report: A Fireside Chat with Tommy Kail

By Katherine Ressmeyer, Stacey Han, and Jarrod Burke

Managerial Skills professor Dolly Chugh invited Tommy Kail, the Director of Broadway-hit Hamilton, to speak at Stern on Monday, March 28. Beyond touching on his impressive resume, which in addition to Hamilton includes In the Heights and Grease Live!, Kail spoke about the role leadership plays in the theater.

As the director, he is responsible for hiring, developing talent, and fostering culture – much like a professional manager. He touched on a number of beliefs that guide his leadership style. First, he tailors his interactions to the actor (or employee). Kail said it is important to understand a person’s learning and working style and react to that as a leader. Second, Kail believes a leader must experience life outside of work in order to bring his/her best self to work. In New York, we are constantly bombarded with life experiences that help add richness to our work as a leader. Third, Kail spoke of the the ability to become a “codeswitcher” and being able to walk into a room and assess what a group of people need from him.

He gave examples from his role as a director where there were actors that did not respond well to feedback in front of the group and in these instances he would pull them aside. He also had moments where a simple conversation on an elevator ride with an actor were enough to get his message across. Every person is different and it is crucial that a manager recognize the unique skills and personality a new addition brings, rather than simply comparing to the previous team member. All in all, Kail provided a unique and interesting perspective on leadership and shared insights applicable across industries.

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