There’s a new movie out with Meryl Streep called “Florence Foster Jenkins.” Don’t worry. I haven’t started doing movie reviews! But there are some lessons for Pack Leaders in this movie.
You’ve probably heard of Ms. Streep. She’s been acting in films since the late 70s, has been nominated for a record 19 Academy Awards and has won three. She’s really good at what she does and makes it look effortless.
Her latest character couldn’t be more different. Ms. Jenkins was a real person who lived in the first half of the last century. When a hand injury thwarted her ambitions to be a concert pianist, she turned her sights on a singing career… and she was absolutely terrible.
Yet she somehow became famous as a singer and even performed at Carnegie Hall. We can see how Ms. Streep does what she does. She has talent. But what about Ms. Jenkins?
As an actress, Streep is an undisputable Pack Leader. She turns into her characters on screen almost as if by magic. I don’t know whether that translates into her relationship with her dogs — she’s never asked me for help. But when it comes to Mastering the Role, she has what it takes and she knows which tool to use in what situation.
According to reports, Jenkins barely had the tools in the first place. People said that she couldn’t hold a note and was always flat. She had no sense of rhythm and no idea how to pronounce the foreign words in the classical pieces she liked to perform.
Meryl Streep is the person walking a pack of eight dogs down the street without a care in the world. Florence Foster Jenkins is the one who can’t even keep a Chihuahua under control. And yet she still somehow managed to perform to a sold-out house at Carnegie Hall.
I said that she didn’t even have the tools to be a singer, and that’s true. But she did have one thing in common with Streep: complete confidence in her abilities. Somehow along the way, nobody ever told her what a terrible singer she was. She believed that she was a really good one, and proceeded accordingly.
There’s a better word to describe her level of confidence, and it’s the Yiddish “chutzpah.” Jenkins had a lot of it. She was constantly giving private recitals for invited audiences and she made recordings. She was still terrible. She just never let on that she knew it, so her audiences came to appreciate her, although in a very different way than they would Placido Domingo — or Meryl Streep.
If you think about it, she had one other secret besides confidence. She cheated. Critics were never invited to her private shows, but friends were. Eventually, as rumors spread, everyone wanted to attend, building up her confidence. She was filling the rooms, wasn’t she?
And that was Jenkins’s other cheat. She tricked herself more than anyone else. She never became a great singer, but she did accomplish one amazing feat: She held a sold-out audience at Carnegie Hall. They may have been watching a comedy while she was doing high art, but they were never bored.
I’ve talked and written many times before about how important confidence is to being a Pack Leader, and how to trick yourself into feeling confident. But you can do something else that Jenkins did. In fact, you’re already doing it. Perform in front of a safe, friendly audience.
If your own dog isn’t that safe audience, then who is?
If you’re not finding the confidence you need to be a Pack Leader, start by looking at those moments when you feel really connected to your dog. What do you feel coming from him? It’s probably admiration, love, gratitude — or at least the canine equivalent of those emotions. What you’ll never feel or get from your dog is judgement or criticism.
As you’re working to improve your Pack Leader skills, remember that your dog wants you to put on a good performance. That’s how she knows what her role is. She won’t laugh at your mistakes, but she will respond positively to your successes.
Hopefully, unlike Ms. Jenkins, you’ll know when you hit a sour note and make the correction and your confidence will soon become real. Remember: you become a Pack Leader the same way you’re supposed to get to Carnegie Hall.
Practice, practice, practice!
Stay calm, and hit the high notes.