Being Marlon Brando

A few years ago, I did a series of TV commentaries for a financial network. Later, I hired an actress to critique my work.

The actress said some complimentary things, which I remembered for approximately 10 seconds. Then she offered some constructive advice:

“You need to be more like the actor, Marlon Brando.”

This I believed completely. I always believe corrective feedback - even when it makes no sense. Some might call that a character flaw, and, of course, I’d agree completely.

“Excuse me?” I asked.

“Marlon Brando was famous for mumbling. Sometimes he sounded like he had marbles in his mouth.”

“You want me to put marbles in my mouth?” I asked.

“No,” she said, “but you’re over-enunciating the words. I want you to be more nonchalant. Brando’s attitude was, ‘Hey, I’m Marlon Brando! If you can understand what I’m saying, great; if not, too bad.’”

From this feedback I derived a theory about peak performance. I call it “Loose-Tight.”

“Tight” means setting high standards and striving to do your best. Tight is familiar to high-performers. Tight is your inner mountain-climber.

“Loose” means letting go and relaxing. Once the show starts, whatever happens, happens. Loose is your beach bum.

To be exceptional – whether giving a presentation, interviewing for a job, or just doing your daily work – you need both.

Suppose you’re giving a presentation. “Tight” means you’ll be well prepared. But if you’re too tight, you’ll sound scripted and tense.

“Loose” means you’ll be good at improvising. But if you’re too loose, your audience will question your gravitas.

So you need the combination, but it’s not a 50-50 split. Start with tight. Put in the time, effort and discipline to master your performance. Practice, practice, practice.

Then, if necessary, get some marbles.

Tip: Peak performance isn’t just about stressing and straining. It’s also about letting go.

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Consultant, author, speaker, and founder of express potential® (, Paul Hellman has worked with CEOs, executives, and managers at leading companies for over 25 years to improve performance and productivity at work. His latest book is “Naked at Work: How to Stay Sane When Your Job Drives You Crazy,” and his columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post and other leading papers.

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