Friday, August 15, 2014

Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit -- Tyler Perry

(Here at the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit in an effort to improve my leadership as a volunteer with Operation Christmas Child.  Learn more about OCC at )

When Leadership Meets Inspiration :  Interview with Tyler Perry

Bill:  I am so grateful you agreed to come and spend time with us.  I had the opportunity to spend time at Tyler Perry's studio in Atlanta.  It's like a city.  The other thing that becomes apparent is this guy is a creative machine.  He puts out more shows than almost any other human being.  You have the creative side and then the business side.  Which skill set comes more naturally to you.

Tyler:  I think they're twins in the same space in my head.  I had a lot of trauma growing up and that helped me create these amazing worlds.  When the Bible says "All things work together for good," this is what I mean.  I also watched my father build houses for years.  He would be so happy when he came home on Friday and he had made $700 or $800.  Then I'd watch the man who owned the house sell it for $100,000.  I wanted to be the man who sold the house not the man who built the house.

Bill:  Where do you go to write and still run your organization?  How do you do this?

Tyler:  I try to keep the two separate.  I try to give the artist  enough space to create.  I will dedicate 3-4 months to write while being in the office only 2 days per week.

Bill:  If a very talented artist says I can't stick to a schedule or a budget because of my creativity, what would you say?

Tyler:  I'd say, "It's nice to meet you.  Good luck with your struggles."  If you're a great artist you still need to respect other people's time.   If you go back to the root of who you were before you became a superstar you'll get over that.

Bill:  How do you foster creativity?

Tyler:  For me it's important to clear the noise.  The same thing is true for my prayer life.  I try not to just write a story but to leave people with a message.

Bill:  You have a large campus that looks like a city.  You have an employee who was so motivated and when I asked him how long he'd worked for you he said,"Six years and I hope I can work for him for the rest of my life."  How do you inspire that?

Tyler:  I was always the underdog so when I created this world in Atlanta I wanted to make it welcoming to everyone.  Sometimes I will pass over the most qualified and hire the person with the best attitude.

Bill:  I could feel that with your staff.   You really were not set up to succeed in life.  Your dad beat you, then your mom would take you to church.

Tyler:  I was born into this family.  My father was a functional alcoholic who married my mother when he was 21 and she was 16.  They had grown up with so much fear.  My father despised me because I was an artist.  My father would drink and start to fight with my mother and I would get beat while trying to protect her.  But every Sunday she would take me to church and be so lifted up and I said, "I want to know this God who makes my mother so happy."  She died in 2009 and that was very difficult but I know God doesn't make any mistake.  Without her I don't know where I'd be.  What she gave me has sustained me through everything and that's my faith in God.

Bill:  One of the best things I ever read about forgiveness came from Tyler Perry.  You said, "It takes a tremendous amount of energy to get through abuse but it takes just as much energy to forgive."

Tyler:  You can't just hit a switch and it goes away.  You give up the hope of change until you work through forgiveness.  The person who hurt you still has power over you until you forgive them.

Bill:  One of the characters that you created is Madea--this crusty, sassy wisdom figure.

Tyler:  Madea is based on my aunt.

Bill:  You created her and use her very adroitly to get messages across that most people don't see coming at them.

Tyler:  I wanted to do a play with a message like forgiveness and love.  One day I was on stage as Madea and things got really quiet as the audience was listening.  Very difficult subject matter can be put into a comedy.

Bill:  When I was preparing for this I watched all the Madea movies.  Then you also do another genre as well -- one called "Good Deeds" that talks about faithfulness in marriage and the socioeconomic divide.   In that film you're the owner of a large company and you interact with a lower-level employee.

Tyler:  Having lived in both social classes, I wanted to show the differences and not to judge someone who's going through hard times.

Bill:  Even as we're meeting there's a new round of racial tension in our country.  What's your take on that.  How do we find our way ahead.

Tyler:  It's not going to happen overnight.  Every generation gets a little better.  When I grew up and started to realize that people are just people I saw we're more alike than different.  We need to see we all have the same struggles and issues.  My hope is that this next generation will be different.  It is much better than it was.

Bill:  Another thing that might be tough to talk about is how many critics you have.  I think you have more than I do.  How do you deal with your critics?  Does it still sting?

Tyler:  I was so frustrated.  I asked staff not to put any critics in the front row.  At one show two critics gave opposite reviews of the same show so I realized it's a matter of personal opinion.  I'd rather focus on the 12 million people on Facebook who focus on the positive.  The Bible says "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies" so I'll just let my enemies watch me eat.

Bill:  Let's talk about charities you support.  What drives your philanthropy?

Tyler:  I'm my mother's son.  She had a heart for giving and I believe to whom much is given much is required.  At first I had so much guilt about making money that I gave it all away.  Then I got over that and became more intentional about giving.

Bill:  As we start to wrap things up can we talk about church. We had a very interesting talk about this in your office.  You are a devoted follower of Christ but you have a tough time participating regularly in a local church.

Tyler:  Because of the level of money you make there's a level of expectation of giving and that's a complete turn-off to me.  I don't want to put myself in a position where I have to defend or push away so sometimes it's easier to stay home and watch online.  I wish as celebrities we could just go lie on the altar and there be no judgment.  I once took a famous person to church and she started to cry in church and it was reported she had a nervous breakdown.  But I'm not giving up on it.

Bill:  I would just say to pastors, ask your congregation to leave celebrities in peace.   One last question--because you are a Christian and have this incredibly powerful medium--30 years from now what kind of legacy do you hope to have left at the end of your career.

Tyler:  My aunt said people may forget what you said to them but they won't forget how you made them feel.  I hope 20 years from now someone will see one of my movies and be uplifted and feel good.

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