Leadership Lessons You Can Learn from Popular Entertainment
Posted on October 20, 2021
Early in my previous career in advertising, I was introduced to the now-ubiquitous concept of product placement — brands paying a fee for their products to be prominently, but seemingly organically, featured in popular entertainment media.
The Aston Martin DB5 in James Bond movies; the Coke placed just so in front of athletes at post-game press conferences; the Apple computer in, well, everything. I assure you there is no truth to the rumor that I drive a Volvo C30 to this day because it is the very same car driven by vampire hottie Edward Cullen in the Twilight movie series.
After I completed Co-Active training for coaching and leadership, I started seeing and experiencing Co-Active everywhere. It was as if Hollywood had found a way to infuse a more alive, connected, and loving way to be in the world right alongside that artfully placed soft drink can! Let me explain.
The Frequency Illusion
Once I was trained in Co-Active Leadership, it was like I couldn’t not see it in the world. Co-Active is everywhere. It’s like I’m experiencing the Frequency Illusion, that phenomenon where you buy Birkenstocks, for example, and suddenly everyone is wearing Birkenstocks!
For me, leadership coaching in general and Co-Active leadership specifically is no longer just something I do. It is the work I do in the world but, more significantly, it is a way of being. Co-Active leadership at its core is about taking responsibility for your life and being responsive instead of reactive with the choices you make. And it seems everyone’s in on it, particularly those in entertainment. I have been finding examples of Co-Active leadership in popular entertainment media. It’s not labeled as such, but if you are tuned in, you will see Co-Active has a way of showing up and making a difference in (fictious) people’s lives every day.
Covert Co-Active in Apple TV’s Ted Lasso
One of the many aspects I enjoy in Ted Lasso, the Emmy award-winning and wildly popular Apple TV series, is that the characters aren’t perfect. They exhibit many of the foibles of life and leadership I see in my coaching practice every day. Like my clients, these characters aren’t broken, just human.
In the series, Ted Lasso is the folksy American head coach to AFC Richmond, a fictitious English soccer team. In each episode viewers can see demonstrated the characteristics of a good leader as Ted and his fellow football coaches navigate the demands of the team and life.
In one episode Ted finds himself in a contentious dart game with a rival. Calling on his humble yet powerful leadership traits, Ted talks about the value of curiosity over judgment and of listening, asking powerful questions, and being authentic to who you are. You can watch the clip here.
Chief Inspector Gamache Keeps It Co-Active
In the latest installment of her New York Times #1 bestselling murder mystery series, The Madness of the Crowds, Canadian author Louise Penny reprises her beloved character, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec, the provincial police force of Quebec.
Gamache is known for empathetic listening, powerful questions, and an insatiable curiosity. He is a champion for authenticity and truth and serves as a coach and mentor to his many recruits on the force. In each book (there are 12!), Gamache can be overheard sharing his best leadership traits in the form of four phrases he believes every leader needs to use and use often: “I don’t know. I need help. I’m sorry. I was wrong.”
The ability to use these four statements illustrates authenticity and vulnerability, key qualities of a great leader.
In the 1941 classic novel that is required reading for students of philosophy, The Stranger, existentialist author Albert Camus introduces the concept of choice that is at the foundation of Co-Active Leadership.
“Should I kill myself or have a cup of coffee?” Meursault, the novel’s complex protagonist, asks himself, reminding readers that we are always at a moment of choice. We are always choosing, and the choices we make will determine the life we create for ourselves.
As morally controversial as the novel may be, Meursault is able to (spoiler alert!) die happy because he realizes he has lived an authentic life, albeit one of indifference to humanity. Leadership is about taking responsibility of one’s life, and the ability to do so is among the many qualities that make a leader great.
Jerry McGuire: Show Me the Co-Active!
In another example of Co-Active leadership in entertainment, I have long believed everything you need to know about life and leadership can be found in the 1998 Academy Award winning film Jerry McGuire.
In one iconic scene, Tom Cruise as the title character summons his Leader Within to deliver a heartfelt and authentic manifesto as he exits after being fired from his job as a sports agent. Jerry’s manifesto, titled “The Things We Think and Do Not Say,” is a love letter to authentic leadership with reference to values, purpose and authenticity. It cautions against “sleepwalking in our own lives.” This scene ends with Jerry calling forth, “Who’s with me?”
Only Renee Zellweger as timid accountant Dorothy Boyd makes the bold decision to follow him, demonstrating the courage of followership. The movie is rich with characters who struggle with life and, each in their own way, find the resolve to take responsibility for making choices from a place of courage and personal agency.
Jerry McGuire is worth a re-watch, if only to empathize when, frustrated with his only client, played by Cuba Gooding Jr., Jerry implores him to: “Help me help you.” Who among us has not been there with a challenging client or co-worker? You may wish to be inspired by Jerry’s manifesto, which was released on the 25th anniversary of the movie’s release. Read it here.
Seeing Co-Activity in the World
If you’re like me, while you’re keeping an eye out for branded soft drinks, sunglasses, or luxury cars in your favorite movie or TV show, you may also want to try to spot all the ways Co-Active Leadership shows up in the imaginary lives of beloved characters in entertainment. As a result, your world may become just a little bit (and sometimes quite a lot) brighter, more connected, and more loving.