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Friday, March 05, 2010

Leadership Lessons from the Movies

If you haven't seen the movie "The Blind Side" yet, you should go see it while it is still in cinemas. 

The story is about a Memphis, Tennessee family, Sean and Leigh Anne Touhy, who offer a lost, homeless teenager, Michael Oher, the opportunity to come into their home and become part of their family. Through Mrs. Touhy's nurturing, Michael becomes a standout high school football player, eventually earning a scholarship to the University of Mississippi and being selected as the National Football League's Baltimore Ravens' first round draft selection in the spring of 2009.

It's a touching and powerful real life story with one particular lesson all business leaders and coaches could learn from.

During Oher's early days on the gridiron his football coach was frustrated with his lack of comprehension of how to fulfil the offensive tackle role he had been assigned. The coach, applying his traditional coaching style of yelling louder and more forcefully with each frustrating play at practice, gets no results. Mrs. Touhy, watching her 'adopted' son from the practice sidelines, walks on to the field and addresses Oher, reminding him of his strong will and personal attribute of "protective instincts." In taking the "Student Career Aptitude Test" for admission to a private Christian school Oher scored in the 98th percentile in "Protective Instincts."

Knowing this was his personal strength she used herself as a metaphor for the quarterback, and her youngest son as the tailback, telling him to protect his teammates in those positions as if he were protecting his new family. In the movie Michael immediately "gets it" and transforms into a force on the team's offensive line, much to the amazement of his coach, standing bewildered on the sidelines.

Two leadership lessons in that story:

1) Leaders have to know what makes their people tick. They need to take the time to learn what motivates them and what their true strengths and interests are.
2) Leaders must then take that information and apply it to the role in which they assign to their team members so everyone is working in a role that reinforces their strengths.

To apply this in the most ridiculous way, above the high school level, a rugby team would not put its stand off into the scrum during a match. Yet, few businesses really assess the strengths of their employees and learn what they like to do and feel good doing before they assign a job to them. While in business, unlike sports, it may not be possible to have someone fill only the role they are the perfect fit for, it is possible to identify those strengths and have their role include more of that work than not. It benefits both the individual and the organisation.


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