Inspiring Leadership Lessons from the Academy Awards?

Glory Borgeson

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Several years ago I watched the Academy Awards show from start to finish for the first time. In the years before that, I could only watch about 30 minutes of the show before I got bored out of my mind. But this particular year I didn't have to work the next day, and after 30 minutes I wasn't bored. Billy Crystal was hosting and he was hilarious. At the time, I just wanted to be entertained.

I don't think I've watched many more “Oscars" shows from start to finish since then. However, once I added TiVo to my electronic equipment collection so I could record shows on the TiVo hard drive (and fast-forward through commercials and any boring parts), watching a long show such as the Academy Awards became easier. So in 2005, I intended to watch the Oscars for only an hour or so (which, with TiVo, would mean I would get to see about two hours of the show!). Yet, I found that I kept watching it beyond the first hour.

Why? I'm not a big movie buff. I certainly don't care about Hollywood. And Chris Rock, who hosted that year, is funny, but he's not funny enough to keep me glued to the tube for 3 hours (TiVo or no TiVo).

As I thought about this later I realized that I actually enjoyed some of the acceptance speeches. (Not all of them, mind you; for some of those speeches the TiVo fast-forward button came in handy. ) But, you know what? When some of the winners talked about how their excellent work (which led to their winning an Academy Award) was a direct result of being inspired by a leader they worked with on the project (usually a director) or on a previous project (such as a mentor in their field), I was somewhat captivated.

The winners were not bullied into excellence, not scared into it, nor yelled at. Rather, they were inspired to excellence by great leadership.

Can you imagine being Jamie Foxx or Cate Blanchett or Hillary Swank, in the two years prior to winning the awards? You get a part in a movie with a director you've heard about (and hoped to work with some day), and then you hope he or she is as good a director as you've heard. And when you get to the rehearsal days and the filming days when this director is really leading, you find your performance improving each time you play the role. You find yourself stretched (in a good way) and feeling exhilarated from a job well done and well led. When you see the playback of the movie and see yourself performing, you know it's among the best work you've ever done, and you rightfully credit your incredible performance to the inspiring leadership you received while you did that work.

Bring It Into Your World

With the exception of my godson who may become a composer of movie scores, it's unlikely that most of us will wind up in the movie business some day. However, we can apply these ideas in two ways:

  1. To those of us who are leaders
  2. To those of us who report to leaders

For Leaders

While thinking about your own leadership style, and thinking about the leadership of the leaders praised at the Academy Awards, contemplate these questions:

  • Do the people who report to you feel inspired by your leadership? How do you know?
  • Do the people who report to you receive something from you that gives them what they need to achieve excellence? (Or are they on their own? If they're on their own, then what's the point of being their leader?)
  • What do you inspire them to do?
  • How do you draw them in?
  • How do you teach them?
  • How do you inspire them to reach new heights?

If you are able to identify several ways in which you inspire people to excellence, good for you!

If you're not sure of your answers to these questions, it may be time for you to stretch as a leader! Your uncertainty indicates a real need for leadership development. Please don't ignore the signs. Look for some assistance to help you become an inspiring leader.

While you may not be a movie director with scores of actors to inspire, use the metaphor to imagine yourself as that director. What director do you most emulate? Penny Marshall? Woody Allen? Martin Scorsese? Which director would you like to emulate? How are you going to get there?

For Those Who Report to Leaders

If you report to a leader, contemplate these questions:

  • Can you identify how a leader has helped you do more excellent work in the past?
  • What did he or she do?
  • Think about the person you currently report to. Can you identify ways in which he or she inspired you to excellence in the past year? What did the leader do? What was present in his actions? What was absent in her behavior?
  • What do you really want from this current leader?
  • What will you do if you don't receive it?

If you report to someone who constantly inspires you to excellence (like Martin Scorsese or Clint Eastwood), you are very fortunate! Take notes, relish it, and apply it to your own leadership style.

If your leader is far from inspiring, you need to think about, first, from where you will receive your inspiration? (You've got to get it from somewhere or someone!) Second, how long you want to report to someone whose leadership style doesn't motivate you to excellence?

After you answer those two questions, you may need to take action to change your life. Why would you want to report to a leader who is less than inspiring? He or she should be inspiring you to greatness!

There are a lot of great leaders out there, and there are also a lot of training programs and coaches out there who are helping leaders to become great, inspiring leaders! If your leader does not take the time and attention she needs to become a great, inspiring leader (of you and your coworkers!), then you need to find a new leader. Look around and ask around. What leaders do your friends and acquaintences know who work at inspiring greatness in the people they lead? Find them. Find out how you can work for them.

We may not be actors with agents who can find us a project with a great, inspiring director, but using the metaphor, we can be our own agents (and we can use our friends and acquaintences as “agents") to find inspiring leaders for whom we would like to work.


The next time you see an excellent performance worthy of an Oscar, think about the leader who drew that actor into greatness. Be inspired to be that kind of leader and to look for that kind of leadership in others.

© 2006 Borgeson Consulting, Inc.

Glory Borgeson is a business coach and consultant, and the president of Borgeson Consulting, Inc. She specializes in working with executives in the “honeymoon phase" of a new position (typically the first two years) to coach them to success. Glory is the newly appointed executive's Secret Weapon!. Top athletes have a coach; why not you?

Click here for Borgeson Consulting, Inc.

This article was originally published in The Business Express, Borgeson's free monthly ezine. You may subscribe by clicking here: Ezine


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