And the Oscar Goes to…

In anticipation of the Oscars, I made it a point to check out one movie that I believe will sweep the entire ceremony:

Monsters University

Let me tell you why I think this movie is so incredible. [SPOILER ALERT]

Mike Wazowski takes charge of motivating his fraternity brothers as they compete in the Scare Games, a contest designed to find the house with the best scarers on campus. His team feel dejected, like they can’t possibly win the games.

Wazowski sneaks them onto Monsters, Inc. where from a window overlooking the Scare Floor, he and his fraternity brothers watch world-class, professional scarers at work. He turns to his fraternity brothers:

Mike: Take a good look, fellas. See what they all have in common?

Squishy: No, not really.

Mike: Exactly. There’s no one type of scarer. The best scarers use their differences to their advantage.

And the Oscar Goes to…

Okay, I know that Monsters University wasn’t even nominated. But I love that scene because of what it says about being the best: THERE IS NO ONE-SIZE FITS ALL. To win the Best Picture, the Gold Medal, or distinction at the top of your field isn’t cookie-cutter.

On the other hand, when I look at the trends in the Oscars, I see at least 3 similarities that Oscar winners share with successful leaders:

Not a remake, but an original

In recent years, Hollywood has remade several TV shows into movies. Producers reason that if you liked the TV shows The Brady Bunch, Starsky & Hutch, and Charlie’s Angels, you’ll like the movies they spawned, right? Well, yes, but only to a point. Those movies made money because they are nostalgic, but they are not original. Copy-cats don’t get nominated for an Oscar.

Do you want the success of Steve Jobs at Apple? All you have to do is wear the same clothes every day, study Buddhism, be a creative genius, manage with an acerbic, cutting tongue and a ring of arrogance. Want to lead like Winston Churchill? Smoke cigars and drink Johnnie Walker. It’s as easy as that.

No, actually, copying superficial traits will not make you successful. It’s one thing to copy certain admirable characteristics you see in others. But a copy will never be as crisp as an original.

Successful leaders embrace their uniqueness, flaws and all.

Not a solo performance, but an ensemble

The other night I read an IMDb review about a famous actor whose small part in a particular movie “stole the show” and “would have been an enjoyable movie if he had been supported by a stronger ensemble cast.”

Tom Hanks. Meryl Streep.  Johnny Depp. Jennifer Aniston. Vince Vaughn. Ben Stiller. Reese Witherspoon. All household names, all multimillion dollar, bet-the-studio-on actors. At times, the difference between a good movie and a great movie is the script. At other times, the difference is the quality of people pulled together to make the movie, from the high-paid actor and director to the key grip.

In his heyday, Chicago Bull’s great Michael Jordan alone could not have beaten a really bad high school basketball team of five. Leaders understand that a team is stronger and can outperform even the best lone ranger. And likewise, if you’re the smartest or most talented person in the room, you’re in the wrong room. When you’re promoted to leader, that’s the last time you will be compensated for what you accomplish. Leaders get paid to help other people become successful.

Leaders aren’t threatened by brilliance. In fact, successful leaders surround themselves with the best people they can find.

Not formula-driven, but STORY-driven

If you’ve seen the movie Rocky or Die Hard, do you really need to watch Rocky or Die Hard II, III, IV, V, etc? Nope. Those movies are formulaic. Movies about sports follow the David and Goliath plot line where the underdog comes out on top. Action movies follow the ¿Quién es más macho? plot line where a testosterone dripping superhuman gets stabbed in the eyeball, absorbs several point-blank bullets to the chest, walks over glass after escape a burning building while carrying several orphans and a puppy to safety, and he still has the presence of mind to use a snappy catch phrase like, “Guys like me don’t die of old age, so I’ll be back to introduce you to my little friend…”

Oscar-winning movies are story-driven like A Beautiful Mind, The King’s Speech, and Argo, not formulas where you insert a good guy and a bad guy, a beautiful woman, a sex scene, a catch-phrase, a couple of deaths, and a good soundtrack.

The best leaders are great story-tellers. They don’t just understand business, spreadsheets, and bottom lines, but they know also how to build coalitions and inspire people to new heights by making every team member part of the story.


The Best Picture at the Academy Awards might be comedy, tragedy or drama. If there are any awards and recognition for leadership, I think the Oscar goes to the leader with originality, who surrounds him/herself with the best people, and who makes everyone in the room part of the story. 

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