I am not a movie critic, but I can pretend to be one for the length of time it takes you to read this quasi-review.
There are three films I have seen in 2015 which are must-watches for anyone interested in leadership. Each of the three films illuminate the human condition in ways that leaders must know intuitively and for that reason anyone concerned with what it makes to stand on principle and lead should go see.
First is Bridge of Spies. Starring Tom Hanks as James Donovan, an insurance lawyer drafted into defending a Soviet spy. Three years late he is asked by the CIA to go to East Berlin, just as the Wall is being constructed to liberate U2 pilot Gary Francis Powers. Not only must Donovan battle the Soviets and East Germans, he’s given scant support by the CIA who barely acknowledge him. Furthermore, his white shoe law firm turns its back on him for “helping the enemy.” Donovan was a righteous man and stood tall for what he believed and in the process served our nation well.
Passion may hurt you more than help you in your next argument.
That’s a conclusion of new research into persuasion by a pair of university academics and reported by Shankar Vedantam of NPR. Passion, often highly prized by leaders, may actually work against that leader if he or she is trying to reach out to someone who may not agree with them. Passion works when communicating people who share your point of view but it actually does the opposite to those with whom you disagree. Anyone who has argued politics – or the merits of Star Trekover Star Wars (or vice versa) — can attest. [More on Trek vs. the Force in a moment.]
Without a trace of irony, the CEO looks straight at the young Ph.D. analyst and says, “Speak as you might to a young child, or a golden retriever. It wasn’t brains that got me here, I assure you.”
That memorable line is from the movie Margin Call, the fictionalized story of the collapse of a Wall Street investment company. The CEO (played by Jeremy Irons) is not being facetious; his tone and manner (seen here on YouTube) reflects exactly what many senior executives want: simple explanations, not in the weeds details. Sadly too many rising executives fail to understand their bosses’ desire quick explanations. And so when they present to their higher ups they believe it is their duty or even their obligation to go on long, too long.
This disconnect arises for one or more of the following reasons: one, they believe they need to show what they know and prove it to everyone; two, they fail to realize that senior managers do not want to know how the sausage is made only that is available; and three, they believe in the law of plenty – if one fact is good; three are better.
You can sum up these failings with a simple statement: when presenting to a senior executive your job is to inform not educate. Executives want information so they can make up their own minds; they don’t need explanations that will be perceived as extraneous and irrelevant. And, very important, they do not want interpretation.