Have you ever had friends who constantly quote some movie, using it as a kind of shorthand in conversations? If you haven’t seen the film in a long time, or never saw it to begin with, it can get old fast.
Well, that’s exactly what happened to me. I joined a new team this year and some of my colleagues love The Big Lebowski. So, not wanting to be left out of a good source of pop culture references, I went back for a rerun of it. Maybe because my colleagues and I are bunch of OD and leadership nerds, or maybe because I took one too many grad school courses in literature and cultural studies, this time around I couldn’t help watching it through the lens of leadership development.
If you haven’t seen it, The Big Lebowski is the story of “The Dude”, a peripatetic ex-hippie, who’s pulled from his daily routine of league bowling and substance use into a kind of trippy film noir detective story. If you have seen it, you’ll know that there’s quite a bit of content in the movie that would be a stretch to call appropriate fodder for leadership development. Still, proving once again that it’s all about the debrief, here are three leadership lessons from the movie:
“Yeah well, that’s just, ya know, like, your opinion, man.”
The Dude famously utters this pithy rejoinder after a (rather descriptive) prediction by another competitor that he will lose a bowling match. What the Dude and W. Edwards Deming both know is that, “Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.”
Too often, as leaders, we simply state our conclusions without introducing the data that led us to them. We assume that others have the same data, and that they interpret it in the same way. Of course, this is frequently not the case. Unfortunately, conversations often get stuck at the level of trading competing conclusions. Nobody’s mind is changed, and key issues get stalled. By sharing the data and the reasoning behind our conclusions, we dramatically increase the likelihood that we will either influence others to agree with us, or be influenced ourselves to change our position. So long as the right result for the business is reached, both are good outcomes.
The Dude’s words can serve as a helpful mental test whenever we’re preparing to make our case. If you can imagine him saying that line after you’ve had your say, then maybe it’s time to reassess. Play the clip on YouTube if it helps. It’s not hard to find.
“You’re not wrong Walter, you’re just an #%*hole!”
The Dude makes this insightful comment after his friend Walter points a loaded gun at someone for a bowling rules infraction. The other bowler, who suffers emotional problems, is distraught and later complains to the league office. Walter just keeps asking if he was wrong about the rule.
As leaders, we’re often so focused on being right, that we miss the damage we cause along the way. The cost in broken relationships and unanticipated fallout down the road can be much higher than the benefit of proving ourselves right on a given point. And how often do we tolerate metaphorical guns being pointed at employees for small infractions or simply for disagreeing with decisions or policies? During training on performance coaching, we ask managers to articulate what is at stake if a behavior doesn’t change. Many of them quickly go to the person’s job or career being in jeopardy. While that may be the case, things frequently aren’t that extreme.
The Dude reminds us that there are more important things than being right in the moment, and that we need to make sure that negative consequences in the workplace are proportional to the behavior in question. For a more academic take, check out Bob Sutton’s book The No Asshole Rule.
“I don’t roll on Shabbos”
When a critical bowling match is scheduled for Saturday, Walter takes a stand and insists that it be rescheduled so that he can observe the Sabbath.
Regardless of our faith or personal beliefs, we all need to protect time in our lives to attend to that which we hold sacred. That may be religious observances, family commitments, community involvement, or just plain me-time. As human beings, there are limits to the space we can allow work to take in our lives. We should recognize that need in ourselves and others.
We also need time to disengage, even from work that we love, to recharge our batteries. We’ll be more effective leaders when we do. That may be time to take care of our health, to exercise, to read, to be in nature, or even perhaps – occasionally – to watch movies.
Sean Kennedy has worked with dozens of Fortune 500 corporations to develop their leaders. He has extensive experience designing development programs to transform organizational capability and drive corporate strategy. In addition to supporting Cambridge´s clients, Sean collaborates with our senior team on learning strategy and the evolution of our program portfolio. Sean previously worked for 15 years at Harvard Business Publishing and was instrumental in building its Corporate Learning practice.