Kevin Costner in Draft Day. Used without permission, but they should thank me for the promotion!
Kevin Costner in Draft Day. Used without permission, but given the lack of sales, they should thank me for the promotion!

So he had the worst English accent for a Robin Hood of all time, but Kevin Costner is back in the Ivan Reitman film, ‘Draft Day’. (Seriously, Kevin Costner has said he was trying for an English accent back in Prince of Thieves.)

‘Draft Day’ is an enjoyable film about the General Manager of a US Football Team (the Cleveland Browns) on the day when the teams take their pick of the new talent coming out of College into the NFL. It’s a tense situation as the film follows just a few hours of one day, and you watch Costner’s character negotiate for the best talent for a team that’s average in the rankings. It’s fiction, of course, but it’s worth noting a few real-life leadership lessons that we can draw from the film.

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5 Leadership Lessons from ‘Draft Day’

1. You Can Be Over 50 and Still Just Starting to Spread Your Wings. Costner’s character is only now starting to come out from under the shadow of his famous and revered father, long-time coach of the team. Costner is now calling the shots for the first time, and even then he has pressure from all around him to cave in to their demands. Costner portrays this weary expectation and burden well.

I remember former Australian Deputy PM (and current Ambassador to the US), Kim Beazley saying after he retired from politics that he didn’t think anyone should enter politics until they were in their 50s, because they needed that long – no matter how smart they are (and Kim Beazley can never be accused of being unintelligent) – to develop the wisdom, experience and perspective that really means they can add meaningfully to a nation.

If you’re over 50, you may only be just starting to enter your truly productive stage of life and leadership. Embrace it!

2. Communication is a Vital Ingredient to Success. The Cleveland Browns need a GM and a Coach who are in sync, but they aren’t throughout most of the film. And it requires some heartfelt, honest, straightforward communication to get them there.

I often find that at the heart of my clients’ leadership needs is communication. They have great ideas, great processes, great resources and great skills, but they don’t communicate clearly and in a way that taps into the motivations and needs of the people around them. They also don’t use communication to uncover what they don’t know. Instead, they assume they have the relevant facts without sufficient evidence. Ask honest questions! It’s amazing what you’ll uncover.

Communication also lies at the heart of great negotiation. You need to be prepared to take positions and move with the arguments and counter-offers – not just be silent and staunch.

3. Success Breeds Success. The good players in the film are attracted to teams that perform highly. They highly regard the reputation of both the team and the people running it. The ability of the teams to make the kind of money necessary to pay these high salaries is vital to their ability to continue to play with the best. On the other hand, if the money’s on offer, but the team and the coach and management have bad reps, the players will want to leave them in droves.

If you’re out to recruit top talent, have you bothered to ask yourself if you’re the kind of leader they’d like to work for? Are you the kind of organisation that they’ll love and where they’ll be able to fly high?

Sometimes someone’s just glad for a job, but sometimes they want a lot more. Google pays top data mining scientists/analysts $5 million per year to join their team. Not everyone can afford that, of course, as it’s an insane amount of money for nerds. But Google has the global reputation for innovation, technology and opportunities to match the $$ on offer. Why wouldn’t top talent say ‘Yes, please’ to that, even if only for a year?

4. Character Trumps ‘Talent’. Costner’s GM finds out something about one of the top potential picks that makes him uneasy about the choice. It starts out as a niggling question and continues to develop throughout the film (I won’t give details away). As he says at one point, “It’s a character thing for me.”

It turns out that the character question ends up revealing a lot about the players and how well they’ll perform.

Sometimes talent can appear so overwhelming that we think we’re onto a winner. But really, character ends up trumping talent. You can see it even in the eyes of those who chase after the $$, but don’t have the integrity.

I’ve had clients who’ve hired people who were looking for the $$ and claimed to be high flyers. I was uneasy about the people and expressed my concerns, but was not directly involved and didn’t have a say. As it turned out, the character of the individuals concerned was lousy. A few more questions in the beginning would have alerted the relevant execs and saved hundreds of thousands, and sometimes millions, of dollars – not to mention all the headaches, wasted time, hurt relationships, client and staff bad will and so on.

Character counts.

5. Family Matters. The GM is under constant pressure regarding his past family and a newly developing one – including his girlfriend played by Jennifer Garner (Costner’s 59, Garner is 42 – this is Hollywood fiction!). His family’s legacy, as well as his own future legacy are at stake. But he takes the time to realise how important family is, even at this critical juncture of his career.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: What’s the point of all the success and approbation in the world, if you can’t enjoy your own family? Family contributes to our self-identity, to our place in the world, to our enjoyment of life, to our meaning in life. And your leadership of your family is the supreme test of true leadership, of your character and of who you really are. So take care of them, listen to them, learn from them and celebrate life with them.

© 2014 Peter J. McLean

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5 Leadership Tips You Can Learn From ‘Draft Day’
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