Leadership Lessons from Spotlight


I was pleased that Spotlight won the best picture award at the Oscars last night.  Though I didn’t see all the films nominated, it was the best one I saw.  And I could relate to the story on many levels.

Having grown up Catholic, I instinctively understood the difficulties these young men would have faced raising the issues of improper behavior on the part of the priest.  In that day and age, the idea would have been unthinkable and not believed by anyone.  And as a person with many gay friends and family members, I can empathize with the profound guilt of carrying a secret, then burying it somewhere it cannot be discovered or explored.

At the time of the investigation, I was working in Boston and I clearly remember the struggle between the press and the Archdiocese.  In largely Catholic Boston, it was controversial, divisive, and all together, disturbing in so many ways.

There are some great lessons in this movie, told via a script that was bold and daring and by actors who played their roles with distinction.  This is a story that needed to be told.  Here are some leadership lessons that can be gleaned from the movie—and the story:

  1. The role of a leader – first and foremost – is as a role model. The leadership of the Catholic Church failed badly here, both in its initial response and in the subsequent cover up and finally, in its dogged determination to keep the truth from the world at large.
  2. Authenticity is a powerful and critical leadership attribute. Leaders need to be true to themselves—and transparent—not just because the truth has a way of emerging but because it is the right thing to do the right thing.
  3. Having the courage to pursue truth and justice, even in the face of so much pressure, is another of the things that differentiates great leadership. Bravo to The Boston Globe for digging to find the story behind the story despite the considerable effort to squash it.
  4. Taking responsibility for one’s actions is essential to leading effectively. Admitting to mistakes, failures, lapses in judgment—and being human—goes a long way toward building trust and confidence in others.  Not to do so is a sign of weakness.
  5. In leadership, there are always at least two choices, often more. Sometimes we get fooled into thinking there is no choice, but in this story, there were many turning points where church leaders could have made a different choice, instead of digging in deeper and deeper.

I realize this may be a controversial issue for many—and I appreciate that.  I would love to hear your thoughts.  I know some people who refused to see the movie because they preferred to remain in denial of this painful story.  I get that.

For me, the story needed to be told.  And I applaud the cast, directors and producers of Spotlight for telling it with such impact.

#spotlight #leadership #movie #academyawards #oscar

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