What the Academy Awards Taught Us About Leadership
There’s lots of talk these days about leadership, but a great example was on display at this year’s Academy Awards ceremony.
I refer of course to that moment when the producer of La La Land – which had just been announced as the Best Picture winner – had started his acceptance speech when he was told there had been a mistake, and that the actual winner was Moonlight.
At the moment, as Jordan Horowitz plummeted from the pinnacle of triumph to the pit of disappointment, he could have reacted in different ways. He could have gotten angry. It wasn’t his fault, after all. He could have pointed fingers. He could have walked off the stage.
But he did none of those things. Instead – though he later admitted his heart “was a little broken” – he rose to the occasion with courage, grace and dignity.
“Guys, guys, I’m sorry,” he said, leaning into the microphone. “There’s a mistake. Moonlight, you guys won best picture. This is not a joke. Moonlight has won best picture.”
He even held up the card proving that Moonlight was the real winner. And in so doing, Horowitz gave us a living, breathing example of what leadership looks like.
“I often say that leaders control the weather,” says leadership writer and trainer Scott Eblin. “However they show up is predictive of how everyone around them will show up. That’s especially true in times of chaos and fluidity. By that standard, the Oscar for best leader at the Academy Awards goes to Jordan Horowitz.”
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Keep in mind that all this happened in a few seconds. Horowitz did not have the luxury of time to coolly assess the facts and craft an appropriate response. He acted immediately to calm a situation that could have quickly gotten ugly.
Eblin says Horowitz was inspiring because he did three things:
- He saw the bigger picture. Horowitz could have been forgiven if he had groused a bit and vented his frustration to a worldwide audience. But he realized it wasn’t about him, and he made sure that the actual winners got their time in the spotlight. This was empathy in action.
- He took charge. As chaos erupted onstage, Horowitz stepped to the microphone not once but twice to explain what had happened and set a gracious example for everyone else in the room.
- He provided evidence of the truth. “If you watch the video again, you’ll see him taking the Best Picture card that says Moonlight from Jimmy Kimmel’s hand so he can hold it up for the camera and everyone watching to see,” writes Eblin. “In doing so, he documented the truth and immediately put to rest any question about which film really won. That’s leadership presence in action.”
The next time you find yourself in an unfair and chaotic situation, you could do worse than recalling the example set by Horowitz. You might just finding yourself walking off the stage with something even bigger and more precious than a gold prize.