Any one who wants a primer on leadership basics should watch the film The Blind Side.

Regular readers will know that I have quite a bit of admiration for Sandra Bullock (Razzie Dazzling, Sandra Sequel) and she really ratcheted it up a notch with her sterling performance of Leigh Anne Tuohy in ‘Blind Side’ befriending, mentoring and leading Michael Oher to achieving great things despite unimaginable hardships.

While films make a regular habit of glorifying a number of sports roles, I sort of never thought I would see one that did so for the position of ‘Offensive Tackle’ in American Football. It sort of gave an extra personal connection for me as that was the position I played in my state champion high school football team.

But what really struck me was the living portrayal of brilliant leadership and management…

  • Leadership happens one person at a time – Many people think ‘groups’, ‘teams’ and ‘organisation’ when it comes to leadership and management, but Tuohy shows that leadership and management is just as important one person at a time.
  • Leadership plays to strengths – After a breakthrough to Michael that the football coach never achieved, Tuohy remarks, “You should really get to know your players. Michael scored in the 98th percentile in protective instincts.”
  • Management addresses weaknesses – Grades, fitness, knowledge of the sport, trust, lack of aggression. Leigh understood the importance of these and invested deeply to overcome them.
  • Leadership admits mistakes – In the biggest decision of the film and one dearly important to Tuohy, she accepts criticism despite how unfounded it is, and goes to extra lengths to re-examine it.
  • Managers mind the stakeholders – And the numbers. Leigh could have tried to buck the system. She could have fought the rules on the grounds of Michael’s exceptional hardships and exceptional talents. But she didn’t. She accepted the parameters of her stakeholders (school administration, school teachers, NCAA) and made sure that the i’s were dotted and t’s were crossed right down to the last tenth of a GPA point.
  • Managers influence – Leigh illustrated countless, priceless examples of practicing the art of influence on her family, friends, teachers, project tormentors, and of course Michael himself.
  • Leaders care – Executives often debate to what degree leaders and managers should get emotionally involved with their teams. A big school of thought preaches an emotional distance, that it is all ‘business’. While there are certainly constraints and considerations (John Maxwell has a fine piece on this balance), I personally do believe that you can’t be effective as either a leader or a manager if you do not sincerely ‘care’ about the individuals involved. Thanks to Leigh for illustrating how this is done.
  • Managers protect the Blind Side – It is easy for fans, coaches and leaders alike to get caught up in the winning potential of point-scoring ‘quarterbacks’ (especially in today’s QB-oriented NFL) forgetting the critical complementary roles. As I described in ‘Three Levels of Empowerment’, true em-Power-ment means ‘I’ve got your back’. I guess, as Leigh says in the first lines of the film, Lawrence Taylor changed all that…

“Now, y’all would guess that more often than not, the highest paid player on an NFL team is the quarterback. And you’d be right. But what you probably don’t know is that more often than not, the second highest paid player is, thanks to Lawrence Taylor, a left tackle. Because, as every housewife knows, the first check you write is for the mortgage, but the second is for the insurance. The left tackle’s job is to protect the quarterback from what he can’t see coming. To protect his blind side.”

Leaders quarterback scoring drives. Managers protect the blind side. Both together make valuable winning combination.