What Great Leaders and Jerry Maguire Have in Common

One of my favorite movies is Jerry Maguire. There is much of your typical “integrity and character” fodder. But, what really resonated when I saw it 15 years ago and then recently was the loneliness that can sometimes accompany true leadership or pushing change.

There are many things you probably inferred, or that supervisors and mentors told you about what it would be like to move into more senior positions. But, I’ll bet they didn’t say, “You’re going to feel very alone sometimes, and if you don’t, you’re probably not trying hard enough.”

Alas, the price one pays for having “the buck stop here,” making tough calls and taking educated risks on the future that no one else can see because they’re suffocated by today.

The real isolation can come, as was the case with Jerry Maguire, when putting yourself out there with revolutionary ideas and passion. Leaping off the peak of Mt. Status Quo, so to speak. In Jerry’s case, it was his “Mission Statement” that sort of plagued and drove him at the same time throughout the movie. What other leadership qualities could be more admired than passion, new ideas and courage? People love change! So long as someone else is changing.

When “the buck stops here,” there is really nowhere to go to find the answer or get advice like you did before: your boss, mentor and peers. It’s possible, but it just doesn’t feel right. You should have the answers now.

The self-reliance that is now stowed upon you and makes you feel you should have all the answers is the very quality you should actively start shedding. Instead of looking “up” for answers like before, turn right around and look within your organization: your direct reports, subject matter experts, even the most junior people.

This act of humility is a true sign of a leader, a guidepost of trust for others that you value and trust their competence and perspective (they are watching, all the time). It’s this act of listening, asking and challenging that positively affects so many other aspects of a company’s culture, whether it’s safety, customer focus or respect. Personally, I was never more engaged than when asked a tough question by more senior leaders.

Sure, you’ll have those times when you’re alone in a big decision for confidentiality or other reasons. In those cases, can you name that special confidant that helps you find the answer? You need them, too.

For most of it though, expect your organization to have insights to your biggest challenges. Start by telling them what keeps you up at night. If you don’t feel you can, well…that’s a topic for another post!

“Hey, I don’t have all the answers. In life, to be honest, I failed as much as I have succeeded. But I love my wife. I love my life. And I wish you my kind of success.” — The Late, Great Dicky Fox, Jerry Maguire

  1. One of the great surprises as I’ve progressed in my career has been how lonely leadership is. Early in my career I assumed leaders had plenty of friends. I hadn’t realized the burden of having to remain positive for the team under trying circumstances. Leaders need those they can share the burdens with.


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