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5 Movie Business Meeting Scenes from the 80s and 90s… and What We Learn from Them

We tend to consider movies as pure entertainment. The reality, though, is that movies can provide wonderful teaching moments. This is true for business leaders and those involved in strategic planning as well.

Here are the 5 hilarious scenes from 80s and 90s movies that offer important lessons to be learned for all business leaders and meeting facilitators:

  1. Gung Ho (1986)
  2. Robocop (1987)
  3. Back to School (1986)
  4. City Slickers (1991)
  5. Liar Liar (1997)

As mentioned in previous posts, I love movie quotes. Shared at the opportune time, with a recognizable voice, and targeted at an audience even just remotely familiar with what you are referring to, a movie quote can make more observations, teach more lessons and, more often than not, draw more laughs than anything else you might share in 30 or even 60 minutes. A movie quote brings with it entire story lines already familiar to the listener/viewer.

Movies teach business lessons

The same can be said about movie scenes themselves. They are funny not just because of what the characters say but because, if you have seen the movie, you immediately understand the nuances of each word, action and decision of the various characters.

Let’s review the scenarios of these well-know meeting scenes from the big screen, followed by a lesson or two I believe you can draw from each for the next strategic planning, board retreat, or other important meeting you have coming up soon:

  1. Gung Ho (1986):
    Scenario: Hunt Stevenson (Michael Keaton) must facilitate a presentation for the board of a Japanese company that recently acquired an automobile plant in Pennsylvania. Used to interacting with auto manufacturing union workers rather than the hierarchical leaders of an international business, he doesn’t quite make the impression he was hoping for.

    Lessons: First of all, know your audience and prepare accordingly. It really does matter. Even if you have worked with the managers or leaders before, are you familiar with their personal backgrounds and interests. Perhaps a visit to their social media accounts can give you insights into whom they follow, their interests and their priorities.
    Second, understand the corporate culture where you are presenting. Humor has its place but is so nuanced that each organization’s culture may interpret a joke differently.
    Quick leadership insight tip: as a business leader, you will know if you are surrounded by flatterers, lackeys and toadies if they all laugh equally energetically at any joke you share.
  2. Robocop (1987):
    Scenario: Introducing a newly-developed, high-tech military and law enforcement product to the company’s board of directors, Jones (played by Ronny Cox) enthusiastically explains how this new product will revolutionize the industry and the world. Unfortunately, a glitch in the system leads to a horrific ending to the board meeting.

    Lesson: When introducing a new product or service, besides making sure it is glitch free, ask yourself what your options are if things go wrong. At what point do you decide to pull the plug?
    When presenting or leading a meeting, have backup plans with alternative activities or topics if you encounter unexpected reactions that prevent decision making and creative solution generating opportunities.
  3. Back to School (1986):
    Scenario: When Rodney Dangerfield’s character is accused by a professor of plagiarism, the university president (well aware of Dangerfield’s sizeable donation to the school that got him accepted in the first place), asks Dangerfield directly and simply if he cheated.

    Lessons: Dealing with employee conflict requires leadership, not babysitting. It is a rare occasion when leaders should investigate employee conflict publicly, even if in front of just one or two other employees. Questions of ethics and honesty are sensitive issues that should be addressed behind closed doors.
    Eliminating undue influence in leadership meetings should also include identifying those who are at the table because of financial contributions (such as Dangerfield’s), relationships (family or friends) and professional endurance (time with the organization). You need contributors and connectors who will provide insight, creativity and energy for your business or organization.
  4. City Slickers (1991):
    Scenario: Three discontented middle-aged men from the city come together at a dude ranch to get away from their mundane realities. When their rough edged cowboy, Curly, leading the cattle drive tells Billy Crystal’s character that satisfaction comes from the “one thing,” it sends Crystal’s character on a wild chase (sometimes being dragged himself) across the rugged landscape for his “one thing” that will bring him peace and contentment.

    Lessons: First of all, the idea of getting away from the daily grind to unwide and rediscover oneself is a direct lesson for any CEO or Executive Director considering a leadership retreat or strategic planning session. Holding “creative” meetings in the all-too-familiar conference room will result in the same ol’ ideas failing to achieve the same ol’ objectives. Creative and strategic meetings need to be held somewhere new and even unexpected. While a dude ranch – or any resort, for that matter – is not a necessary part of the plan, the change in scenery should be.
    Additionally, Curly’s “one thing” should make all entrepreneurs and organizational leaders stop to consider what it is they truly enjoy about their career and what they are good at. While focusing solely on that at which you excel will generally backfire as a strategy for success, including opportunities to employ your expertise and release your inner restraints should be part of your regular schedule.
    Finally, leaders should regularly consider how their current managers and staff align with their own strengths and weaknesses. What opportunities could you, as the chief, take advantage of to both build your staff’s skills and talents while also helping them to bridge gaps they may have in their professional experience.
  5. Liar Liar (1997):
    Scenario: Jim Carey’s character, an ambitious and manipulative attorney at a large law firm, suddenly is “cursed” with the impulse to tell the truth in all situations (thanks to a prayer by his young daughter). When a coworker finds out, she inserts him into a boardroom meeting with the company chief, expecting his blunt honesty to cause his career to self-destruct. Did I mention she was highly competitive?

    Lessons: Leadership meetings can easily become stogie and stagnant. Presidents, CEOs and Executive Directors risk surrounding themselves with the proverbial “Yes men” who fear telling them anything they don’t want to hear. Carey’s character brings refreshing (and brutal) honestly to the meeting that brings a fresh consideration of each director’s contributions and skills.

Now that you’ve gone through each of the scenarios with their accompanying business lessons, grab some popcorn and just watch them for fun. They are worth your time and attention.

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