6 Leadership Do’s and Don’ts From Oscar Night

Posted 02.28.2011

Oscars2011 There’s an old joke that my adopted hometown of Washington, DC is Hollywood for, well, um, not so attractive people.  So, of course, to see all the beautiful people in one place one watches the Academy Awards.  I’m a big movie buff (Witness my post from a few months ago on The King’s Speech.  You may want to bet with me in next year’s office Oscar pool.), so I usually watch the Oscars.  Last night was no exception.

One of my favorite parts of the broadcast  is seeing how people who spend their careers onstage respond when they have to get up to present or receive an award. Another aspect I enjoy is when the winners from the more minor categories give their speeches. Some of the most spontaneous remarks come in those moments.

Since leaders find themselves “on stage” with regularity (actually, if you’re a leader you’re always on stage whether you realize it or not), let’s see what leadership do’s and don’ts we can mine from Oscar night.

Do think about what you want to say:  So as much as I’d like to think I was ahead of the curve on The King’s Speech, it was the odds on favorite to take the big prizes for several months before the Oscars.  That gave Colin Firth plenty of time to think about what he wanted to say if and when he received the award for Leading Actor.  His opening line, “I think my career just peaked,” struck just the right tone of self deprecation, got a laugh from the audience and probably calmed his nerves down enough to proceed with a brief and well structured acceptance speech. It’s always a good idea to have a solid opening line in mind when you get up on stage.

Do have a sense of the moment:  You had to hand it to 95 year old Kirk Douglas when he came out to present the award for Supporting Actress.  He had a stroke several years ago, doesn’t speak as well as he used to and uses a cane to get around.  The man still knows how to milk the moment, however. He made jokes that the audience laughed with and when it came time to draw the name from the envelope, he interrupted himself three times before announcing the winner.  You gotta love a leader who uses his sense of timing to keep the audience on the edge of their seats.

Do say thanks in ways that connect:  The thank you’s at the Academy Awards, much as in real life, can seem perfunctory.  There were some notable exceptions last night. When Christian Bale thanked his wife as he accepted the Supporting Actor award, he referred to her as his “mast through the stormy seas of life.”  (Very nice. I wish I had come up with that line for my wife first.) A lot of moms were thanked last night.  My favorite was Luke Matheny, the director and lead actor of the best Live Action Short Film, thanking his mom for running the craft services catering truck during his shoot. Thank you’s always mean more when there’s a personal element to them.

Do show some enthusiasm:  With James Franco (more about him in a moment) and Anne Hathaway as co-hosts, the producers of the Awards show made an attempt to reach a younger audience. Anne Hathaway sold it with her energy, enthusiasm and good humor. It makes a big difference when the person leading the show (that will often be you as a leader) seems like they’re enjoying themselves and actually wants to be there.

Don’t show up stoned for your big moment:  Based on his perpetual squint, laconic demeanor and monotone delivery, it seems that there was a pretty excellent chance that co-host James Franco was stoned for the broadcast. The contrast between him and Anne Hathaway was stunning and not in a good way. Obviously, I have no idea if Franco was actually stoned but he may as well have been. When you’re on stage (leaders, listen up), you have to project some energy that at least matches if not exceeds the energy in the room. The audience is usually looking for you to lead them to a different place. That requires focused energy. Franco didn’t have it.

Don’t act like you’ve never been there before:  Even if it’s your first time on the big stage, give some thought in advance to how you want to show up.  Exhibiting a basic level of class is a good idea.  When Melissa Leo won for Supporting Actress, she acted (a completely appropriate word) like she was totally shocked. This is after she had won a bunch of other awards over the past couple of months and ran a much criticized campaign (another completely appropriate word) to win an Oscar. Once she got onstage, she acted like she didn’t have a clue what she wanted to say and dropped an F-bomb in the process. (It was bleeped but it didn’t take a master’s degree in lip reading to figure out what she said.)

OK, enough already from me. What other leadership do’s and don’ts did you glean from the Academy Awards telecast?