I finally got around to seeing the movie Hidden Figures this weekend and just WOW.
Spoiler alert – If you have yet to see movie, I am going to reveal some information.
I enjoyed this true story on so many levels (including memories of my family watching the first astronauts being launched into space, just as the film showed). As I reflected on the movie I smiled as it reinforced a handful of great leadership lessons that should not be missed. Here are some lessons from Hidden Figures:
1) Small gestures have big payback!
The Space Task Force/NASA worked at Langley Field in VA, and, in one scene, all of the astronauts pay a visit. The entire staff is there to meet them, but segregated by white and black employees. John Glenn makes a point of walking over to the black women to greet them and shake their hands.
Lesson: It doesn’t take long to acknowledge someone; everybody is playing a part – the upside is huge.
2) Remove barriers for you employees!
Al Harrison, the boss, realizes one of the black women who works for him must walk a half hour to go to a ‘colored’ bathroom because there are none near their building. He responds by tearing down the “Colored Bathroom” signage and declares “at NASA we all pee the same color”. This powerful act, along with other smaller symbolic accomplishments, helped not just one person, but the entire program. This action removed the barriers and unlocked solutions that would have otherwise been missed. John Glenn may have never made it successfully in orbit if not for his initiative.
Lesson: Business can sometimes put trivial barriers in place that do nothing but frustrate workers. It just takes one person, with strength and conviction, to remove that barrier and allow people to work on what is important without restraint.
3) Performance creates opportunity!
In achieving success, neither skin color nor gender should matter one iota. The only thing that should make a difference is the performance of the person. This is the main theme of the movie (based on historical events) and the women central to the story faced great challenges fighting for their rightful positions based on their contributions.
Lesson: Sometimes unnecessary, and often unfair, hurdles get in the way of performance. If you’re a team member, persevere and give it your best performance despite the obstacles. If you’re a team leader, be the champion and take down those barriers that get in the way of peak performance. Look for those “hidden figures” that can make a difference in your team’s success.