While watching the movie Hidden Figures, I couldn’t help but identify some leadership lessons/motivational messages brought on by the main characters. The movie portrays the true story of a team of African-American women mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the US space program. [IMBD] I highly recommend it. A very powerful story with many messages to share about their struggle and persistence during a time of great workplace and social inequality.  A few lessons really struck me while watching the movie, wanted to record these thoughts and ideas with this post.  Even if only for my own use, but I hope you can get something out of this rambling.   🙂

Lesson 1:

Inclusion is the only way to challenge the status quo and to truly build the best team.

Main character Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) walks into a room of engineers that are dressed the same, talk similar and apper to think the same. A recipe for groupthink. After proving herself over and over and gaining respect from Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) director of the Space Task Group, it was clear that she was the most qualified computer for the job at hand. Regardless of her race and gender.

A talented and diverse team from different backgrounds can challenge the status quo and help you reach your true objectives.

Lesson 2:

Begin with the end in mind

The engineer characters made it clear that Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), director of the Space Task Group was unhappy with the Russians edge in the ongoing space race. His hard attitude made it clear that he was not in favor of processes or rules, but rather winning the bigger prize. Costner’s character proclaimed to the entire task force group, we have to act like we’re already on the moon. Reminded me of a classic leadership model, begin with the end in mind. You must literally show your team the promise land and they will follow you to the end.

Lesson learned is to encourage an environment where everyone can speak their mind and feel as if they are part of something bigger than any one person. You must show people the prize at the end of the journey.


Lesson 3:

Thinking different and continuous learning is the only way to guarantee employment security.

Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), was a mathematician and supervisor of the “colored” computer group which would soon be replaced by the new IBM computers. Spenser’s character ended up becoming a supervisor of the new IBM Computing Team because she basically broke the rules by inserting herself into the project and by essentially stealing a programming book from the “Whites Only” library. She made herself valuable by spending her spare time building her knowledge because she foresaw the new IBM computers would make the human computers obsolete.

Lesson learned: Never stop learning, even today we all live in a world that could be easily replaced by computers. Be a changemaker, not collateral damage. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind when you feel that you’ve identified a pitfall or something that is wrong with the current situation at hand.

Lesson 4:

When you want something from someone else, start with them…

Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), is qualified among her peers to become a NASA engineer but official credentials are only bestowed by the whites-only university or a whites-only high school in a state that was still segregated. Determined, Monae’s character took her case to the court for her to be accepted into the local high school night class program. When she approached the bench of the white male judge, she immediately started to flatter him with research on why it was important to him to become the first in his family to go to college and the first to become a judge. Classic Dale Carnegie leadership example, when you want something from someone else, begin with the other person in mind. The impressed and flattered judge provided her with the court order to take the engineering classes.  Mary Jackson would go on to become the first black-female engineer at NASA.

Lesson 5:

Final lesson: Never underestimate someone’s will

They always find a way.