13 Leadership Lessons And Quotes From Bridge Of Spies

A Reel Leadership Article

Bridge Of Spies is the true story of one man who went beyond the call of duty.

After being recruited by the US government to be the lawyer for an accused Russian spy during the Cold War, he becomes an unlikely hero. Once he finished his duties with the Russian spy, he was then recruited by the CIA to bring home a captured pilot being detained in the Soviet Union.

Bridge of spies leadership lessons

In Bridge Of Spies, Tom Hanks plays James B. Donovan, Mark Rylance plays the Russian spy Rudolf Abel, and Amy Ryan is Mary Donovan. The starring cast is an amazing lineup. And the movie follows suit.

But what truly stood out in Bridge Of Spies were the leadership lessons. They came one after the other. I hope you’re ready to learn and be entertained.

Bridge Of Spies spoilers below

Leadership Lessons And Quotes From Bridge Of Spies

  1. Take a closer look: We see right away that Rudolf Abel is a Russian spy. He’s obtaining secret communications and relaying information. He’s also being tracked by US operatives.However, these operatives lose Abel on multiple occasions. During one such instance, we see Abel acquire an object that contained a sheet of paper.On this paper, there was a secret message. You couldn’t see it with the naked eye but if you magnified the page, you could see the message.There are times when we miss the mark because we only look at the surface of a situation. Instead, be willing to look closer. Dig a little deeper when you feel there’s more.

    You can’t go wrong when you take a closer look.

  2. James B. Donovan

    I’m not sure I want to pick this up

    After Rudolf Abel’s capture, the US government decides that he needs to be tried in a court of law and that it needs to be done properly. They put together a list of possible lawyers and Jim Donovan’s name is drawn.

    When he’s presented with the possibility of representing a Russian spy in court, he’s justifiably hesitant to agree. Even to the point of picking up the package of paperwork regarding the case.

    He didn’t know what he was getting into and he wasn’t sure if he wanted to.

    Isn’t that a lot like leadership? We have information or opportunities brought before us. Only we’re not sure these opportunities are a good fit.

    We’re hesitant, or should be, to quickly accept what’s been presented to us.

    You will have times when you don’t know what to do. You may be hesitant to move forward or quit.

    It’s okay. We’re all like that.

    Take your time and make a wise decision.

  3. James B. Donovan

    Every person matters.

    This line… This line sums up the whole movie. And should sum up our roles as leaders.

    People matter.

    People matter more than profits. People matter more than our success. People matter more than our needs.

    Without people, you can’t lead.

  4. Knowing what playbook is used let’s us know who’s on what side: The Russians and Americans had different ways of conducting war. Their methods differed.As one character put it: The playbook determines who’s on who’s side.I took this to mean the actions one takes can let you know whether they’re with you or against you.Look at your team, see what “playbook” they’re using, and see if it’s yours. If not, there may be trouble brewing.
  5. Rudolf Abel

    Well, the boss isn’t always right… But he is always the boss

    The Russian spy Abel utters this absolutely brilliant yet frustrating line. He knew he was following orders from someone. That someone was his boss.

    While the boss gave the orders, he wasn’t always right. But he had to be okay with that.

    As a leader, you have to remember you’re the boss. You’re going to make decisions. Not all of those decisions will be right.

    You’re still the boss.

    From this point, you have a choice: Do you act like a good leader or a bad leader?

    The good leader will own up to his mistakes. He’ll apologize to his team and accept responsibility. The bad leader will do the opposite.

  6. We will have to do things we don’t like because it’s our duty: Jim Donovan didn’t want to defend Rudolf Abel at first. He felt like a traitor and he was betraying his government.Yet he still did it. It was his job, given to him by the same government Abel was trying to spy on.Leadership requires a lot out of us. One of those requirements is to do things that we don’t like.Be a leader who does what he must. Be a leader who does it cheerfully.
  7. Great leaders who look unremarkable can do remarkable things: In a meeting, Rudolf Abel recalls a man he once knew. This man was unassuming. Nothing really stood out about him and he never did anything special.That was until one day this unremarkable man did something great. He got back up.You may think you don’t look like make. You may even think you can’t do much.But you can. You can do remarkable things and be remarkable.

    Stand for what is right. Do what is right. This will be what defines you.

  8. Mary Donovan

    There’s a cost to these things… A cost to your family and to your firm.

    Jim’s wife called him on the carpet for continuing to pursue what he saw as his legal duties to his client. Jim believed he must try to exhaust all legal remedies.

    His wife, Mary, on the other hand, saw the costs Jim would face. There would be repercussions to his family and to his career.

    What about you? Can you see you may have to pay a high price for being a moral leader?

    Taking the high road and doing the right things will cost you. They’ll cost you opportunities and friendships and income.

  9. Everyone won’t get what you’re doing: Jim’s continued pursuit of justice for Abel caused many people to wonder if he went off the reservation. Even one of the cops responding to a shooting at his home said to him “I don’t know what I’m missing here…”This cop didn’t get it. He didn’t get that Jim felt honor bound to carry out all of his duties to his client. He HAD to do this.You’ll have experiences where you know what is right or what must be done and others won’t get it. They’ll think you’re crazy.But push ahead. Do what is right, not what is convenient.
  10. We may be called to complicated places: Jim was put in a tough spot when he was called to defend an enemy of the United States. He took the job.He was then told he needed to go to a crumbling Germany to make a trade for the spy. He went.He then had to into enemy territory to confirm the trade. He did it.Leading is messy. It will call us to situations we don’t like and to situations that might not be safe.

    As leaders, we must go.

    Are you willing?

  11. Jim Donovan

    It doesn’t matter what others think. You know what you did.

    A solemn Jim Donovan tells this message to Rudolf Abel as they’re making the exchange. Abel had a slight concern that his country will think he broke.

    Jim let him know it didn’t matter. He hadn’t and he knew that. That’s all that matters.

    You’ll face opposition that accuses you of wrongdoing if you lead for any amount of time. It hurts.

    However, if you’ve done the right thing, you can stand firm in that knowledge. Their belief doesn’t matter. What you did matters.

  12. Impactful leaders have foresight: Jim pleaded with the judge to spare the life of the Russian spy. He knew the man was only following orders. He also knew something else.One day the United States may need a card in their hand with Russia. This card could be Abel.Jim had the foresight to see this. And he made the case to keep him alive.Thankfully, the judge listened.

    Are you looking to the future or to the needs of now? If you’re only paying attention to the here and now, you’re missing out on what an impactful leader does.

    They look for the possibilities of the future.

  13. The right choice leads to great responsibility: Bridge Of Spies told a great story. But there was a greater story that was shared briefly at the end of the movie.We discover that Jim Donovan did much more than save 2 men. Through the years, Jim Donovan saved close to 10,000 men’s lives.Because of the choices he made, he was brought into other situations. Situations where he was able to make a difference and where he was given great responsibility.The road of leadership has many choices you can make. The easy ones will be tempting. The hard ones will be rewarding.

    Choose wisely.

Was Bridge Of Spies Worth The Cost Of Admission?

I’m not one that usually watches biographies or Cold War dramas, but this movie grabbed me and held my attention.

The cast was stellar. Tom Hanks shone as James B. Donovan. Mark Rylance brought a fantastic performance as he portrayed a Russian spy.

The imagery and music used set the tone perfectly.

Be forewarned, there was quite a bit of profanity used throughout the movie. If you can get past that, I thought it was well worth the trip to the theater.

For a different take on Bridge Of Spies, take a look at my friend, Brian Dodd’s leadership lessons from Bridge Of Spies post.

Question: Have you seen Bridge Of Spies? If so, what leadership lessons did you see? If not, what was your favorite leadership lesson from my list or Brian’s? Let’s talk about it in the comment section below.

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