I didn’t know what to expect going into A Man Called Otto. I knew it would be an emotional ride, but this… I didn’t know I’d have these feelings leaving the theater.
A Man Called Otto was originally a book called A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman. The film changes the title and stars Tom Hanks as the cranky old man Otto. Otto had recently lost his wife, pushing everyone away because he wanted to join her.
The film shows Otto’s multiple attempts at suicide (if you’re contemplating suicide, please reach out for help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255)). Each time, someone interrupts his attempt. He is saved over and over again.
But why did Otto want to end his life? He thought his life was over when his wife, Sonya (Rachel Keller), passed away. He’d seen it all, done it all, and he was done.
Yet Otto wasn’t done. There was more to his life. He could continue to live.
His life changes when he encounters his new neighbors, Marisol (Mariana Treviño), Tommy (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and their daughters, Luna (Christiana Montoya) and Abbie (Alessandra Perez).
This inspiring, encouraging film will make you laugh, cry, and want to live. It’ll also introduce multiple leadership principles and ideas to you.
In this Reel Leadership article, we take a look at the leadership lessons in A Man Called Otto.
Quotes And Leadership Lessons From A Man Called Otto
1. We don’t know why people want the things they do:
Otto had gone to the local hardware store called the Busy Beaver. He’s rude to the clerk helping him at the rope station. He’s rude to the cashier ringing him up. And he’s rude to the assistant manager who comes to address the problem of paying for six feet of rope when he only bought five.
He leaves the store. Upon arriving home, he drills into his ceiling. He attaches a piece of hardware to the ceiling and pulls the rope through.
The audience discovers he’s making a noose.
No one expected that.
Know that the reason behind people’s desires is not something you can predict. You have to get to know the person before you can begin to understand.
Sure, you can speculate. But then, you never truly know. Get to know the person. Then you’ll begin to understand.
2. Do the right thing:
Otto goes to recycle paper in the recycling receptacles. When he arrives, he sees that people have put the wrong type of materials in the receptacles.
He begrudges the people. He complains. But then he steps up and sorts the recyclables correctly.
He did the right thing even though he was frustrated.
Do the right thing. People are watching. Even if they’re not, you know what is right and wrong.
3. People don’t know your struggles if you don’t let them in:
Before Otto tried to hang himself, he called and canceled his accounts. He called the phone company to cancel his landline, then his gas company, and on and on…
No one knew Otto was planning to kill himself. Yet he was. He was alone in his pain.
This wasn’t the fault of others. This was his fault.
He’d pushed others away. He’d kept people at more than arm’s length.
If people had known his pain, they would have made an effort to comfort and console him. Since they thought he was just an angry old man, they let him be.
I want to get real with you. As leaders, it can be difficult. We feel alone, isolated, and the heavy burden of leadership. Sometimes, the weight and pain are too much to bear.
This is where you need to step up. You need to let people in. You need to let people know you’re struggling.
Invite a friend over to share your pain. You have to lean on others.
4. A kind act can change your life or business:
A young Otto (played by Tom Hanks’s son Truman Hanks) finds himself at a train station after a medical rejection from the military. He’s headed home when he sees a young woman, Sonya, drop a book.
Otto tries to yell out to her. She doesn’t hear him.
He races to grab the book and bring it back to her. She’s nowhere to be found, so he hops on the train. There, he finds her and returns the book.
This simple, kind gesture changed Otto’s life. He found the love of his life.
We think kindness has no place in business. I’d say you’re wrong.
Kindness is a business changer.
When you’re kind, people notice. They begin to like you. And when they like you, they want to do business with you.
Otto, don’t be rude.
Anita (Juanita Jennings) was one of Otto’s neighbors. He’d had a falling out with her and her husband, Rueben (Peter Lawson Jones).
Yet, Anita came to Otto for help when their heat wasn’t working.
Otto tells Anita the problem. The radiator needs to be bled.
Anita asks how. Otto replied gruffly you just bleed it.
This came across as rude. Marisol picked up on this and called Otto out.
We may have the answers, but we don’t have to be rude about it. Give a gentle answer. A soft answer can change hearts.
You’ll also come across as more likable. That’s a win in my book.
What are you passionate about?
Sonya wanted to get to know Otto better after he returned her book, and she paid for his train ticket. In return, Sonya said Otto could take her out to dinner.
During dinner, Sonya asked Otto what he was passionate about. He shared how he was passionate about cars.
So, my question to you is: What are you passionate about?
Find that passion. Pursue it.
You’ll find your sweet spot when you do.
Marisol didn’t know how to drive. Otto saw someone else trying to teach her. They were failing.
This was when Otto offered to teach her.
His teaching was different. He wouldn’t let her drive an automatic. No, she would have to drive his manual transmission vehicle.
She struggled to get the hang of it. However, during the time she was in the car, she began to get the hang of it a bit more.
Otto encouraged her. He told Marisol that she was learning.
There are two lessons here. The first is that small progress is still progress. You’re learning and growing. That’s great. Keep working on it.
The second lesson is that people need to be encouraged. Otto encouraged Marisol by telling her that she was learning. Encourage your people as you see them trying new things.
My life was black and white before Sonya. She was the color.
Otto was talking to Marisol about his life before Sonya. They had been so different. Sonya was full of life, full of color. Otto was a by-the-rules type of man. He didn’t diverge.
This created a beautiful relationship. Sonya brought something new and exciting to Otto. Otto brought order to the chaos.
Everyone needs a little bit of color in their lives. They also need a little bit of order.
Learn to live in the middle. Have fun, enjoy life. But also have order.
If you treat it right, it’ll treat you right.
Malcolm (Mack Bayda) had been delivering papers on a bike. The papers annoyed Otto.
Still, this didn’t deter Otto from helping Malcolm when the bike chain was squeaking. He showed Malcolm how to fix the bike and repair the decoupler.
In doing so, Otto told Malcolm that if you treat the bike right, it’ll treat you right.
This is a great lesson to remember. If you treat people and things right, they’ll treat you right.
Do your best to treat everyone and everything right.
10. Everyone’s life is hard:
Otto thought his life was hard. He’d lost his wife, an unborn child, and his job.
Life is hard. Marisol admitted this. She also told Otto that his life wasn’t the hardest. Others had hard lives as well.
The thing was, she said, that Otto didn’t have to do life alone. He could do life in community. This would make life easier.
Want to make your life easier? Do life and leadership in community.
With a great support group, life becomes less difficult. You learn you’re not alone. You have people you can call and rely on.
11. Leaders expose the truth:
Anita and Reuben’s son had tried to sell their house out from underneath them. A man from Dye & America, a real estate investment corporation, showed up to move them out of their home.
Otto wasn’t having this. He understood something wasn’t right.
The Dye & America employee had known about Otto’s enlarged heart condition when no one else knew. The employee also knew about Anita’s Parkinson’s diagnosis even though she hadn’t told anyone else.
Something wasn’t right. Otto began to dig. He discovered the Dye & America employee had illegal access to the health records of those in the area.
Otto reached out to social media warrior Shari Kenzie (Kelly Lamor Wilson). With her help, Otto exposed what Dye & America was doing.
Leaders don’t sit back when they know something is wrong. Instead, they face it head-on.
They get the resources, help, and attention needed to make the issue known. They then go about getting the issue resolved.
Don’t sit back when an issue needs to be addressed. Address it and resolve it.