Quotes And Leadership Lessons From Elvis The Movie

A Reel Leadership Article

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Many people think they know the story of Elvis Presley (portrayed by the great Austin Butler). A great musician who rose to prominence. Then, losing it all due to a battle with drugs and obesity.

The new Elvis movie introduces us to another villain in the life of Elvis. That villain? His manager Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks).

Elvis movie poster

In one of the most cinematic, visually stimulating, musically diverse films in recent memories, Elvis will be a hit movie.

We see the multiple stages of Elvis’ life, including scenes of him as a young boy (Chaydon Jay) wearing the symbol of the superhero Captain Marvel/Shazam. The progression is entertaining yet sad. It’s like watching a trainwreck, not because the movie is terrible but because of what you know will happen.

The trainwreck does lead to multiple leadership lessons in Elvis. Many of those come from his crooked manager so this will be a little difficult to share the lessons accurately, yet they are valuable.

Quotes And Leadership Lessons From Elvis The Movie

1. A life lived in fear is a life half lived:

This quote appeared early in the film, within the first few minutes. It was engraved upon an image.

The quote stuck with me. It appears to be a mantra Elvis lived by. Yet he also died by it.

How can a leader properly apply “A life lived in fear is a life half lived” to their leadership? I think there is one significant way a leader can live this out.

Think about how challenging leadership can be. You will face many issues that don’t have a clearcut answer.

What do you do in these situations? You take action without fear. You decide what you will do. Then you move toward the decision.

2. Colonel Tom Parker:

It doesn’t matter if you do 10 stupid things if you do one smart thing.

Parker knew what most people don’t. Stupid decisions don’t stop you. They also don’t make you dumb.

You need to push through stupid decisions until you reach the smart decision. The smart decision will make most of the stupid decisions appear minor.

Keep making decisions until you hit the smart one.

3. Unknown:

You’re not alone out there. You’re part of a band.

Elvis was nervous before playing a song. His band and a lady were consoling him.

The lady tells Elvis that he’s not alone on the stage. There are people there with him. Those people are his bandmates.

I want to tell you the same thing. YOU ARE NOT ALONE OUT THERE.

As much as it may seem that you are alone, you have people around you that care for you. They are there for you.

Don’t think you have to lead alone.

4. People are worried they’re going to lose you:

Gladys Presley (Helen Thomson) was Elvis’ mother. She was excited for Elvis to experience success yet there was a hesitancy on her part.

There was no fear of Elvis failing. The thing Gladys feared was something coming between them.

Sadly, there was something that came between the mother and son. She lost Elvis for a bit to the war, then Elvis lost his mother to grief.

Know that people aren’t afraid for you to succeed. They want to see you succeed.

What they’re scared of is losing you.

I think about the advice that you’re the average of the 5 people you surround yourself with. Yes, you do become similar to those you surround yourself with.

To make that inner circle, you’re often encouraged to cut people out of your life. This is what people are scared of. They want you in their lives. You have to choose whether or not you’re going to stay.

5. Deal with trustworthy people:

Elvis had released an album on Sun Records. Sam Phillips (Josh McConville) was the founder of the record label. He’d been good to Elvis.

Gladys told Elvis she knew Sam Phillips was trustworthy. She had no idea of Parker’s trustworthiness.

Gladys was right to question Parker’s trustworthiness. His actions led to the downfall of Elvis, along with a lot of financial struggles.

When you lead, you will have to make decisions about who you will deal with. I want you to take Gladys’ advice to Elvis to heart.

Find trustworthy people to do business with. They won’t steer you astray or betray you.

Stay away from people you can’t trust.

6. Leaders can come from anywhere:

Do you know what Elvis did before he became a singing sensation? Elvis drove a truck for a living.

There’s a vast difference between driving a truck delivering items (there’s nothing wrong with this line of work) and becoming a singer known worldwide.

I want to encourage you that leaders can come from anywhere.

Maybe the clerk at the local bookstore will become a leader. It could be that the high school dropout changes course and finds success in business.

You don’t have to start in a specific career to become a leader. You can start where you are.

7. Gladys Presley:

I don’t want this.

Parker helped the Presleys get a lot of material wealth, including Graceland. Elvis thought this was great.

Gladys struggled, though. She didn’t care about the material things. Gladys cared about the health and strength of her family. She could do without the material items as long as she knew they would all be okay.

Do you know what you want? You probably do.

Do you know what you don’t want? This could be a little bit more difficult to determine. Yet, knowing what you don’t want is important.

When you know what you don’t want, you can begin to course-correct if you veer towards these things you don’t desire.

Know what you don’t want. Fight to keep those things away from you.

8. Elvis Presley:

I’m so tired of playing Elvis Presley. There’s too many people counting on me.

Elvis was tired. He had to put on a show every night. He also had to put on an act that wasn’t truly him.

There was a feeling of being a fraud. The Elvis people saw on stage wasn’t the Elvis his family saw, including Priscilla Presley (Olivia DeJonge).

Elvis felt he had to continue to play a part in order for the people that counted on him to be supported.

Do you feel the same weight Elvis felt? There are so many people counting on you, the leader. Your family, the people you employ, their families.

So much weight.

You probably feel tired of playing the role of a leader. It’s normal.

I want to encourage you to stop playing the role. Instead, step into the role as yourself.

You will be freed to lead authentically.

9. Great leaders will cross racial lines:

Elvis Presley wasn’t afraid to interact with African Americans in a time when there was a major taboo in doing so. He interacted with regular folk on the streets and also people in more prominent positions such as singer B.B. King (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), Little Richard (Alton Mason), and others.

This wasn’t easy in the era Elvis lived. There was still a lot of ill-will toward those of different ethnicities (and there still is today).

Elvis knew there was something that needed to be done. He was willing to work with those other white people were unwilling to work with.

While the world has come a long way in working toward racial reconciliation, more work still needs to be done.

I want to encourage you to cross racial lines. I want you to interact with those people who are different from you.

There is power in a diverse work environment. People from different backgrounds will make your organization stronger.

10. Steve Binder (Dacre Montgomery):

We have to say something. EP, you have to make a statement.

Elvis and his crew were filming a Christmas special when Robert Kennedy was assassinated. They gathered around a small television set to hear the news.

Steve was on the set. He encouraged Elvis to make a powerful statement against the injustices happening.

You have to be willing to say unpopular things to make things right.

Whether this is to speak out against racial prejudices, sexual harassment, or another political topic, don’t be afraid to speak out. People are looking to you.

11. Defer respect to those who have earned it:

Elvis was introduced as the king of rock and roll. He said he wasn’t. There was someone else that deserved the title.

This person was Fats Domino.

Elvis knew he wasn’t the best. There were better people out there than him.

Who did you learn how to lead from? What did they teach you?

When people say you’re doing a great job, give respect to those who helped you get there.

Without them, you wouldn’t be where you are.

12. Elvis Presley:

I’m all out of dreams.

Priscilla and Elvis had a conversation after Elvis returned their daughter to Priscilla. Elvis told Priscilla that he was all out of dreams.

This is a dangerous place for leaders to be in. We know this. Elvis knew this. In fact, Elvis passed away at the age of 42, not too long after sharing this with Priscilla.

Leaders have to be dreamers. They have to have visions of something better.

Without dreams, a leader dies. An organization dies.

Keep dreaming dreams.

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