Quotes And Leadership Lessons From Knives Out

Knives Out is Rian Johnson’s magnificent take on a Clue-like movie. Intrigue, suspicion, and who-dun-it questions pepper the movie. For being a movie with a two-hour, ten-minute runtime, Knives Out flew by.

The world of Knives Out is filled with colorful characters. Most of whom are descendants of the quirky mystery novelist Harlan Thrombley (Christopher Plummer). The mystery truly starts when Harlan is discovered dead, his throat slit. The police say it was suicide. A lone detective, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), disagrees. Blanc believes Harlan was murdered because of a mysterious note and a stash of cash.

The cast of Knives Out sitting down

Harlan’s eccentric family are all suspects. Especially after he discovers each family member was cut off from Harland’s will the night of his 85th birthday and death!

Johnson did a great job writing a mystery movie that will draw viewers in. The twists and turns leave you wondering who did it right up until the end. And then Johnson twists again with something else.

Be prepared for an enjoyable movie. More importantly, you know there are Reel Leadership lessons to be discovered in this movie. Let’s get into what those lessons are.

Quotes And Leadership Lessons From Knives Out

1. Leadership is full of surprises:

Fran (Edi Patterson) is bringing Harlan his breakfast. She checks his main bedroom. He is not there. She then goes to an upper room in the house. There, she discovers the surprise. Harlan is dead!

Fran received quite the surprise. Her boss was dead.

That would be quite the surprise. Thankfully, for you, most leaders won’t experience finding a dead body on their watch. They will, however, experience many surprises as they lead.

Some surprises a leader might experience are:

  • A faltering team member turning himself around and becoming an A-player
  • An all-star team member deciding to quit
  • A customer choosing to change manufacturers, leaving you wondering what to do
  • An unexpected partnership that boosts revenues 30%

Surprises are a part of leadership. You can’t be freaked out or frustrated when they happen. You have to be ready to handle them with grace, humility, and wisdom.

2. Meg Thrombley (Katherine Langford):

No, it’s not okay.

Meg is Harlan’s granddaughter. She was in Harlan’s house when Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas) walked in. Two police officers, Lieutenant Elliott (LaKeith Stanfield) and Trooper Wagner (Noah Segan), were in the house also.

The two officers saw Marta and asked if Marta was the help. This infuriated Meg. She spoke up. She told them it wasn’t okay to ask that kind of question.

Leaders have to be like Meg, in this instance. Meg saw the police officers use the wrong words to describe Marta’s role. Marta was more than the help. Calling her the help was unacceptable.

Leaders have to be willing to stand up for those they lead. They have to be willing to call out what isn’t okay.

Will you be like Meg and say it is not okay to talk down to others?

3. Walt Thrombley (Michael Shannon):

Dad said the plots just popped into his head. That was the easy part.

Walt was Harlan’s son. He also ran Harlan’s publishing house.

Walt shared how Harlan came up with the ideas. The plots, they just popped into Harlan’s head. He didn’t have to struggle to come up with plots. He had them.

There were other things Harlan may have struggled with. If something comes easy, there’s other things that will come hard.

What comes easy to you? What leadership tasks do you enjoy doing the most and they flow smoothly? Look at these tasks. These are the tasks where you can enter into a zone of genius.

What comes easily to you won’t come easy to others. By focusing your time and energy on these tasks, you can create something unique.

4. Linda Drysdale (Jamie Lee Curtis):

Why are you here?

The two police officers were questioning the members of Harlan’s family. There was also a random man sitting behind them. He would randomly hit a piano key. Eventually, Linda, Harlan’s daughter, became irritated by the random man. She asked who he was. Then she asked him “Why are you here?”

I’ve always loved the question she asked. Why are you here? says so much with so few words. You can also learn so much by asking a question like this.

When you ask “Why are you here?” you can discover people’s motivations and expectations. They will tell you they’re here for the money, the challenge, or something else.

Ask your team why they are here. You may be surprised by the answer. You may also find a new way to motivate your team.

5. The right person will give you an insight:

Blanc had questioned Linda. She hesitated and didn’t want to give Blanc any answers. Her husband, Richard Drysdale (Don Johnson), on the other hand, was an open book.

Blanc asked him questions. Richard answered. Richard shared how Walt and Harlan had argued. He wasn’t going to stay quiet.

Certain people will have sealed lips. They will believe talking and sharing with leadership is a no-no. They will hold their tongue and keep secrets. These people are hard to get through.

Then there will be Richards. All you have to do is ask a simple question and they begin to spill everything they know. These people can help you gain insight into what is going on in your organization.

Find the Richards in your organization. Don’t use them but let them help you understand what is going on. They will give you more than you could imagine.

6. Everyone is hiding something:

Every person in Knives Out was hiding something, especially Harlan’s family. Richard was having an affair. Walt had been fired by Harlan. Joni (Toni Collette) had been double-dipping on Meg’s tuition. And on and on it went.

Your team isn’t any different than Harlan’s family. Everyone has secrets. There are things they don’t want getting out.

You don’t have to dig to discover your team members are hiding something. You don’t even have to dig at all. In fact, I’d caution you against digging into the affairs of your team. Let them have their secrets but let them know they don’t have to.

7. Ask questions:

Blanc got answers to the questions he had. Why? Because he kept asking the right questions. When he asked the right question, he either received a physical response that told him what was going on or he received an actual answer.

You can stop too early in asking questions. Michael Bungay Stanier cautions against asking only surface-level questions. In his book, The Coaching Habit, he shares how you can go deeper.

This is what leaders do. They know when to stop asking questions and they know when to keep asking them. Don’t be afraid to ask And what else?

8. Marta:

He needed a friend.

Marta had begun her career for Harlan as his caretaker. As she continued to work for him, her role went from caretaker to friend. Harlan paid her to keep her company in a platonic way.

Harlan lacked something. He lacked a true friend. Marta gave him this comfort.

Do you ever feel like Harlan did? Does the thought of hiring a friend seem inviting? For many leaders, the answer would be yes.

Leadership is lonely for many leaders. They have few or no friends. Their lives are empty of relationships.

What can you take away from Harlan? Friendship is necessary for a good life.

Find friends. Find people you can hang out with.

9. Doing the right thing is hard:

Harlan had a tough choice to make. He had to choose to cut his children out of his will. When he died, they were not going to receive any money.

This weighed heavily on Harlan. He had to do this but he didn’t want to. The choice to take his children out of his will almost wrecked him but he did it in the end.

Doing the right thing isn’t always easy. There will be many right things that are hard. They could be firing a team member who is going through a difficult period of life or you may have to shut down your organization.

These decisions are not easy. They are right. They are also hard.

10. Great leaders take care of their people:

Marta believed she had given Harlan 100mg of morphine. This was enough to kill him within a few minutes. She could have saved his life had she been able to find the antidote. She couldn’t so Harlan devised a way for Marta to not get in trouble.

Harlan would make his death look like a suicide.

While I don’t recommend going to the extremes Harlan did to take care of your people, you need to be willing to go the distance for your people. You can do so much more for your people if only you looked around.

Don’t be a leader who throws their team members under the bus. Be a leader who looks for ways to free their team members.

11. Ransom Drysdale (Chris Evans):

I think this could be the best thing to happen to all of you.

Ransom was Richard and Linda’s son. He was also a huge jerk. However, he did have a few wise words.

When it was discovered Harlan had left his family out of his will, Ransom spoke sensibly. He shared how this could be the best thing for the family. They would all have to do things on their own and learn the ways of the world.

What seems like the worst thing to happen can be one of the best gifts you’ve ever been given. Fired? You may find an organization that treats you better. Lose a star team member? Another person may take his place and makes him seem like a starter.

The bad things that happen to you don’t have to be bad. They can be good in disguise.

Question: If you’ve watched Knives Out, what leadership lessons did you take away from the movie? If you haven’t seen the movie, what Reel Leadership lessons from Knives Out that I shared resonated with you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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