Quotes And Leadership Lessons From Oppenheimer – Barbenheimer Part 2

A Reel Leadership Article

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The second film for the Barbenheimer weekend is the Christopher Nolan film, Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer tells the story of physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy). He’s the creator of the atomic bomb. 

The Barbie and Oppenheimer movies couldn’t be more different from one another. Barbie is a fun romp, while Oppenheimer tackles the difficult decisions and consequences of the creation of a bomb that killed hundreds of thousands of people. 

That’s what makes Barbenheimer such a great idea; you get a fun movie with a weighty film.

Cillian Murphy as Oppenheimer in Oppenheimer movie

Oppenheimer will deliver on that front if you’re looking for something heavy. It’ll also drop an atomic bomb of leadership lessons on you as well.

Read on for the outstanding leadership lessons found in Oppenheimer.

Quotes And Leadership Lessons From Oppenheimer

1. Leaders go where they can learn:

The movie opens with Oppenheimer under investigation. He’s been questioned as to why he left the United States at one point in his life. His answer was that he wanted to study abroad.

Not only that, but he had to study where there were people who could teach him. The United States was not the leader in quantum physics. Germany was.

This led him to study at the University of Göttingen.

There are places you’ll have to go to increase your knowledge and connections. Discover where those places are then consider going there.

You’ll find there are people who can help you grow in multiple different places. It can be scary, and sometimes sketchy, to go. But the learning you’ll get can be invaluable to your leadership and organization.

2. Every leader has their time:

We see that Oppenheimer knew Albert Einstein (Tom Conti). He had a brief interaction with Einstein near a pond. 

Oppenheimer’s response was blunt when asked why he left Einstein out of the Manhattan Project. He believed Einstein was a man of his time, not a man of the current time.

It’s true. Our ideas become stale, they stagnate, and soon we’re a relic of the past.

Understand this. Watch how you’re growing (or if you’re not growing). Be willing to step aside for the new batch of leaders coming up.

3. Leaders bring fresh ideas:

Werner Heisenberg (Matthias Schweighöfer) was a lecturer Oppenheimer heard. He began talking with the physicist about returning to the United States after studying with the best and the brightest.

Heisenberg wondered why such a brilliant mind would return to the United States. There was no one there studying quantum physics.

This was the exact reason Oppenheimer wanted to return to the United States. He would be the leading expert and bring new ideas to his country.

This is what great leaders do. They bring fresh ideas to their organizations. 

First, they seek out those who have great ideas. They study the concepts and formulate their theories. Sometimes these leaders practice them; other times they understand enough that they can teach the theories. Then, they bring those ideas to their organizations.

Where are you getting your new ideas from? How are you teaching them to your organization? 

Go out and find new ideas, then bring those ideas back.

4. Ernest Lawrence:

Theory will take you only so far.

Ernest Lawrence (Josh Hartnett) came into Oppenheimer’s office. He told them that they had done it. They had split the atom. 

Oppenheimer looked on in disbelief. He calculated the possibilities. He theorized about splitting the atom but said it couldn’t be done.

Lawrence then replied, “Theory will take you only so far.”

Theories are great. You can hypothesize and guess what will happen. You won’t truly know until you step out and take action.

Stop theorizing what will happen if you take action. Begin to test your theories. See what is possible.

You’ll soon discover that theories can be wrong. Before you know it, you’ll be doing the impossible.

5. You have to be willing to hear the word NO:

Leslie Groves (Matt Damon) approached Oppenheimer about the possibility of running the Manhattan Project. He believed Oppenheimer would be a great choice to lead the team of scientists developing the atomic bomb.

In their discussion, Oppenheimer told Groves no. Groves looked shocked. He responded that Oppenheimer couldn’t say no. Oppenheimer said he could and would. That’s why Groves wanted him.

The word no can be challenging to hear. It may be someone telling you no to an idea, that your actions were inappropriate, or to a request. 

Listen to the person telling you no. Ask them why they’re saying it.

Their reasoning may be sound. It may save you a lot of trouble. 

6. It’s okay to discuss topics with people you disagree with:

Edward Teller (Benny Safdie) was another scientist. His research showed that the work of those at Los Alamos could create a chain reaction that could destroy the world. The nuclear reaction may not stop but continue on. This would be catastrophic.

Upon hearing this, Oppenheimer said he needed to show the research to Einstein.

Why would he show Einstein the research? Why would he ask his opinion? They disagreed upon so much.

That’s precisely the reason he needed to go to Einstein. He required an opposing line of thought.

You need the same thing. You need to discuss your plans and ideas with people who disagree with you.

This way, you get an opposing view to your ideas. You are challenged. You hear from a different side of the aisle.

Opposing views aren’t wrong. They can sharpen and hone your views if you let them.

7. Kitty Oppenheimer (Emily Blunt):

Why won’t you fight?

Oppenheimer is being investigated for his left-leaning, possible communist ties. His wife, Kitty, is furious with Oppenheimer.

He’s not putting up much of a fight. He’s letting them hear all of their dirty laundry, including his relationship with Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh). Their lives were becoming an open book for the investigation and the public.

Kitty wanted privacy. She wanted to see Oppenheimer fight for her.

Are you fighting for your people? Are you fighting for your family?

You are responsible for standing up for those you lead and your family. Make sure you’re fighting the right fights at the right time for the right people.

8. The effects of our actions can take time to be felt and heard:

The scientists tested the atomic bomb at their Los Alamos facility. They detonated the bomb and saw the explosion almost immediately.

Then, there was a rumbling and deafening sound as the explosion’s shockwave hit the viewing points of those watching the detonation.

It wasn’t an immediate sensation. It took time. There was silence. Then there was sound and energy hitting them.

We think our actions have an immediate impact. Sometimes, that’s true. Especially if you’re close enough to the epicenter.

However, our actions tend to take time to see the results. There’s a building silence that happens before our actions have an impact.

Be patient once you’ve acted. Your actions will be felt in time.

9. Great leaders give credit to the team:

Oppenheimer gave a speech after the atomic bomb was dropped. He shared with those at Los Alamos his feelings and thanks.

More than that, Oppenheimer didn’t take the credit for the creation of the atomic bomb. He gave the credit to the scientists who had also worked on it.

He recognized they played a significant role in the creation of the bomb. They deserved credit!

Your people deserve the credit as well. They work hard, give of themselves, and use their talents.

Don’t hog the credit. Share it with those you work with. There’s more than enough credit to go around.

10. Paranoia will destroy you:

The charges brought against Oppenheimer were brought by Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.). He had become bitter and paranoid in his desire for power. 

When Oppenheimer and Einstein met, Einstein brushed off Strauss. This made Strauss paranoid that Einstein and Oppenheimer had been talking about him.

From there, he delved into a world of paranoia in which he longed to take down Oppenheimer.

Eventually, the truth came out. Strauss’s coworker, David Hill (Rami Malek), eventually discovered the truth. He shared this with the committee that would approve or deny Strauss’ appointment to a government position.

Because of Hill and Strauss’ actions, Strauss did not get the appointment. 

Paranoia is a nasty disease. It will eat away at you from the inside out until there’s nothing left.

It will also destroy friendships, people you care about, and your organization.

Kill paranoia in its tracks. Don’t allow paranoia to infect you or those you lead.

Want more Reel Leadership related to Barbenheimer? Read the leadership lessons from Barbie the Movie.

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