Quotes And Leadership Lessons From Setup

A Reel Leadership Article

I was scrolling through the Netflix movie suggestions when I saw one that caught my eye. It starred Bruce Willis and I’m a huge fan of his.

Then, after starting to watch Setup, I began to recognize various places in the movie. The film had been filmed in downtown Grand Rapids, Mi. It is a short drive from my home to the places in the film. That made it cool.

Bruce Willis and 50 Cent in a limo for the movie Setup

But, you’re probably wondering what Setup is about. It’s not a widely watched movie, but it tells a great story. A group of friends plans a diamond heist only to be turned on by one of their own. Vincent (Ryan Phillippe) shoots Sonny (50 Cent) and Dave Hall (Brett Granstaff), leaving them for dead. Only one survives, and Sonny chases down Vincent for his revenge.

From there on out, it’s a revenge story about going down the rabbit hole of mistakes. And, eventually, redemption.

More than that, as you know, there are leadership lessons in Setup. Today, we’ll look at those leadership lessons.

You can watch Setup on Netflix or Amazon Video.

Quotes And Leadership Lessons From Setup

1. Your path will change drastically in life:

Sonny had wanted to be a priest when he grew up. He thought it would be great to help people. This path didn’t happen.

Rather, Sonny entered into a life of crime. He chose to do the wrong things. He chose a path that made people fear him.

What path do you want to go down? Are you dead set on that path?

Your path won’t look like you desire. There will be twists and turns and corkscrews that happen along the way.

Ride them. Let them be. Find the new path.

2. You can choose to be known:

Dave had recently moved into his neighborhood. He’d been there approximately a week when Sonny and Vince came to pick him up for a job.

The neighbors all recognized Dave. They said hi and asked him to play. People knew Dave.

Vince remarked on this when he entered the car. He was astonished by how many people knew Dave.

Do you want to be known by others? It’s a choice you have to make.

You have to put yourself out there to be known. You have to integrate yourself into the culture and organization.

To be known, you have to show up.

3. Make the best of your second (or third) chances:

Vince shot Sonny and Dave. Only Sonny woke up from the attack.

When Sonny awoke, he felt God had given him another chance to do things right. He didn’t. He was too stupid to take the second chance.

There was a realization that things should have gone different for Sonny. He didn’t choose the right path.

The choices we make will define our future. We are given second and third chances all of the time. These extra chances are the ability to make things right.

Choosing the wrong path is choosing to be stupid.

Let’s stop being stupid. Let’s start making better choices.

4. Priest (DJ Howard):

Do you want to talk about it?

Sonny found himself in a church. There, a priest approached him. The priest asked Sonny if he wanted to talk about what he was going through.

The priest didn’t know what Sonny had done or what had happened to him. He only wanted to help Sonny work through whatever issues he had.

Isn’t this the epitome of a leader? He sees someone in need. He approaches the person. He asks the person how he can help them?

Leaders are helpers. They seek out people that need help, and then they help lead them through their situation.

Be a leader who listens and helps.

5. Sonny:

Hey, you got a plan?

Sonny was brought in by Biggs (Bruce Willis) because Sonny had robbed a poker ring at the Rumors Nightclub (a true location in Grand Rapids, Mi!). Biggs was upset and wanted to make Sonny pay.

There was a way Sonny could get out of this. He had to go with Petey (Randy Couture) to get back 2 million dollars some Russian thugs had stolen from him.

When the duo arrived at the graveyard where the Russians were digging up the money, Sonny had a question for Petey. He wanted to know if Petey had a plan.

Your people are like Sonny. They’re looking at you for a plan. They want to know you’ve thought through the current situation.

Do you got a plan? Do you know what your organization is wanting to do?

Make a plan. Follow it. Share it with your team.

6. People don’t know what’s inside of you:

Sonny was able to knock out the Russian thugs and grab the money. He made it back to the car, and Petey wants to get some drugs.

Sonny takes Petey to one of his dealers. When they arrive, Petey puts the 2 million dollars they stole in the trunk of his BMW.

Sonny was shocked. Petey told him a surprising truth. No one knows what’s in the trunk of the car.

This applies to you and leadership. No one truly knows what is inside of a leader. They can’t tell if it’s good or bad. Empty or full.

If someone what’s inside of you, this is your time to show them. They won’t know otherwise.

Let people know what’s inside of you.

7. You can get hurt leading if you don’t know what you’re doing:

Petey began to play with the guns the drug dealer had. He was doing action movie poses and swinging the guns around.

The drug dealer tells him to stop. He does, for a minute.

He sits down in a chair. Then he begins to play with the guns again.


The gun goes off. Petey lay on the floor dead.

Petey thought he knew how to use the gun. He didn’t. He paid the ultimate price.

I’ve seen people step into leadership roles and believe they knew how to lead well. They would begin demanding respect and for people to carry out orders. They thought leadership was about commanding others.

That’s not what leadership is about. Leadership is about influence and getting things done. It’s not about demands and requiring respect. It’s about earning respect and helping people become better.

8. Times change:

Biggs shared with one of his people what he loved to do in the morning. He loved to sit down for a nice breakfast. He also loved reading the sports page in the newspaper.

However, this would be changing soon. He was dismayed to hear the newspaper was going out of print and going digital.

The newspaper was entering a new age. One he didn’t like.

Leaders can’t sit around and bemoan change. Leaders have to step into the change that is happening.

Change is one of the major constants in leadership. Things will change. They will become different.

YOU have to be willing to change and adapt to the changing of times (great album by Underoath, BTW).

9. Great leaders help others reach new heights:

I can’t say any of the characters in Setup were great leaders. Their actions showed their true colors over and over again.

There was a time though that Sonny showed leadership qualities. This came as he was in the store picking up tools to torture Vince with.

A young boy was trying to reach something. The boy couldn’t do it. Sonny stepped in and helped him reach what he was reaching for.

As a leader, you have to be willing to help others reach new heights. This may mean reaching out to your network and pulling in a favor. Or it may be that you point the person in the right direction.

Great leaders aren’t in leadership for themselves. Great leaders lead because they are there to help others.

10. Bad leaders believe their team needs them:

Vincent was self-absorbed. When Sonny confronted him about the shootings, Vince turned the tables on Sonny.

What did Vince see? Vince saw that Sonny needed him. He believed he had helped Sonny achieve everything in life.

If it weren’t for Vince, Sonny would have been nothing. Or so Vince thought.

This isn’t the way a leader should think. Great leaders realize they play a hand in the success of the people they lead. However, great leaders don’t take credit for the success of others.

They know they only helped. The true hero of the story is the person seeing success.

11. Great leaders bless others:

Sonny had taken the 2 million dollars from Biggs after Petey shot himself. He knew he couldn’t keep the money, and he had to help the widow of Dave.

What did he do? He stuffed most of the money into a giant teddy bear and sent the bear to Dave’s widow. Attached to the bear was a note saying, “Look inside. Love, Dave.”

Sonny blessed Valerie (Susie Abromeit) when he didn’t have to.

I believe great leaders look to not only reward their team members for a job well done; they look for ways to bless their socks off. This is the mark of a great, mature leader.

Find ways to bless those you lead. Go above and beyond what is expected or required. Go to the extremes in blessing.

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