Team Foxcatcher is a Netflix original documentary. This film documents the rise and fall of Team Foxcatcher as the founder, John du Pont, descends into madness.
John du Pont, of the famous du Pont family, founded Team Foxcatcher due to his love of wrestling and wanting to help bring the United States a title. There was also a more insidious reason behind John’s founding.
This is all explored in the great documentary Team Foxcatcher.
Not only do you get a fascinating, yet sad, story when you watch this film. You also will discover multiple leadership lessons from leaders and leaders gone bad.
Sit back, grab your bucket of popcorn, and get ready for Reel Leadership lessons from Team Foxcatcher.
Quotes And Leadership Lessons From Team Foxcatcher
1. John du Pont:
My goal in life is to teach…
John du Pont originally started off on the right path. He had a goal in life. He would help wrestlers continue their work long after most United States wrestlers had retired.
John also wanted to teach up and coming wrestlers and sportsmen how to do their craft. To do this, he opened up his homes and land to provide space to teach.
John started off right. He had the heart of a true leader. He desired to teach.
Do you have the desire to help teach those you’re leading? You need to have a teacher’s heart to help grow and develop great leaders.
2. Nancy Schultz:
I wanted to be a partner in that process.
Nancy is the wife of Olympic wrestler David (Dave) Schultz. She saw Dave’s desire to become a great wrestler.
As his wife, Nancy chose to stand by her man and help him become the best he could be. She would help him reach his goal.
Every leader needs a partner who believes in them. They need someone who can see their potential and know they can succeed.
Look for someone who can be your cheerleader. Who can put up with the leadership junk you will experience.
You will need this person in your life.
3. Great leaders look for multiple solutions:
Many of the wrestlers interviewed after Dave Schultz’s murder said Dave was a brilliant wrestler. He could see multiple solutions to a single problem.
Dave would share these solutions to the wrestler’s problems. He would help them develop a sense of how to overcome issues as well.
Great leaders are like Dave. They can look at a problem. They can see what needs to be fixed. And then they can find multiple solutions and take action on the one that will be most beneficial.
Don’t look at the problems you’re facing. Look at the solutions that are possible.
4. Build a great team:
John du Pont knew what he wanted in Team Foxcatcher. He wanted a world-class team of athletes.
To do this, he went to work building a team of excellent wrestlers. He sought out the best and invited them to live on his property so they could train and earn a living.
The team du Pont built was a glorious one. They soon were able to take on the Russian wrestlers and defeat them. His team was good.
Are you looking to build a team or are you looking to build a great team?
There’s a difference. A great team requires you to track down the talent that will bring the skills and abilities you and your organization need.
Build a great team.
5. Look for ways to get rid of hindrances:
The United States never had a great wrestling program because of the costs associated with living. Many wrestlers would retire early because they had families and bills to take care of.
Du Pont saw this challenge. To overcome it, he invited the wrestlers to live on his Foxcatcher Farm.
There, they wouldn’t have to be hindered by the normal, everyday things. Du Pont would take care of food, living quarters, wages, etc… This allowed the team to train well past the age many United States wrestlers would have called it quits.
You need to be looking for ways to rid your team of hindrances as well. There are many you may not be aware of and they’re hurting your team. There are other hindrances you know of but are unwilling to do anything about.
Leaders look for ways to get rid of the hindrances holding people back. Be this kind of leader.
6. Have long-term goals:
An interviewer asked Dave Schultz what his long-term goals were. Dave didn’t hesitate to answer.
Dave’s goals were:
- World champion in 1991
- Olympic champion in 1992
Dave knew what he wanted. Because of this, he was able to pursue his goals.
What are your long-term goals? Do you even have them?
You need goals. You need to know where you’re headed. If you don’t have goals written out or decided upon, take time today to figure out what you want to do.
7. Your charisma will attract people:
Dave had something special about him. His charisma would enchant people and they would come to him.
Many wrestlers were attracted to Foxcatcher Farms because of Dave’s charisma. They liked him and wanted to work with him.
Charisma can be a huge factor in your ability to lead and attract people. People want to work for people they like and trust. Your charisma will do this for you.
8. John du Pont:
If I try too hard to do something, I foul it up.
If any of John du Pont’s quotes were truer than true, I think this one would ring the bell. John knew he had issues. He knew if he tried too hard to do something, things would get fouled up.
You see this happen as he descends into a world of madness and mental illness throughout this documentary. He continually fouled things up.
Be careful of trying too hard to get things done or go in a certain direction. You may foul things up.
Don’t take this to mean you don’t need to try hard. You have to be aware of how hard you’re trying and what it is doing to you and your team.
9. Don’t ignore abnormal behavior:
One of the saddest things about Team Foxcatcher is that people saw the abnormal behavior of John du Pont. One time, he drove his Lincoln into a pond on his property. Lincoln replaced the vehicle and du Pont drove the car back into the pond.
Situations like this happened regularly. The police ignored it. The team members ignored it. And his staff ignored it.
This led to a senseless killing.
When you notice abnormal behavior, you can’t keep silent. You need to be willing to speak up. You may even need to get them help.
Don’t let people go down a dangerous path. If you notice something, say something.
10. A leader’s attitude will affect their team:
John du Pont had many issues. They included drug usage, mental instability, and more.
One day du Pont would be up. On those days, the team would be happy.
Other days, du Pont would be down. This would be a bad day for the team. They’d walk around on pins and needles.
Du Pont’s attitude affected his team. Your attitude will affect your team as well.
Know how you’re feeling and reacting to situations. Keep your emotions under control and don’t let them get the best of you.
11. Beware of your wounds:
John du Pont also had father wounds. His father divorced his mother. He would have to schedule an appointment to see his father. Many times, his father would back out.
All of this caused deep hurt in John’s life. He felt alone and cut off from those he loved.
These wounds festered until they manifested in du Pont building a family he thought he could control. His wounds built the best thing he had and then destroyed it all.
Your wounds will try to tear you down. They will fester and make themselves known at the most inopportune times.
Do your best to examine your wounds. Heal them where you can. Get help for the ones you can’t.
12. Ed Giese:
He couldn’t do it physically so he had people help him do it.
Ed Giese was one of the Team Foxcatcher wrestlers. He noticed du Pont’s longing to be a wrestler like those on the farm.
Du Pont went as far as hiring washed-up wrestlers to wrestle him and let him win. There were also Team Foxcatcher members who would wrestle du Pont. They would let him win.
To them, it was playing. To du Pont, it was serious business.
This all fed into his delusions of grandeur… and to his downfall.
You have to be aware of the people you keep around you. Are they letting you get away with things you shouldn’t? Are they telling you that you’re better than you are?
If that’s the case, you need new people around you. You need people who won’t coddle you. You need people who will keep you accountable.
13. John du Pont:
There are many disadvantages to having money.
John du Pont realized something. More money brought more problems.
He wasn’t unaware of this. He knew it. Yet he still kept his wealth and showed it off.
You may think a cash infusion will make things better. For a time, the extra cash might. But there’s still an issue.
More money means more problems. Be aware of this as you build your organization. There will be more problems the more money you make.
14. True friends don’t go along for the ride:
Dave was probably du Pont’s truest friend. He stuck it out with du Pont despite the many issues.
Dave also was a true friend in the sense that he didn’t let du Pont get away with his paranoia. Dave would call him on it or say it wasn’t true. He wouldn’t let his friend live there.
Great leaders need true friends like Dave. They need people who will call them on their paranoia, bad behaviors, etc.
Find a true friend.
A lot of us put a blind eye to any dangers because we were pursuing our dream.
Brian was one of the wrestlers at Team Foxcatcher. He was also someone who had noticed the strange behaviors of du Pont.
Sadly, Brian was unwilling to speak up. He was scared to. Du Pont was, after all, funding their dreams.
Your dream, regardless of how great it is, is never worth compromising yourself and putting others in danger. Be careful of the pursuit of your dream over anything else.
You will find yourself in a place you don’t want to be.
16. You may pay a price for your loyalty:
So many of the wrestlers had seen signs that du Pont was cracking. Too many of them stuck around. Dave was one of those wrestlers.
For him, his loyalty to his friend cost him his life. Du Pont turned on him and shot him.
Loyalty is a great trait to have. You will go far being loyal. You may also find yourself wondering how you arrived where you are.
Loyalty can lead you to positive places. It can also lead you to negative places.
Make sure you’re staying loyal to the right person.
17. Don’t sugarcoat the truth:
Nancy had to tell her children, Danielle Schultz and Alex Schultz, that their father had been murdered. This had to be no easy task to do.
Yet, Nancy did it. She told them the truth. Then she was there for them.
Your team deserves to know the truth in difficult situations. You can’t continue to hide your team from the realities out there.
Be open and honest with your team. Help them to understand what they and the organization are going through.
18. Make people feel important:
I already mentioned how Dave Schultz had charisma. It was one of the things that drew people to the farm. Dave also had something else.
Dave had a way of making people feel like they were the most important person in the room. This goes a long way in gaining team loyalty and building a great team.
Great leaders know they need to make their team members feel important. They work hard to show them they care about their team.
Be a leader who makes people feel important. Don’t let them feel unappreciated.
19. Great leaders have empathy:
Dave Schultz’s daughter Danielle was sad when she heard the news of du Pont’s passing. She had empathy for the monster that killed her father.
Danielle recalled all of Dave’s friends. How everybody was sad when Dave was killed.
Seeing du Pont die, Danielle saw something different with his death. There were no friends or family. No one was sad du Pont died.
Instead, people were happy. No one mourned du Pont’s death but Danielle.
Danielle could have chosen to hold onto bitterness and resentment. She didn’t. She chose a better path.
Danielle chose to have empathy for her father’s killer. She felt emotional over his death.
Do you have empathy for those you lead? Even for the troubled team members?
Great leaders have empathy for their team. They can feel sadness and happiness. They can rejoice in success or mourn in defeat.
Be a leader who shows empathy to their team.
Question: Have you seen Team Foxcatcher? If you have, what leadership lessons did you take away? If you haven’t seen the movie, what Reel Leadership lessons from Team Foxcatcher that I shared resonated with you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.