Quotes And Leadership Lessons From The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!

A Reel Leadership Flashback Article

With the shelter-at-home orders still in place and the COVID-19 pandemic still in full effect, movie theaters are not open. New movies aren’t releasing. This means it’s time for another Reel Leadership Flashback article.

Today’s choice was the stupid-funny comedy The Naked Gun starring Leslie Nielsen as the bumbling detective Frank Drebin, Priscilla Presley as Jane Spencer, Ricardo Montalban as Vincent Ludwig, George Kennedy as Ed Hocken, and O.J. Simpson as Nordberg.

OJ Simpson and Leslie Nielsen in The Naked Gun

I thought this would be a haha, laugh out loud comedy. It wasn’t. It had moments of absurdity and crudeness I wasn’t expecting for a PG-13 movie. The Naked Gun didn’t shine until the last half hour or so of the movie.

I know this may be blasphemy to those who enjoy this movie. I did not. Yet, it doesn’t mean there’s no leadership lessons in The Naked Gun. There were a few. We will discuss those in today’s Reel Leadership article.

Quotes And Leadership Lessons From The Naked Gun

1. It’s easy to think you’re the good guy:

The Naked Gun opens with a group of generals from violent countries meeting in Beruit. They’re sitting around a table discussing the peace talks they were excluded from.

One leader shared how he wanted to solve the issue. How he wanted to let the United States know they belonged at the peace talks.

This leader said something akin to “We should cut out their entrails and drag them through the streets. This will show them we shouldn’t be excluded from the peace talks”

Ummm… I’m sorry, what this leader said doesn’t make him out to be a good guy. It makes him sound violent and there was a good reason for him and his country to be excluded from the peace talks.

How often are we like this leader? We think we’re doing good. We think we have a plan to show people how good we are. But our plan, our actions show differently.

Leaders, we have to make sure our talk, our actions, and the way we want to be viewed are all in alignment.

We can’t say we’re peaceful and then go to war. We can’t say we care for our team members while cutting their pay. And we can’t say we believe in honesty when we’re lying to our teams.

2. Leaders need to get over our titles:

Nordberg had gone undercover to infiltrate a heroin smuggling operation. He infiltrated their boat and then tried to kick in the door where the bad guys were.

His foot went through the door. It didn’t open. He had to reach inside and turn the doorknob.

When he made his way into the room, he told the bad guys to throw down their weapons, the cops had arrived. The bad guys look at him like he was crazy. They had him…

Let’s not be like Nordberg. We can’t expect our teams to listen to us when we’ve not earned the right to speak to them.

Nordberg made the mistake of thinking the bad guys would listen to him because he was a cop. We make the same mistake. We think our team members will listen to us because we have the title of President, CEO, etc…

Titles often make us think we’re better than we are. We think our titles give us the right to boss around those we lead.

It doesn’t. Our titles give us the opportunity to help those we lead.

3. It’s not about you:

Frank arrived home from dispersing the group of bad guys in Beruit. He stepped off the plane and saw there were press microphones setup. He believed the press was there for him.

They weren’t…

Still, Frank went to the microphones. He gave a rambling, incoherent speech, and then found out the press was there for Weird Al Yankovic (go here for one of my favorite Weird Al videos).

Uh oh… He looked foolish.

It’s easy to get into the mindset that everything is about you. You’re the leader, after all… right?

It makes sense. It’s not the truth though.

Leadership is rarely about the leader. Leadership is about the people. And how the leader helps his people grow.

Don’t fall into the leadership trap of thinking it’s about you. It’s not. It’s about your people.

4. Measure your words:

Frank is a bumbling detective… Nay… I should say Frank is a bumbling person.

He is in the hospital room with Nordberg and Nordberg’s wife Wilma (Susan Beaubian). Wilma is beside herself. She believes her husband is going to die.

Sadly, Frank doesn’t make things any better. He doesn’t measure his words. He rambles and says off-the-wall comments about Nordberg dying.

His words didn’t comfort. They hurt.

When dealing with people, we can be like Frank. We can fumble with our words. We can ignore the impact our words have.

It’s easy. Just don’t think about it. However, this isn’t the way a leader talks to others.

A leader thinks before he speaks. He measures his words. He makes sure what he says is appropriate.

Be careful with what you say and how you say it. Measure your words.

5. Miss Jane Spencer:

I’ve heard police work is dangerous.

Jane is the assistant to the big bad guy in The Naked Gun. She strikes up a conversation with Frank and tells him she’s heard police work is dangerous.

She’s intrigued by his line of work. She wants to know more.

There are a lot of different roles in your organization. Many are mundane, some are really interesting, and others are dangerous. All are intriguing.

Get interested in the roles of your team members. You will be surprised by what you discover in becoming curious.

You will discover:

  • Your front line team members know more than you think
  • There are innovative ways to do business you’re missing
  • People really are hard workers

Get curious. Get interested.

6. Captain Ed Hocken:

I’m sorry Frank. I’m giving you 24 hours to clear Nordberg.

There was evidence showing Nordberg was a bad cop. He may have turned on the department and was smuggling heroin.

He wasn’t. Frank knew it and wanted to prove it. His captain gave him a timeline. He was told he had 24 hours to clear his friend.

Timelines are there for a reason. They help keep us on track. They show us what needs to be done and when.

Timelines aren’t bad. They’re guide rails for you to get your work done in a timely manner./

Be willing to set appropriate timelines. Help your team stick to them.

7. Beware of bad leaders:

Ludwig had Jane invite Frank to the docks. Frank was told Ludwig wanted to talk to him there.

It was a setup. Ludwig had placed one of his goons there to off Frank.

Frank walked into an ambush. He trusted a bad leader.

Bad leaders are dangerous. They set their team members up to take the fall. Or they treat them like crap.

Beware of bad leaders. Moreso, beware of becoming a bad leader.

You can watch for the traits of bad leadership. If you notice them creeping into your life, clean them out!

8. Jane Spencer:

I was only doing what I was told to do.

Jane didn’t know Ludwig was trying to set Frank up. She thought her boss was being honest. He wasn’t.

She tried to tell Frank this. She didn’t want Frank to hate her. After all, she was only doing what she was told to do.

We have to be cautious of doing what we’re told to do. If we’re not cautious, we could be listening to the wrong person. This person could be leading us astray or trying to get us to do something that isn’t right.

Leaders, you have to question the directions you are given. Make sure they’re right. Make sure you can feel okay carrying them out.

If we’re not cautious when we take the advice of others, we can fall into trouble.

9. Some things you can’t fake:

Frank had to get onto the baseball field to find out who was going to kill Queen Elizabeth II (Jeannette Charles). To do this, he looked for someone he could impersonate. He found his mark in opera singer Enrico Pallazzo (Tony Brafa).

Frank knocked the singer out. Dressed as him. Went out to the California A’s field and attempted to sing the National Anthem. See his attempt in the YouTube video below.

Frank couldn’t fake the singing. He butchered the National Anthem.

You may have heard the saying

Fake it until you make it.

There are plenty of things you can fake until you make it. There are other things you can’t.

Know which things you can fake. Know what you can’t (integrity, honesty, truth).

10. We can respect the wrong people:

Jane truly respected her boss, Ludwig. When she discovered he had plotted to kill Queen Elizabeth II, she was devasted.

She began to question her judgment. She began to question the other people she trusted. Her confidence in her judgment was shattered.

We’ve all had a Jane moment. We’ve put our trust in the wrong person or the wrong thing. We were disappointed by the results.

Don’t beat yourself up over trusting the wrong people. Learn from it. Move on from it. Grow from the mistake.

11. Times change:

Wow, what can I say… I wasn’t expecting the level of crude humor and inappropriateness of The Naked Gun.

The language, the jokes, some of the scenes… they don’t align with what I would expect from a PG-13 movie. They seemed to align more with an R-rated movie.

Times change though… And what is deemed inappropriate changes.

We’ve got to be aware of how the times change and how people view things. Don’t get caught in the thoughts of the past.

What was once appropriate may no longer be appropriate. What was once inappropriate may not longer be inappropriate.

With these changes, leaders have to make sure they don’t change what should never be changed. These unchangeable things are:

  • Respect
  • Truth
  • Humility
  • Honesty
  • Justice
  • Fairness

Change with the times but don’t change what is right.

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

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