As I was starting up my computer repair business, I talked to a successful local businessman named Jim Wilde. He had started and run a successful sign company, Wilde Signs. He was excited to see me start a venture of my own and wanted to help in any way he could.
Do you know what Jim did? He suggested I watch a movie! Yes, a movie!?! It’s hard to believe but that’s what he did.
The movie was a Will Smith movie, The Pursuit Of Happyness (buy it at Amazon). He said to watch it and see what Smith’s character Chris Gardner did to become successful.
The story is hard to watch at times. His relationship with his wife, Linda (Thandie Newton), deteriorated. The loss of his apartment. Being evicted from a motel. And more…
Chris’ life was not a happy one. It was one of struggle and challenge as he pushed himself to become better.
What made it even sadder, and more rewarding in the end, is that this was a true story. One where he succeeded in the end.
Today, we’re going to look at The Pursuit Of Happyness to see what leadership lessons one could find in this great movie.
Quotes And Leadership Lessons From The Pursuit Of Happyness
1. Your past influences your future:
Chris had grown up not knowing his father. When he was 28, he finally met the man that fathered him.
This experience led to a profound desire in Chris. Chris would not let his son, Christopher (Jaden Smith), grow up not knowing him. Whatever happened, he was going to be there for Christopher.
We all have experiences from our past that have shaped and influenced us. These experiences have influenced our future.
Don’t hate on your past. Your past doesn’t define you. It does influence you. You can let it influence you in a positive or negative way. The choice is yours.
2. Bad things happen when we’re always in a rush:
Chris’ job was to sell bone density scanners. His clients were doctors in hospitals.
Chris was a hustler. He was always in a rush. Rushing from one sales appointment to the next.
Being in a constant state of rush led to troubles for Chris.
One time, he came out of the hospital to a police officer booting his car. He had been in a rush and parked in a no-parking zone in front of the hospital.
Many leaders proudly wear a badge of busyness or, as I like to say, rushness. They go from one task to the other. Never taking a break.
This constant state of rush wears us down. It makes us make bad business decisions.
We can’t always be in a rush. We have to find time for peace, rest, and rejuvenation.
3. Chris Gardner:
Whoa, man! I got two questions for you.
Chris saw a man pull up in a nice car. The car impressed Chris and he wanted to know more about the man and the car.
Chris did something brave. Chris chose to engage the man in a conversation and asked him two questions.
These two questions helped Chris realize what it would take to get to where the man with the nice car was.
Can we be more like Chris? Can we begin asking those we admire or see with positive attributes more questions?
Questions lead to answers. Answers lead to action.
Be willing to ask questions.
4. Chris Gardner:
Why couldn’t I look like that?
Chris asked this question after looking at the stockbrokers around him. They all looked so happy. They looked like they enjoyed their jobs.
Chris was struggling with his job. He was struggling with his own happiness. He wanted to become happy.
You have to ask yourself tough questions like this. Chris wondered why he couldn’t look happy. You may wonder something similar.
These are tough questions to answer. They require you to look at yourself and figure out what is wrong.
Be willing to ask yourself why you’re not where you desire to be.
5. Trust in the wrong people can be dangerous:
Chris was in a rush to apply to the Dean Witter internship. In his rush, he was carrying one of the bone density scanners with him. He saw a young hippie woman (Joyful Raven) busking on the street corner.
Here’s where he made a big mistake by trusting someone he shouldn’t have.
Chris asked the young woman to watch the scanner. He told her he would be back with money to pay her.
During the interview, the woman runs off with the scanner. He trusted the wrong person.
We want to trust people. It’s an innate desire that’s within us.
However, trusting people can come with a cost. Trust can be dangerous.
Trust the wrong person and they can leave you high and dry. Make sure you’re working with trustworthy people.
6. We often get what we pay for:
Christopher went to daycare at Mrs. Chu’s (Takayo Fischer). There, she let the kids watch television all day long.
Chris learns Christopher is watching classic television shows such as Bonanza and The Love Boat.
To say Chris was livid would be an understate. He went to Mrs. Chu and demanded to know why.
Her explanation was that the shows were educational. They taught history. Chris didn’t buy this and complained. Mrs. Chu then brought up the money card.
She didn’t charge much. She hadn’t demanded the late payments Chris was behind in. And she said you got what you paid for.
Do you want quality or do you want things done at a bare minimum level? You have to think about this when you pay for services and hire your employees.
Pay low wages, you will get low-quality employees. Don’t want to pay for quality parts, you’ll get subpar quality.
You will get what you pay for. You will also pay more in the end when you refuse to pay fair prices or wages.
7. Find ways to network with those who can add value to you:
Mr. Jay Twistle (Brian Howe) was a manager at Dean Witter. Chris had run into him before. He knew who he was and knew he played a part in Chris’ application.
When he saw Mr. Twistle hailing a cab to Noe Valley, Chris told Mr. Twistle he was going there as well. They could share a cab.
This was a way for Chris to get to know Mr. Twistle better. He could network with him while in the car.
What are you doing to network with others in your industry? Are you finding ways to spend time with people that can add value to your life (and you to theirs)?
Great leaders are great networkers. They know how to talk to people. They also know how to add value.
Become a great networker.
8. The truth is better than a lie:
Chris’ life was starting to look up as he had lined up an interview for the internship at Dean Witter. But, in reality, his life was in shambles. He was about to be evicted from his apartment. He had unpaid tickets. And the police were knocking on the door.
Covered in paint, the police officers took Chris to jail. He had to spend the night in the slammer. He also had an interview early that morning with the team at Dean Witter.
There was a choice to be made. He could miss his interview or he could go in his jeans, shirt, and paint all over. Chris chose to go in looking sloppy.
The team interviewing Chris looked at him skeptically. Chris had racked his mind trying to find a story to tell. In the end, he decided to tell the truth.
He got the interview. And he got the internship.
You will be tempted to stretch the truth or outright lie at times. Great leaders know that they shouldn’t lie. It’s not something they would want from their team. It’s not something they should do to others.
Find a way to tell the truth. Even in ugly situations.
The truth is always better than a lie.
9. What appears to be backward movement can be forward movement:
Chris told Linda that he had applied to be an intern at Dean Witter. Linda gave Chris the ugly eye and was not happy with him.
Her response was that going from a salesman to an intern was backward movement. He should be moving forward.
Chris didn’t see it this way. He saw the internship as a way to move forward. He was right.
A lot of times we will have to make choices that seem odd, strange, or even backward. The choices we make may make others think we’re not moving the organization forward.
You and I know this isn’t the truth. Often times, we have to move backward before we can move forward. The same goes for our organizations.
Be willing to step backward so you can propel forward.
10. You can skip forward:
The interns at Dean Witter had a list they were to slowly work their way up. Chris had been doing this when he decided he needed to make quicker progress.
He looked at the list in front of him and made a decision. He would call the name at the top of the list, Mr. Walter Ribbon (Kurt Fuller).
Bravely, he picked up the phone. He dialed the number. He asked for a meeting with Mr. Ribbon.
Do you know what happened? He landed a meeting with Mr. Ribbon. He skipped the line and skipped forward.
Leadership isn’t a linear progression. There are points in the journey you can skip over or go around.
You can do this by reading the books of great leaders. You can do this by networking with the right people. And you can do this by innovating.
11. Hardship makes you work harder:
Chris had a hard time selling the bone density scanners. As his finances dwindled, he realized he needed to sell, sell, sell.
What happened next may have seemed like a miracle. Chris was able to sell all of the scanners in 4 months, something he hadn’t been able to do previously.
Hitting hard times can do one of two things. Hard times can make you give up. Don’t do that! Hard times can drive you to do the hard things and get the job done.
Don’t let hard times make you bitter or give up. Let hard times drive you to make the sales, finish the job, or what have you.
12. Sometimes you have to get away from everything:
Chris and Christopher’s lives had been a mess. Hopping from homeless shelter to homeless shelter, having people chase him down for money he owed them, and more, it was stressful.
One day, Chris realized he needed to get away. He took Christopher to the beach. There, they could be away from all of the stress and mess of life.
It’s okay to get away. In fact, it is needed.
You need to rest. You need to relax.
Give yourself some breathing room. Find something you enjoy and go do it.
13. Hug your family:
Mr. Martin Frohm (James Karen) and the rest of the leadership team at Dean Witter called Chris into the office. There, Mr. Frohm offered Chris a job at Dean Witter.
You know Chris was excited! He also knew what he needed to do next. He went to his son’s daycare, picked him up, and embraced him in a giant bear hug.
We need to do more of that in our lives. We need to hug our families and rejoice with them.
Make time for your family. Show them you love them. Touch them in a loving way.
14. There are phases of leadership:
Chris went through many phases of life. He had the stupid phase. Then there was the running phase. Next came the internship phase. This was followed by the paying taxes phase. Lastly, he entered the happiness phase. He laid out these phases throughout The Pursuit Of Happyness.
They were clearly there looking back. Leaders also have phases of leadership.
There’s the rookie phase where you’re just starting out. There’s the screw-up phase where you think you can’t rebound. You may find yourself in the questioning phase wondering why you chose to become a leader. Next, you could go to the profound sadness phase where people have let you down. You may come up next to the happiness phase where everything is falling into place.
Leadership is all about phases. Don’t stop at the hard ones. Keep pushing forward. There’s another phase in your future and it will be brighter.