Quotes And Leadership Lessons From Tick, Tick… BOOM!

A Reel Leadership Article

My latest book, Reel Leadership, is now available on Amazon. If you love movies and leadership, you will love this book.

The Netflix original movie, Tick, Tick… BOOM! tells the story of Jonathan Larson (Andrew Garfield). Tick, Tick… BOOM! is the autobiographical musical of Larson as he struggles to become a valued playwright. Larson eventually does but does with the play Rent. Unfortunately, Larson died of an aortic aneurysm before the play premiered.

Starring the impressive Garfield, Tick, Tick… BOOM! is a fantastic masterpiece. It reveals the struggles of Larson as he deals with the loss of friends due to the HIV crisis of the 90s, relationship issues with his girlfriend, and losing a friend to a high-paying advertising job.

The life of a struggling playwright is not easy.

Andrew Garfield in Tick, Tick... BOOM!

The challenges keep coming. Larson keeps getting back up.

In the end, Tick, Tick… BOOM! tells a great story through music. And, it helps us to understand how to lead better in our careers and relationships.

Today, we’ll take a look at those leadership lessons. We will see how we can apply these leadership lessons to our lives. I hope you enjoy it!

Quotes And Leadership Lessons From Tick, Tick… BOOM!

1. Susan (Alexandra Shipp):

Except for the parts Jonathan made up.

Susan is Jonathan’s girlfriend. She also opened up the movie with a voiceover. During the voiceover, she informs us that what we’re about to see is a true story.

Then, she adds in the short quote above. She lets us know that there are made-up parts to the story.

And Jonathan was the one to add them.

This made me think of leaders and the stories they tell. We can claim that the stories and history we give of ourselves are true.

But, is it? Or are we more like Jonathan?

We’re more like Jonathan. We tell a fairly truthful story of who we are, what we did, and how we accomplished it.

Still, there are parts we made up.

We need to be cautious in the additions we make to our stories. They have to be as close to reality as possible or people will begin to distrust us.

2. Pookie/Michael (Robin de Jesus):

Are you letting yourself be led by fear or love?

Michael was one of Jonathan’s best friends. He had a pointed question for Jonathan.

He asked if Jonathan was being led by fear or love. This is a huge question and one that changed Jonathan’s life.

We have a choice. We can be led by fear… Fear of the unknown, of failure, of rejection.

Or, we can be led by love. Love of the people we lead, of what we do, of where we’re going.

Make sure the right thing is leading you.

3. Jonathan Larson:

I’m the future of musical theater, Scott.

Scott had crashed one of Jonathan’s parties. He was a guest of Roger (Joshua Henry).

Scott had asked Jonathan what he did. Jonathan wasn’t shy about his answer.

He told Scott that he was the future of musical theater.

When someone asks what you do, how do you answer? Do you respond in a shy, uncomfortable way? Or do you speak forth confidently, knowing who you are?

We need to have more confidence when we answer the question. We shouldn’t shy away from answering.

Tell people who you are. Be confident. Don’t be shy.

4. Our creative endeavors can be blocked:

Jonathan had a reading of his script for Superbia. One of the project supporters, Ira Weitzman (Jonathan Marc Sherman), asked if Jonathan had written the last song.

Jonathan told him he hadn’t. It was strange, he said. He could write songs every day about anything. In fact, he had done that in the past to challenge himself.

Yet… He couldn’t figure out the song needed for his play. His creative endeavor was blocked.

Don’t feel bad if your creative juices aren’t flowing. We get writer’s block, leader’s block, and other kinds of blocks when we’re doing something important.

The crucial thing is not to let the blockage stop you.

Keep working on the project. Keep trying to work through the problem.

You’ll eventually break through the block to something amazing.

5. The kind words of a single person can keep you going:

Jonathan heard from Stephen Sondheim (Bradley Whitford) about his screenplay. Stephen had told Jonathan that he had first-rate lyrics and songs.

Talk about being ecstatic! This was music to Jonathan’s ears.

It was also the motivation Jonathan needed.

What Stephen told Jonathan kept Jonathan going for another five years as he struggled to create the play. The kind words were fuel for Jonathan.

You can be Stephen to the people you lead. The words you say to your people can either demoralize them or energize them.

Give your people kind words. Encourage them when you see a spark of brilliance. Tell them how much they’ve helped.

Your words matter.

6. Do the legwork:

Jonathan discovered his agent Rosa Stevens (Judith Light) had ghosted him. She didn’t return his calls. She hadn’t been calling on people.

Ira said there were no reservations for the reading of the play. Jonathan decided to kick it into high gear at this point.

Jonathan began to do the legwork. He picked up the vintage corded wall phone and started calling people.

Over and over and over again. Call after call after call.

He did the legwork.

Leaders have to do the legwork too. It doesn’t look the same.

Legwork can be encouraging team members. It can be dealing with issues as they arise. It can be obtaining a new client.

Leaders don’t get out of the hard stuff. They still have to do the legwork to get things done.

7. Leaders need to find the time:

One of Jonathan’s issues was that he never had the time to do things. His friend Freddy (Ben Levi Ross) was in the hospital, dying of HIV. He needed to talk to his girlfriend, Susan. He needed to write. He needed to work.

There was no time to do any of this.

Sound familiar?

The life of a leader can be hectic. We can feel like there is no time to get everything done.

Truth be told, we can’t do everything.

We have to be okay letting some things slide. But not the important stuff.

Find time for the important things. The rest will fall into place.

8. We see what we need to see:

Karessa (Vanessa Hudgens) was one of the singers in the play. During the reading, she sang the song that had long eluded Jonathan.

Jonathan closed his eyes to take it all in. When he opened his eyes, he didn’t see Karessa. Jonathan saw Susan singing the song.

Why did this happen? The song was about him processing his relationship with Susan. He felt the words he had written were the words Susan wanted to say to him.

He saw what he needed to see at the time.

We see what we need to see, too. We try to see the positive. We need to see the positive. We try to see what is possible.

Don’t give up on what you see in your mind. It’s what you need to help create.

Push toward what you see. You will get there.

9. We have it better than we think:

Jonathan was freaking out about turning 30. He felt he was a failure because he hadn’t released a successful play. He felt like his end was coming to an end (little did he know he was right and only had five more years).

His feelings led him back to Michael. He lamented to Michael about the lack of time and how he wouldn’t amount to much.

Then, Michael dropped a bombshell on Jonathan.

Michael let Jonathan know he had HIV.

Michael had it worse than Jonathan. Michael knew he had a limited amount of time left, especially in the 90s when HIV-positive people were dying left and right.

You may think you have it so bad. You may think you’re never going to make it. You may think no one else is going through something worse.

Know there are leaders out there who are.

They’re calling employees to let them know that the business is shutting down. They’ve received phone calls informing them of embezzlement.

There’s always someone out there that has it worse than you.

10. Questions are a good place to start:

Susan asked Jonathan if he had any ideas for the next play. Jonathan said he did not.

All Jonathan had were questions.

Susan let him know that’s not a bad thing. In fact, questions are a great place to start.

Questions are a great place to start in leadership, too. We cannot lead well if we’re not asking questions.

Be open to being curious. Ask the questions you have. Ask the questions no one else is asking.

These questions are the starting point for a successful tenure as a leader.

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