Quotes And Leadership Lessons From Tulsa Movie

A Reel Leadership Article

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I had the pleasure of watching the movie Tulsa this past weekend through a screener that I was provided. I was able to kick back and watch this touching movie in the comfort of my own home. Starring Livi Birch as the precocious Tulsa and Scott Pryor as a down-and-out Marine biker named Tommy, Tommy’s life is flipped upside down when Tulsa is removed from her foster mother’s home. Tulsa believes Tommy is her father and she will do anything to make a family out of the duo.

The movie is a faith-based film from the studio Pryor Films. It is based on a true story. Overall, the film is enjoyable but does have its overly cheesy moments.

Scene from the movie Tulsa (2020)

Watch the Tulsa movie on Amazon

Yet, I think Tulsa is a film many people should watch. It shows how a hardened heart can be softened. It shows the pain drug and alcohol abuse can cause. And it helps us see the power in giving up our desires and helping those in need.

As you know, there are also leadership lessons in Tulsa. Today, we are going to look at some of the leadership messages you can find in this family-friendly movie.

Quotes And Leadership Lessons From Tulsa

1. People share what they believe:

Tulsa is talking to one of the social workers, Ms. Jaylene (Nicole Marie Johnson). During their conversation, Tulsa pipes up about her beliefs. She asks Ms. Jaylene if she knew Jesus.

Why did Tulsa do this? Because she believed in the life-changing power of Jesus. She had to share what she believed.

We will discover this with ourselves and the people we lead. We will share what we believe.

This means people will talk about the power of family, love, Jesus, and other things that are important to them.

Help guide them through this process. Help them learn how to talk about such things. It will benefit you, them, and the organization.

2. Great leaders check on others:

Tulsa and her foster brother Michael were in an abusive home. They were removed after Michael had wet the bed and Tulsa tried to clean up the mess.

The young girl showed a great leadership trait. She cared for Michael. She checked in on him after being removed.

This shows that she cared. She wanted to make sure that he was okay.

Do you check up on your team? Do you think that you should?

Great leaders know it is important to have regular check-ins with their team. This can be through one-on-one meetings, walking through the office, or, if you’re working remotely, a quick text message or Teams message.

Make sure you’re checking in with people. It shows them you care.

3. Tulsa:

You don’t need that stuff.

Tommy was an alcoholic and drug addict. He relied on these things to get him through his day.

Tulsa knew the dangers of abusing drugs and alcohol. She threw away everything Tommy was abusing.

As Tommy was looking for a drink, Tulsa told him he didn’t need a drink. He didn’t need the stuff that was holding him back.

You may not be a drug addict or an alcoholic. You may have another vice that is holding you back.

Look at what you do. What do you use to cope with stress and frustration? Do you go to a negative coping mechanism? You may find yourself drinking another can of Coke. Or you may sit down and zone out for hours with a video game.

We cope with difficult situations with things we don’t need. We have to be aware of what we’re using to cope.

Do you really need it?

4. Jaylene:

I know this must be a shock but you’ve got this.

Jaylene was a social worker who was working with Tulsa. She placed Tusla with Tommy because Tulsa had a photograph of Tommy with her mom. They believed Tommy was her biological father.

Tommy was in no shape to care for a child. However, Jaylene saw the potential in Tommy. She gave him encouraging words and help along the way in caring for Tulsa.

You are going to have people on your team who may not be ready to do the job. Or they may not believe they can do the job.

One of your roles as a leader is to be an encourager like Jaylene. You are to step in and tell them you believe in who they are and what they can do.

This encouragement can change the direction of their career. More importantly, it can change the direction of their life.

5. We can struggle to let go of old ways:

Tommy’s cabinets, hiding spots, and more had been cleared of alcohol. Yet Tommy continued to go back to the cabinets looking for alcohol.

He repeated old habits. It may have been because they had become ingrained in his psyche or because of habit. Whatever it was, Tommy couldn’t let go of what he once had.

He looked ridiculous going back again and again to something he knew was not there. Truth be told, though… Tommy looked a lot like leaders we all know or are.

How often do we go back to something that’s not working? Too many times.

How often do we try to hold onto the past because it’s what we’ve known? Too many times.

We can struggle with letting go of old ways. We have to get better at letting go.

6. Accept diverse people:

Tulsa wanted to go to church. Tommy didn’t. Tulsa wound up walking to a local African American church and joining them for service.

The church had Bishop Franklin Thomas (Cameron Arnett who was also in Overcomer). He spoke well of Tulsa. He told Tommy how excited he was to have Tulsa attend the church.

At other churches, it may have been a problem. She was a pasty white girl. The church Bishop Franklin led was an African American church. She would’ve looked out of place yet she was quickly accepted in the church.

What can we learn from this example? We need to be willing to quickly accept people who are different than us.

They may not look or act like we do. However, they add value to our teams.

Add diverse people to your team.

7. Tulsa:

That’s easy to say…

Tommy had become engrossed in a work project. Before he knew it, he was late in picking up Tulsa from school.

Major dad fail!

Tommy went to pick her up after forgetting. She wasn’t at the school. He caught up to her as she was walking home.

They got into an argument. Tommy said he would do better. Tulsa retorted that saying he would do better is easy to say.

Tulsa’s right… It’s easy for those of us in leadership positions to tell others we will do better.

Words only go so far. Words are cheap. What isn’t cheap is action.

When we tell people we are going to do something, we need to follow through. We need to make sure we are men and women of our word.

Otherwise, it’s just easy to say…

8. Give people a starting place:

Bishop Franklin met with Tommy. He had brought Tommy a gift. Even though Tommy wasn’t a believer, Bishop Franklin left Tommy a Bible.

When he left the Bible, Bishop Franklin didn’t run and gun. He didn’t say “Here you go. You should read this.” Instead, Bishop Franklin gave Tommy the Bible and then gave him a starting point. Bishop Franklin recommended Tommy start with the book of John.

When we lead others, we can easily come into a situation and run and gun. We can tell someone they’re doing things wrong and then leave.

We can’t do that. It doesn’t give your team member a starting point.

Instead, think of how you could benefit the situation. Look at what went wrong or figure out what needs to be done, then give the person a starting point.

Doing so gives them direction and helps them see a path to completion.

9. Don’t be fake:

Tommy had a foster inspection from Mrs. Kerry Murry (B.J. Arnett). He was nervous. Tulsa was nervous. Tommy thought he had a plan when he saw the cross necklace Mrs. Kerry was wearing.

He began to spout out words and phrases he believed would impress Mrs. Kerry. He sounded ridiculous.

We do this, too. We try to relate to our team members in ways that we think will connect.  Our speech patterns change, we try to do activities that we are no good at, and more.

Each time we put on a fake attitude, we lose the respect of those we lead.

While we need to try to relate to our team, we cannot be fake. They will detect it.

10. Tulsa:

He’s far from perfect.

Tulsa told this to Mrs. Kerry. Tulsa knew Tommy had struggles. He wasn’t perfect, he was trying. For that, Tulsa was grateful.

This little precocious child realized the flaws in her father figure. She could see he was trying but he would still fail. She knew he wasn’t perfect but she still loved him.

What can we take away from this Tulsa quote? We need to realize that our team members know we’re not perfect. We don’t have all the answers or do the right thing all of the time.

However, if we have their best interests at heart, they will overlook the imperfections. They will see a leader who cares and who wants the best for them.

Be a leader who cares. Your team already knows you’re not perfect.

11. We can feel unprepared:

Tommy opened up about his feelings of fatherhood. He said that he didn’t feel ready to be a dad. He didn’t think he was good enough, especially with his past.

Previously, he had gotten a woman named Lisa (Kristin Brock) pregnant. They were both addicts and he told her to get rid of the baby through abortion. Lisa listened to Tommy but not in the way he thought she would. Lisa drove to the river, parked her car, walked into the river, and committed suicide (if you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, there are many resources out there. Reach out to me, watch Scott from Speak The Unspeakable’s videos, or call the Suicide Hotline – 800-273-8255).

Tommy was devastated. It’s one of the reasons he felt unprepared and unworthy.

We may be in a situation similar to Tommy’s. We may have made a major mistake in the past and cannot move past it.

I want to tell you that you can. You can do the work on yourself to become prepared and better. You don’t have to live in the past.

12. Tommy:

We need to pray for a miracle:

Tulsa wanted to walk to school one morning. On her way, a distracted driver hit Tulsa. Tulsa had to go to the hospital.

Doctor Holden (John Schneider, Bo Duke in the Dukes Of Hazzard) tells Tommy and Jaylene that Tulsa will die without surgery. The surgery, though, has a 50/50 chance of being successful. Tulsa may die from the surgery or become paralyzed.

This is a moment where Tommy realizes what needs to be done. He knows he needs to pray and have the prayers of others.

Leaders of faith need to remember the power of prayer. Prayer can move mountains and change hearts.

In the bad times, pray. In the good times, pray.

Miracles can happen.

13. Leaders need to break the rules:

Tommy’s rights were revoked. He couldn’t see Tulsa anymore. This broke Tommy’s heart.

He knew he had to find a way around it, especially as the Daddy Daughter Dance was rapidly approaching. He chose to enter the hospital, ignore the rules, and take Tulsa to the dance.

In a touching scene, you see nurses and doctors step up to help him break the rules. He gets Tulsa and takes her to the dance. They had a great time.

Yes, rules are there for a reason. Typically, rules are there because one person has broken an unspoken rule. The leader at the time sees this and knows something must be done. It could happen again.

A new rule is put into place. The rule stays long after the person leaves.

Then a good employee breaks the rule… Or maybe you, the leader, need to break the rule. What happens now?

There are times when rules need to be broken. It could be because of a family emergency or health crisis. Maybe it is because the rule is causing a dangerous situation to be present.

Know that rules are there as guidelines. They can be broken.

14. Prayer works but not always in the way we think:


While Tommy prayed for Tulsa’s healing, sometimes our prayers are not answers. Tommy’s prayer wasn’t answered in the way he was hoping.

Tulsa passed away while in surgery. She didn’t make it through.

I look at this and think about my father. We prayed for healing in his last days. His body never recovered and he passed away.

Now, did the prayer work? Some would say no. I think the prayer was answered but not in the way we were hoping.

My father is healed. He is no longer in a broken body. Tommy’s prayer was answered as well. Tulsa was healed. Not in the way he wanted but she was healed.

When we pray, we have to be willing to accept the fact that God answers our prayers in His way, not ours.

Be open to the different ways prayer can be answered.

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