A Leadership Lesson From the Movie “The Blind Side” – Updated for 2020

As companies try to adapt to the current environment and assess who is an “essential” worker it may be worthwhile to take this time to really look at the strengths of your team members.

In deciding how to structure your work environment for maximum efficiency you are going to have to refine how you allocate your human resources and the roles people fill.

(if you’d like some pointers about how to “communicate in a crisis” this blog article with an NPR interview with retired Army General Stanley McChrystal is a great resource, it’s only 6-minutes.)

A few years ago I wrote this article about the movie, “The Blind Side,” and I’m updating now because the lesson I wrote about speaks directly to what I wrote above and I’m confident you’ll find some value in it.

If you haven’t seen the movie “The Blind Side” yet, you should find it on Netflix or some streaming subscription service.

The story is about a Memphis, Tennessee family, Sean and Leigh Anne Touhy, who offer a lost, homeless teenager, Michael Oher, the opportunity to come into their home and become part of their family.

Through Ms. Touhy’s nurturing Michael becomes a standout high school football player, eventually earning a scholarship to the University of Mississippi and being selected as the National Football League’s Baltimore Ravens’ first-round draft selection in the spring of 2009.

It’s a touching and powerful real-life story with one particular lesson all business leaders and coaches could learn from.

During Oher’s early days on the gridiron, his football coach was frustrated with his lack of comprehension of how to fulfill the offensive tackle role he had been assigned. The coach, applying his traditional coaching style of yelling louder and more forcefully with each frustrating play at practice, gets no results.

Ms. Touhy, watching her ‘adopted’ son from the practice sidelines, walks on to the field and addresses Oher, reminding him of his strong will and personal attribute of “protective instincts.” In taking the “Student Career Aptitude Test” for admission to a private Christian school Oher scored in the 98th percentile in “Protective Instincts.”

Knowing this was his personal strength she used herself as a metaphor for the quarterback, and her youngest son as the tailback, telling him to protect his teammates in those positions as if he were protecting his new family.

In the movie Michael immediately “gets it” and transforms into a force on the team’s offensive line, much to the amazement of his coach, standing bewildered on the sidelines.

lessons from the movie 'the blindside'

  1. Leaders have to know what makes their people tick. They need to take the time to learn what motivates them and what their true strengths and interests are.
  2. Leaders must then take that information and apply it to the role in which they assign to their team members so everyone is working in a role that reinforces their strengths.

To apply this in the most ridiculous way, above the high school level, a baseball team would not have its star starting pitcher play the position of catcher or shortstop on days when he is not pitching. Nor would a football team put its quarterback on the defensive line.

Yet, few businesses really assess the strengths of their employees and learn what they like to do and feel good doing before they assign a job to them. I understand that in business, unlike sports, it may not be possible to have someone fill only the role they are the perfect fit for, but it is possible to identify those strengths and have their role include more of that work than not. It benefits both the individual and the organization.

If you’d like help assessing your team member’s strengths the first step is a conversation with them. See what makes them tick, what they enjoy doing, and what they think their strengths are.  Then, maybe an assessment might make sense to get more specific feedback.

For this purpose, I’ve recently become affiliated with an organization that does leadership and personality assessments to identify individual strengths and weaknesses. Check out Harrison Assessments and let me know if you’d like to apply them to the people on your team.

All My Best,