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Three Lessons on What Not to Do from Netflix’s Glass Onion

By Jacquelyn Adams

In this column, I recently addressed the role of stories and how they allow us to see ourselves and those around us with new eyes. Stories are excellent tools for challenging our perceptions and helping us grow.

So with my appetite being thoroughly whetted by the initial “What Can We Learn About Leadership From Ted Lasso?” article, I thought we could continue to explore the lessons that can be gleaned from the stories shared in today’s society.  And having just watched Glass Onion (the sequel to Knives Out), I found more than enough fodder to do a deeper dive into some of the topics it broached. (If you haven’t seen it yet, consider stopping here, as this article includes spoilers.)

Don’t be a “truth teller”

One line in particular from Glass Onion will forever rent space in my brain.

Birdie Jay: “I’m a truth teller, some people can’t handle that.”

Benoit Blanc: “It’s a dangerous thing to mistake speaking without thought for speaking the truth.”

I cannot say how much I loved this exchange. It is along the lines of another quote that I love from radio host Bernard Meltzer: “Before you speak, ask yourself if what you are going to say is true, is kind, is necessary, is helpful. If the answer is no, maybe what you are about to say should be left unsaid.” Too many people now pride themselves in being “truth tellers,” when in reality — best case scenario — they are thoughtless. Worst case scenario — they are purposefully cruel. Either option is unacceptable if we want to be leaders worth following.

Don’t hide behind a label

People are complex, complicated and sometimes downright confusing. And this is also why we shouldn’t mistake a label for an identity, even when it is a label we give ourselves. In Glass Onion, the group refers to themselves as “The Disruptors.” They say it is what connects them all, but in reality, they use this label as a blanket to hide unpleasant truths and avoid growing as individuals. It is much easier to say, “people can’t handle me because I am a disruptor,” or whatever label we choose to self-identify. It can even be a seemingly good label like advocate or problem-solver. But, just like The Disruptors, as soon as we make that label our identity, it becomes easier to hide from our problems and excuse our bad behavior. It is vital to remember that a label does not encapsulate ourselves or anyone around us, and in the moments when we forget that, we do so at our own peril.

Don’t trade your independence for success

Throughout Glass Onion, there are multiple references to the characters having latched their stars to billionaire tech entrepreneur Miles Bron (played by Edward Norton). Each of his so-called friends has put themselves in a position where they now succeed or fail based not only on his success or failure, but also on how he feels about them. Miles has played such an instrumental role in their successes that they are entirely under his thumb. Having just read Agatha Christie’s “Miss Marple: The Complete Short Stories” (definitely recommend this fun read), this dynamic made me think of yet another quote, “Never put yourself too much in another (person’s) power, even if you do think (they) are your friend at the moment.” By the time we are introduced to the characters in the movie, not only have they given him their independence in exchange for success, but they have also given up their integrity. They are so reliant on Miles that they have reached the point of betrayal, lying and putting others at risk just to maintain their latched success. Each of Miles’s friends has become utterly beholden to him. And this is a position in which we never want to find ourselves, no matter how much we may want to succeed.

Whether it’s Ted Lasso coaching us in how to be exceptional people, or Glass Onion offering a cautionary tale about “The S***heads” — I mean The Disruptors — these television shows and movies indeed contain a wealth of knowledge. And although these are obviously not based on a true story, they can represent a true reflection of attitudes, perceptions and agendas prevalent in our society. While we can appreciate the entertainment quality of the shows, it’s to our advantage to also take a step back and more closely examine what they can teach us about how we behave, and who we want to become.

Jacquelyn Adams

Jacquelyn Adams, founder and CEO of Ristole, uses her column to delve into the wild world of leadership. Whether the article is about her days as a Peace Corp volunteer, exploring corporate training, or even grabbing lunch at Chipotle — she will come out with a story and her “top tips.” As she passionately believes in leveraging her platform to share others’ voices, her column welcomes guest bloggers to create a fuller and more diverse pool of experiences for her readership. So, welcome to “Lessons on Leadership” where you never know what the next article will hold: online networking advice, guidelines for creating a joyful workplace, or even puppies. Just keep reading to discover what’s next!

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  1. Your first two points are valid but the third one, I would say, not so much. I doubt that in real life, anybody is that dependent on one person for their success (well, except their boss). In the movie, they made it so, in order to establish a strong motive for each of the visitors to kill Miles.

  2. Amit,

    Thank you for taking the time to share your feedback. Yes, I agree with you that the example in the movie has been dramatized for the sake of entertainment. Although it sounds like it has not been your experience that one person (or corporation) could cause your success or failure, that is not the case for everyone.. For example, look at the fallout from Enron, Theranos, or Nikola on how some specific employees sacrificed their integrity for the financial gain or well-being of the corporation and its leadership team but eventually faced judgment for those decisions.

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