Managing – and parenting – using movie quotes

Dean Richard Franza’s column appeared in the Sunday, December 6 edition of the Augusta Chronicle. The post can be viewed:

Holidays lend themselves both to reminiscing about the past and looking toward the future, and this Thanksgiving was no exception for us. One of our daughters is a recent college graduate and the other is a college junior, so we are in the midst of both of them interviewing for permanent jobs and internships at the outset of their careers.

As we discussed their burgeoning careers, the topic of managing people came up. Soon after I became an academic administrator in 2006 (when my daughters were 8 and 6 years old), leading a department of about 35 faculty members, I quickly learned that some of the same skills and methods I used in parenting were also useful in my day job.

My daughters joke (well, maybe they are not joking!) that the philosophies and tactics I use as a parent and a manager come from movie quotes that they have heard growing up. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that they were right to a certain extent, and I thought it might be instructive to identify those quotes and tell you how I have applied them.

As you will see, my movie taste leans toward classic, lowbrow humor of the late 1970s and early ‘80s with large doses of Bill Murray, bookended by a pair of dramatic classics that I stop and watch any time I am channel-surfing.

My older daughter, Audie, believes my signature parenting line is, “We follow rules or people die.” This is actually a slight modification of the actual quote of Marine Col. Nathan Jessup, the character wonderfully played by Jack Nicholson in the 1992 movie “A Few Good Men.” The actual quote is, “We follow orders or people die,” but I took the liberty to replace “orders” with “rules.” While I do use that quote quite liberally, I do not mean it quite as literally as Jessup did. Rather, I want my children and colleagues to know that while I do not have a lot of rules, the rules I do have, I take quite seriously.

A philosophy of a very limited number of strictly enforced rules allows people to know what is important to you and your organization. Congruently, both in my family and in the organizations I have led, respect and collegiality are non-negotiable. Lack of respect for others and not being a good team player are things I do not tolerate.

“A Few Good Men” is one of my favorite movies, but I am diametrically opposed to its most famous quote, which Jessup blurts out in the famous courtroom scene: “You can’t handle the truth!” As parents and organizational leaders, more than anything, we must handle the truth. We must let our people know that they can come always come to us with the truth, particularly when the news is bad. I have always told my children that the cover-up is worse than the crime; that you own up to your mistakes and address them. An organization – and a family – cannot function well without its people being truthful.

One thing I have always stressed with daughters – whether it be in school, in sports and as they begin their careers – is that attitude makes up for many other deficiencies. If you are optimistic, confident and resilient, your chances for success are much greater. Here is where I lean on my comedies of the late 1970s and early ‘80s for some of my most valuable philosophies.

Much of that optimism and confidence is captured by the quote from the character Louis Winthorpe III, ably portrayed by Dan Akroyd in 1983’s “Trading Places.” Toward the end of the movie, as Winthorpe and his partner-in-crime Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) prepare to scam the Duke Brothers, Louis says, “Think big, think positive, show no weakness.” I have offered that advice to my daughters and my colleagues, but only after having done the work and preparation to succeed.

To be successful, you have to be positive, but that confidence needs to be backed up with hard work and preparation, so like Bill Murray’s Carl Spackler in 1980’s “Caddyshack,” you can say, “So I got that going for me, which is nice.”

Resilience is another attribute I have stressed in both my parenting and management of people. I have always stressed that success often comes by sticking it out through the hard times, no matter what you are up against and how bad things might seem. As the summer camp counselor in 1979’s “Meatballs,” Tripper Harrison, also played by Murray, said in his motivational speech, “It just doesn’t matter!” His message is that it doesn’t matter that the other team has advantages, you can still go out there and win.

Similarly, in 1978’s “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” John Blutarsky (John Belushi) invokes us not to quit by saying, “Over? Did you say over? Nothing is over until we decide it is!” Granted, Blutarsky thought it was the Germans who bombed Pearl Harbor, but that still does not dampen his message of being resilient and not quitting.

Finally, the movies have taught me not to take things overly seriously, even when things are difficult and burdensome. When we decide that we are getting too stressed out, we should remember the words of Sgt. Hulka (Warren Oates) in 1981’s “Stripes” that I often tell my girls, “Lighten up, Francis.”

I hope you enjoyed my message, but if you do not like my methods of parenting and managing, please remember the words of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) in 1972’s “The Godfather”: “It’s not personal. It’s strictly business.”

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Dean Richard Franza

Dr. Richard M. Franza is Dean of the James M. Hull College of Business and Professor of Management. Dr. Franza's primary areas of expertise are Operations Management (OM), Management of Technology (MOT), and Project Management.

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Written by Dean Richard Franza

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The James M. Hull College of Business is accredited by AACSB International and offers outstanding, highly-engaged business education at the undergraduate and graduate levels.