Three Leadership Lessons I Learned by Screenwriting

Once upon a time, I took a screenwriting course in college. I recently picked up the book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance and have been thinking a lot about leadership. At some point, I thought back to those screenwriting days and discovered that I’d actually learned a few great real-life leadership lessons from learning to write stories that haven’t happened about people that don’t exist. Here are a few.

1. Stay true to your characters and your story.

Just like a plot hole or an out-of-character reaction can pull your audience completely out of your movie and cause them to question everything they believed, wavering from your character and your values erodes trust and the belief you know what you’re doing.

I don’t get out to see many movies, but I remember Superman Returns in 2006 being one of the worst I’d ever spent money on. The list of flaws is long, but the huge problem I noticed is Lex Luthor’s plan to take over the world by creating a continent of kryptonite, causing the rest of the world to flood.

Luthor’s a pretty smart guy (aside from his desire to destroy Superman), but his scheme doesn’t make sense on even the most basic level – people might want to live above water, but what value would money have if you’ve destroyed the rest of the world and can no longer survive yourself? How are you going to produce fresh water, food, or housing on an island made solely of crystal?

When the smart Luthor starts off with such an idiotic plan, the film’s numerous flaws rose to the surface rather than being ignored as I enjoyed the ride. Others dropped out of the film earlier with other errors – each time you deviate from character, you create an opportunity for someone to stop believing you.

Giving inconsistent guidelines or demanding things of employees that you’re not bringing yourself is death as a leader. Employees begin to wonder why the rules are different for them than others (or you) and notice every inconsistency. Your team needs to believe you care about their success as well as your own.

2. Conflict often produces growth

Most people don’t like conflict. I don’t go seeking it myself. In order to have a truly great story, however, the protagonist (that’s you!) uses conflict to catalyze their growth and future success. In Breaking Bad, Walt gains power within the meth industry each time he takes on a new level of boss within the cartel. In Parks and Recreation, Leslie Knope grows and achieves more of her goals when her smaller dreams come crashing down – she can’t get backed for city council and her friends run her campaign for her, she loses a city council job and gets a national parks job, she loses a boyfriend and finds her husband.

In each situation, the protagonist fulfills more and more of their capability through either conquering fears or fighting through failure…but they don’t avoid conflict entirely.

Conflict is an inevitable part of growing. An animal has to eat plants (or even other animals) if it wants to continue to mature and reach its potential as an adult. You can’t reach your capacity by avoiding conflict, but in order to avoid Walter White’s ending and come through the conflict in a better place, go back to No. 1 and hold true to your character and your principles.

3. Stories don’t have to be linear

And they rarely are. Encourage your employees to take time to pick up knowledge or skills they might not otherwise learn. Heck, take those opportunities to do things you otherwise wouldn’t for yourself. You never know when it’ll come in handy.

Memento would have been bland and uninteresting if it were told in a linear manner – the story needed to be completely re-written. Because each fragment loosely connected, audiences spent the whole movie in the protagonist’s shoes, trying to piece everything together. The Wire brought stories of different segments of society together, telling Baltimore’s story. Early seasons’ interactions brought depth to stories told in different parts of town in later seasons.

I didn’t just grow up deciding I wanted to be a writer or a leader. I had no idea what I wanted to do – when we did a test in high school that showed what jobs we’d be good at and enjoy, my list of potential careers was seven pages long.

I spent time in the Marine Corps because I happened to pick up the phone with a recruiter after moving back home shortly after losing my girlfriend, car, and job all within a couple months. The Marines helped me find my motivation for higher education and for helping others. It also provided the GI Bill and later the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which gave me the opportunity to attend college without going into debt.

I was going to be an urban and regional planner if it weren’t for that philosophy course I took – I had initially been focused on a major that would help me make money and have a stable career. The philosophy course caused me to re-examine my priorities and what I wanted to pursue, and I ended up in journalism. I wouldn’t be writing this article if I didn’t take screenwriting courses as part of the major.

(Hey, I didn’t say that connecting the dots would ALWAYS result in positive outcomes.)

Learn from everyone you can. Listen to people from all parts of your life. If you spread the roots of your knowledge out broadly, you’ll be able to pull thoughts from anywhere and be in a position to help as many people as possible.

Ultimately, that’s what being a leader is about anyway – helping others to live the best life story they possibly can.

AFL Power Rankings, Week 11

I don’t have enough fun and interesting facts for a full post, so here are a few to tide you over until next week.

  • Until Week 10, no team had surrendered a safety all season. The LA KISS have now given up two in two weeks (no one else has surrendered one).
  • Jacksonville’s three defensive TDs against Tampa Bay exceeded their non-offensive output for the rest of the season combined (they had one defensive TD and one special teams TD).
  • Tampa Bay reached 10 touchdowns surrendered first, getting all the way up to 11 in just 10 games. Yes, opposing defenses average more than a touchdown per game against the Storm.

Here are your power rankings:

  1. Philadelphia (1.21)
  2. Arizona (1.12)
  3. Jacksonville (1.10)
  4. Orlando (1.02)
  5. Cleveland (0.99)
  6. Los Angeles (0.93)
  7. Tampa Bay (0.81)
  8. Portland (0.78)

Jacksonville improved their ranking by annihilating Tampa Bay. Portland couldn’t capitalize on the Storm’s poor performance, losing by a lot to Arizona. Orlando and Cleveland’s dead-even battle resulted in almost no movement for both teams. And Philadelphia has started running away with No. 1 honors.

This is a big week for our rankings – the No. 1 and 2 teams will battle, as will 3 and 4. The biggest disparity in a matchup this weekend is between Cleveland and Portland, and the first game between those two teams went to overtime. Enjoy the games and hopefully we’ll shake things up next week!

AFL Power Rankings, Week 10

This season, I’ve still been keeping track of weighted success rates. These numbers only take into account offensive and defensive prowess based on scoring success rates. Drives where there isn’t enough time to score at the end of a half, drives where the winning team just kills the clock, etc. don’t count against totals. Neither do special teams, because the nature of bar balls, onside kicks, etc. seem to be more luck than skill.

Weighted Offense:

  1. Philadelphia, 80% scores
  2. Orlando, 79%
  3. Arizona, 78%
  4. Jacksonville, 75%
  5. Cleveland, 74%
  6. Los Angeles, 67%
  7. Tampa Bay, 54%
  8. Portland, 53%

Weighted Defense:

  1. Philadelphia, 38% stops
  2. Los Angeles, 33%
  3. Arizona, 32%
  4. Jacksonville, 30%
  5. Tampa Bay, 30%
  6. Cleveland, 26%
  7. Portland, 26%
  8. Orlando, 22%

Orlando’s best week was Week 1, which means it gets the least weight in this week’s ratings; Portland’s best week by far was this week. Those last two are likely to change, but the current positioning underscores how badly Orlando’s defense has struggled to get off the field in recent weeks.

The total scores, then, provide a general framework for my Week 10 Power Rankings.

  1. Philadelphia, 1.19
  2. Arizona, 1.10
  3. Orlando, 1.02
  4. Jacksonville, 1.05
  5. Cleveland, 1.00
  6. Los Angeles, 1.00
  7. Tampa Bay, 0.84
  8. Portland, 0.79

I put Orlando ahead of Jacksonville based on the strength of their superior special teams play, which has produced eight touchdowns to Jacksonville’s one (although that one was produced by new acquisition Reggie Gray, who scored this week). They’ve also done a better job of winning games, which is what the sport is all about. Cleveland wins the tiebreaker over Los Angeles on the strength of their seven defensive touchdowns to Los Angeles’ three.

 

AFL Fun Facts, Post-Week 10

I’ve lost my ability to use Photoshop, so no cool graphs or .gifs anymore. All I have for you are fun facts about the Arena Football League as the regular season heads into its homestretch.

  • Two teams have yet to surrender a defensive touchdown – Arizona and Jacksonville.
  • One team has yet to score a defensive touchdown – Tampa Bay.
  • The LA KISS lost their game against the Orlando Predators via a botched FG snap that bounced through the end zone. It was the first safety recorded of 2016.
  • Because of Brandon Thompkins’ two kickoff return TDs in the fourth quarter that kept the Predators in it, the Predators offense took the field for only five drives. The next fewest drives in a game this season is seven, achieved by the KISS (in this game), and the Storm in Week 5. (Portland had the most, 15, in a Week 1 loss to Arizona.)
  • Speaking of Thompkins, he leads a Predators special teams unit that has EIGHT special teams touchdowns in 10 games. Tampa Bay has the second-most with three.
  • Portland’s maligned defense has come up with lots of stops recently. After having three combined stops against first team offenses in their first four games combined, the defense has come up with 3+ stops in three of their last four games, including six stops of Tampa Bay last week (plus two special teams fumble recoveries).
  • On the other hand, Orlando’s defense has melted down recently. After getting more than one stop in each of their first seven games, they’ve managed just one stop in each of the last three. They’re 1-2 in those games, with the win being due to an unforced error on LA’s part.
  • The Philadelphia Soul now lead the league in weighted offensive and defensive success rate, which is why they’re my No. 1 team in my upcoming Power Rankings post.
  • …and Cleveland‘s offense has become pretty darn good under Arvell Nelson. Since he took over as starter, the Gladiators have had 70% or better scoring rates in every game, a number they failed to achieve even once in their first four games. Under Nelson’s leadership, the offense went from Tampa Bay-levels of production to slightly better than Jacksonville’s.

 

Alfredo’s Pizza & Pasta (Lewisville, TX)

On the way to the comic convention in Lewisville, I needed to grab a bite to eat, so I stopped at Alfredo’s Pizza & Pasta. It was about 1:30, so it was definitely off-peak hours, but there were a few other people in the place, a couple good TVs in my line of view, and the one person seemingly in charge of serving everyone was doing a great job of getting around and helping everyone.

Emoji review: 🍕🌯 = ❓, but 💣💥

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