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3 Lessons Leaders Can Learn From Watching the Netflix Film 'Don't Look Up'

Although it may be a satirical sci-fi movie, it has important things to say about the way we lead.

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In the star-studded satirical film Don't Look Up, astronomy professor Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his Ph.D. student Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) learn the hard way that leadership is not about titles or power, but about influence and, sometimes, greed.

After Mindy and Dibiasky discover a comet headed for a direct collision with Earth in six months, they take their findings to the highest office in the land, eventually meeting with Madam President Orlean (Meryl Streep). Distracted by tensions within her party, President Orlean dismisses the information, saying they'll “sit tight and assess” the situation. But then the White House changes its mind, eager to use the event to pull attention from the president’s plunging poll ratings and re-election efforts. 

Don't Look Up reveals what happens when leaders place their own interests above those of the people who have trusted them to lead. Naturally, there are some lessons business leaders can learn from watching the film — if you know where to find them.

Related: Why Servant Leadership is Becoming the Leadership Style of the Future

1. Selfishness stinks

President Orlean reveals her self-centered nature throughout the film, and her selfish decisions ultimately lead to the demise of her son and chief of staff Jason Orleans (Jonah Hill). Leadership plays a huge role in the success of an organization, and a selfish leader can hurt the bottom line. A selfish business leader is insecure and thinks that being called out on his or her less-than-noble motives is an attack on his or her creativity and ability to innovate — but that is so far from the truth. 

It's no wonder selfishness didn't make it onto the list of most desirable leadership traits while trust, compassion, stability and hope held the top spots. Putting the customer and employee first results in satisfied customers and, ultimately, increased profits and loyal employees. Selfish leaders are primarily concerned with how others perceive them, and they tend to attract individuals who can’t or won’t challenge them. This enables them to make decisions that only benefit themselves. 

2. Circle of influence matters

President Orlean was surrounded by a team of people-pleasers that wouldn't challenge her once she made up her mind based on half-truths. To succeed as a leader, it is important to surround yourself with individuals that you respect, trust, and with whom you can bounce around ideas. In business, a dishonest member of leadership's inner circle can bring shame and disaster to all, and entire organizations have collapsed as a result of such bad decisions.

Related: 3 Ways to Follow a Greedless Road to Success

Having and planning for an empowered circle of influence is a clear sign that you're a confident business leader who isn't threatened by others. This is also a sign of humility, a leadership trait that cultivates success. Humble leaders are surrounded by committed people. A leader that is willing to have a circle that fosters unity and respect will flourish, and that team will thrive even in times of crisis (such as that faced by the fictional White House). 

3. Greed is destructive

Greed is destructive and is fueled by self-interest. Dictionary.com defines greed as “excessive or rapacious desire, especially for wealth or possessions.” This was clearly demonstrated by President Orleans's 360-degree pivot from doing the right thing for the planet to calling off the mission when she realized she might profit from the comet's crash. Being motivated by greed is detrimental to an organization, as decisions are no longer based on objective or reasonable data.

The demise of Enron, once Wall Street's darling, reveals what greed can do to an organization and the economy. Leaders political or not have an obligation to do right by themselves and others without thinking of the profits. If a leader does not foster a mutually beneficial environment, it won’t be long before the company starts to experience a decline, losing customers and shareholders alike. 

Related: What's the Real Difference Between Leadership and Management?

Don't Look Up unpacks the trials and tribulations of ineffective leadership, demonstrating important, applicable lessons along the way. Whether we're talking about family dynamics in rural America or corporate takeovers at Fortune 500 companies, all leaders can benefit from the reminder to put others first, surround themselves with an honest inner circle and value people over profit. 

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