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In the 1986 film Gung Ho, a Japanese automaker moves into an abandoned factory in a down-on-its-heels Pennsylvania town. Both the automaker and the town’s newly re-employed autoworkers want to make the plant work, but they are at odds concerning principles, methods and leadership styles.
Misunderstandings threaten the attainment of a production goal both sides need. At the center of things is Hunt Stevenson, played by Michael Keaton, who is a former plant foreman appointed as employee-management liaison. He is torn between loyalty to his auto-worker friends on the line and the company that has just given him his first leadership position.
So, what lessons can we take from this movie 36 years after its release and bring it to our businesses today? Here are three key lessons I took from it and applied to my role at NutraScience Labs:
1. The necessity of strong, honest leadership
Hunt Stevenson’s underlying motivation for most of the movie was protecting his promotion. He did this by over-promising and under-delivering, at best, and by lying, at worst.
When leaders are only looking out for themselves, disastrous results often occur. Setting realistic and honest expectations throughout an organization will always lead to better outcomes. Lying will get you nowhere. Setting unrealistic expectations will also get you nowhere. Motivation is provided when goals are challenging but realistic.
Good leaders are aware that integrity and honesty are at the foundation of exceptional leadership. Honest leaders keep their promises, stand up for what they believe in, earn trust, have integrity that is not situational and are not afraid to share painful truths.
2. The danger of lack of compromise
At first, the Japanese management team in Gung Ho did not understand the American way of work, and the American workers did not understand the Japanese way of management.
Instead of coming together to compromise and understand each other’s viewpoints, both sides drew their lines in the sand, and because they felt “they were right,” they were willing to nearly destroy the entire business, culminating with the factory being temporarily shut down and a threat to pull out of the arrangement completely.
Although “compromise” is often used in a pejorative sense outside of politics, ethical compromise is vital to getting things done. If considering what both sides want is the goal, then finding common ground is the outcome — it can mean the difference between failure and success.
3. The power of teamwork
By the end of the movie, the strong leaders on both sides ultimately reached an understanding that the business surviving would be beneficial for all parties involved. Together, they demonstrate an ability to work together that inspires the rest of the divided factions to come together.
Even though the workers did not meet the productivity goal by the end of the movie, the executive leadership still honored the promised rewards because of the inspiring teamwork displayed.
Businesses that have successfully integrated a collaborative mindset into their workplace culture are the same businesses that are the most likely to realize the benefits of collaboration. Employees who are seen and heard have higher morale and are more likely to feel encouraged to devise creative solutions to problems or challenges. Companies that value and model honest leadership, ethical compromise and teamwork are companies that have the best potential for lasting success.
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