7 Leadership Principles from the ‘Hidden Figures’

If you haven’t seen the film Hidden Figures, don’t’ worry, I won’t spoil it for you here.

It’s based on the true lives of three African-American women fighting for a chance to rise through the ranks of NASA during the 1960s.

This was a time when racial segregation was the law, civil rights movement was in full force, and gender discrimination was the norm.

So the audacity of women – especially black women – working as engineers and mathematicians and competing with men in NASA, during one of the most important events in U.S. and world history, was amazing.

As I watched the lives of these three characters unfold, I wasn’t just inspired by their story, I was moved philosophically.

Their lives back then offer us today an opportunity to see and feel the struggles, perseverance, and strength of character they used to succeed not just at work, but in life.

Going into more detail, I pulled out seven leadership principles from this incredible story.

Whether you’re a college student, a CEO, or undergoing a career change, there’s something here for you.

7 Leadership Principles from the ‘Hidden Figures’ Film

1. Don’t Look for Excuses

One of the things I noticed from the main characters is that, at no time did they stop to pity themselves or spend much, if any, time complaining about their very real obstacles (race, gender, the law, etc.) they faced.

One of the things I’ve noticed in my career is just how easily many of us (including myself at times) rely on excuses for NOT completing a project or reaching a goal.

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It’s so easy to place the blame on external circumstances, but those are just excuses.

What type of person would you become if you developed a “No Excuses” philosophy?

2. Solve Big Problems

The film dealt with a variety of problems, from race discrimination to unknown mathematics. 

But all of them were really opportunities waiting for someone to do something about them.

At work and in life, what if we looked at problems as opportunities?

One of the best ways of adding value is to solve problems, especially big ones.

It’s not just about identifying problems, it’s about helping to create solutions.

Those who choose to do something about it are the difference-makers.

3. Put Your Team First

One of the best leadership principles I found in this film was the importance of putting others first.

After one of the characters teaches herself about the future of technology (computers), she then taught her subordinates in order to prepare them for the future as well.

John Maxwell said:

“The measure of a leader is not the number of people who serve him, but the number of people he serves.”

Leaders focus on serving and building more leaders.

4. Put Someone on The Moon

Putting a human in space and eventually, the moon, was one of the greatest competitions in history that pushed both sides (U.S. and Russia) to outdo each other.

The race for space was, in fact, a competition that drove everyone to contribute more and forced them to think in new ways.

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Used in the right way and for the right reasons, competition can bring out the best in us as well.

How can you use competition in work and in life to keep you engaged or excited about your goals, projects, or daily tasks?

5. Never Stop Learning

The main characters were constantly re-educating themselves.

It’s not just about book-smarts – it’s about becoming a learning machine whether through books, higher education, or free online courses from different universities.

Once, I read that the world is divided into two groups of people: learners and non-learners.

The main characters in this film worked on educating themselves.

They never gave up, they reached further; and in dealing with discrimination, they learned greater lessons about themselves.

People who are constantly learning are growing, adapting, and preparing for what’s to come.

6. Break The Status Quo

In order to put a human in space, NASA was forced to re-think everything from mathematics, to society, and even what is possible.

They were forced to break the status quo in so many areas in order to get the breakthroughs they needed.

We can all benefit from re-thinking WHY we do what we do, and how we do it.

Is there a status quo in your life that needs to be broken?

7. Create Value

The three main characters provided tremendous value to NASA despite not being treated with the same respect, resources, and support as their counterparts.

But they were so focused on providing value, making an impact, and bettering themselves that they could not be denied.

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When you’re the best at what you do, people will respect your work ethic.

They might not like you, but they will respect the value that you bring.

What value are you bringing to your family, your organization, or your community?

It’s your turn: how can you incorporate any of these leadership principles into your daily life?

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