Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Introducing the #SpringLeadershipSeries on #DebbieLaskeysBlog

Last fall, I featured an inspiring series here on my blog called, "Fall Back to Reading Series." Nearly 30 leadership, marketing, and customer experience experts participated and shared their favorite books and their thoughts about the importance of reading.

Joseph Lalonde, one participant and leadership expert, wrote a book entitled, REEL LEADERSHIP, which focuses on nontraditional ways to think about leadership. After I read the book, the seeds for this "Spring Leadership Series" were planted. During the next three months, 15 marketing and leadership experts will answer the following five questions here on my blog.

This exciting #SpringLeadershipSeries begins next Monday, March 25, and continues every Monday during April and May - and then every Monday and Friday during June - ending with my highlights post on June 20.

So, to introduce the series and with much gratitude to Joseph, my answers follow below. I hope you enjoy thinking about leadership in nontraditional ways!

QUESTION: Which TV show or TV series showcases leadership in a memorable way? This could be due to a specific character and their actions, a series of events, the plot of one or several episodes, or a specific time reflected in history.
DEBBIE LASKEY: My choice is Law & Order: SVU because Mariska Hargitay's lead character Olivia Benson has been part of my TV-viewing life for the past 24 years. She has been a police officer, detective, sergeant, lieutenant, and captain through her many years with the NYPD. She has climbed the corporate ladder and has broken some shards of the glass ceiling in a male-dominated industry (law enforcement) in the largest city in the country - and not only survived but became a captain of a challenging department (sex crimes). She has been kidnapped and gone undercover in prison. Bottom line: she is an inspiration.

In episode six during the first season, Benson corrected a lawyer when she said, "It's Detective, Not Miss." According to CBR, "Benson is right to call out the gender-discriminatory wording that the lawyer uses since male detectives aren't referred to as mister. Plus, becoming a detective is quite an accomplishment for any officer; hence, they always prefer to be addressed by their correct titles."

From a leadership perspective, Benson leads by capitalizing on the strengths of her team. She always asks for feedback, and she always reminds her team to think about their stakeholders, the victims. There is no doubt that she is a leader to admire, so who wouldn't want her as their boss?

However, I must also mention another wonderful TV show that elevated a talented female protagonist while simultaneously showcasing superlative writing and acting. The show was THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL, which ran from 2017 to 2023 on Amazon Prime Video. The timeframe for the show was the 1950's and 1960's, and as a result, viewers saw how a New York housewife made the jump into stand-up comedy - despite all the gender bias and other challenges she encountered. Actress Rachel Brosnahan was excellent in her portrayl of Midge Maisel, and actor Tony Shalhoub convinced viewers that he left MONK when he became Midge Maisel's father in the show.

According to, "In an exciting turn of events for the final season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the Mayor of New York City, Eric Adams, declared that April 14, 2023, would mark The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Day due to the show's success story and its positive portrayal of the Big Apple. Throughout its run, the series employed over 37,000 actors and craftspeople including: 344 dancers, 580 musicians, 981 dayplayers, and 35,619 background actors. Mrs. Maisel has also used the city as its set, filming in over 366 locations throughout the five boroughs, primarily in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Over its seven-year run, it played a role in boosting the economy, supporting local businesses and showcasing how beautiful and cinematic the city truly is."

Mayor Adams explained, "I love The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel because it showcases the beautiful streets of New York City, features a strong female lead character, and is the perfect example of how our city’s film and TV industry creates jobs, and generates economic activity for local businesses."

QUESTION: Which film showcases leadership in a memorable way?

DEBBIE LASKEY: My choice is "12 Angry Men," a film from 1957 that I first saw during a film appreciation class in high school. Years later, I saw a play in Los Angeles starring Richard Thomas (of The Walton's fame) in the title role.

The film showcases how one voice can change an entire room of other voices and opinions, in this case, a room of 11 jurors versus one juror. Henry Fonda was the sole juror who wanted to consider all evidence before finding an 18-year-old guilty. In the jury room, the jurors voted again and again, as Fonda's character convinced the jurors one by one to consider more and more evidence.

This film was an excellent example of how leadership can be quiet, unassuming, and effective. Fonda's character was a leader even though he was not the jury foreman. But he definitely made a difference in the life of the 18-year-old on trial.

An interesting side note from Wikipedia: "Speaking at a screening of the film during the 2010 Fordham University Law School Film Festival, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor stated that seeing "12 Angry Men" while she was in college influenced her decision to pursue a career in law."

However, when I think of movies and leadership, I have to include 9 to 5, starring three superstars, Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton. The film's theme song has become immediately recognizable, thanks to Parton's long nails. But the sad part is that most women have encountered a boss like Mr. Hart in the movie, a male chauvinist pig who thinks all women employees - no matter their education or role - should simply make coffee and wear short skirts. Despite the film's shenanigans, women got the last laugh at the end.

QUESTION: Which work of fiction showcases leadership in a memorable way?
DEBBIE LASKEY: My choice is John Grisham's 2023 novel, "The Exchange, After The Firm." The creator of his own genre of legal thrillers has returned to the novel that made his name famous (not withstanding the feature film starring Tom Cruise back in 1993) with a story set 15 years after "The Firm" ended. Members of the legal profession, watchers of legal dramas on television, and readers of Grisham's novels all understand (too well) the caste system that exists in the legal profession,  or as Grisham calls  it "Big Law." Power trickles down, so named partners in law firms are the top dogs with decision-making power. In large law firms, executive committees or management committees often have the final say on major decisions affecting their firms.

Without giving away all the twists and turns in this particular story, Mitch McDeere's firm's management committee has a life-altering decision to make. But spoiler alert, the desired decision is not made. Both Mitch and the senior partner presented all the reasons why the desired decision should be made, but some people stayed away from the office so that they would not be forced to vote. (Sound like a stalement in the U.S. Congress?) This type of stalemate was bad. Even worse, a lawyer's life was on the line.

While most leaders would never encounter this type of scenario, they do find themselves making hard decisions on a daily basis. I would hope that they realize that their decisions make an impact on their employees, who are real people, rather than just a number on paper.

QUESTION: Which product, or product line, stands out as a symbol of leadership?
DEBBIE LASKEY: Without a doubt, my choice is Mattel's iconic Barbie doll, introduced in 1959. According to Mattel, "Barbie recognizes all female role models. The 'Barbie Inspiring Women Series' pays tribute to the incredible heroines of their time; courageous women who took risks, changed rules, and paved the way for generations of girls to dream bigger than ever before."

While some may think Barbie is just a doll, I beg to differ. She has evolved both in style and shape over the years, so much so that people don't notice or talk about her hourglass figure anymore. Instead, there are Barbie dolls who represent a myriad of professions and situations. In fact, since 2019, the Barbie line has expanded to include Barbie dolls with a wheelchair, prosthetic limbs, hearing aids, vitiligo, and more. In 2023, Mattel launched a Barbie with Down syndrome and worked closely with the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) to ensure that the doll's aesthetics, clothing, accessories, and packaging were accurate.

Also, she was the star of last year's blockbuster film, and people flocked to movie theaters, many people more than once, all wearing the color pink.

There is a reason that the Barbie doll tagline is "A doll can help change the world. You can be anything."

QUESTION: Lastly, which brand is the best embodiment of an industry leader, and why?

DEBBIE LASKEY: My choice is Starbucks, because Howard Schultz saw a popular coffee drinking industry in Europe and brought it to America. The coffee cafe industry re-energized the coffee industry, new products were introduced (for example, Pumpkin Spice Latte celebrated its 20th birthday in 2023), and other coffee cafes sprung up to offer competition for Starbucks.

According to, "Is it possible to convince ordinary Americans who routinely open 3-pound value cans of coffee, shovel the grounds into a paper filter, push a button, and go about their business to suddenly change their ways? Will this eventually evolve into a $1400 per year habit of a latte each day? The answer to these questions, according to Starbucks, is 'absolutely!'"

Did these questions open your eyes to think about leadership in nontraditional ways? That was the hope.

Image Credits: Debbie Laskey, iStockphoto, Amazon, and Classroom Clipart.

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