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Stay true, succeed like Jerry Maguire

Posted: November 18, 2008 10:02 p.m.
Updated: November 19, 2008 4:30 a.m.

It's been said that movies are created with at least one, and up to three, combinations of plots. Those plots involve: man versus man, man versus the environment and man versus himself.

I thought about those possible plot lines while I watched the movie "Jerry Maguire" recently. It occurred to me that almost all of Tom Cruise's movies generally have all three plots, but the primary focus of his characters is coming to terms with themselves.

What was interesting about this particular movie is that Jerry finds himself troubled as an individual while employed as a leading sports agent in his company. He fears that the company has lost its way through a number of missteps. These include becoming too big to successfully handle the number of clients they represent, that the company will soon decline because it has lost its competitive edge and no longer has intimate relationships with the clients, something on which it has long prided itself.

Unlike other employees, who see that the company has grown, has all of the outward trappings of success and is financially successful (defined as everyone getting checks and bonuses), Jerry sees things differently. Jerry has second thoughts about what he is doing and how he is doing it.

If you remember how the movie starts, Jerry sees that the company needs to be refocused, so he writes a report in the middle of a sleepless night, crafting a mission statement for the firm, basically telling his fellow co-workers, "Let's get back to the basics that made this firm successful." For his effort he is terminated and one employee, played by Renee Zellweger, leaves with him to start a competing agency. She has read his missive and in a leap of faith, joins him.

Everything and everyone seems to conspire against him as he begins his new company. The big question is, can Jerry stay true to his mission statement and what he believes, despite losing his friends, his income and his fiancé?

There are a number of messages from this movie worth considering that can translate directly to the issues a business owner might be facing today.

The first is that it is perfectly fine to take a step back from the everyday hustle and bustle and say "Stop - are we doing what we should be doing or have we lost our way?"

This kind of activity needs to happen far more frequently than we think it should. I can't tell you how many people I have spoken to are in absolute shock over the traumatic, life-altering events that have shaken to the core the financial well-being of this country.

It didn't happen overnight, but rather it took place over a period of time because of something I will call "drift" which took people and organizations, both in the public and private sector, away from what they should have been doing.

So, taking time to re-calibrate, re-look at the compass and reorient is not just critical, it is essential.
The second message is one of mission. Even with a mission, an organization can lose its way.

There is no better example of an organization that has lost its way than the Oakland Raiders football team. With a mission of "Commitment to Excellence" the organization had the highest winning percentage of all professional sports teams in the United States for decades. Nearly five years ago, they lost their way, no longer committed to excellence. What they are committed to these days is still not understood. They are adrift. Losing sight of the mission and not taking the time to reorient is one of the reasons for their dismal performance of late; there might be others.

But many more organizations have never developed a mission, which provides focus and direction to people and the organization. Having not just a sense of mission but an understanding of mission is so basic that I wonder how organizations and the people in them can possibly be successful without them. The answer is, they can be successful but not in the long term.

The third message is that of resilience. Not to be confused with drive or toughness, the concept of resilience is not about deflecting challenges, ducking and running from them. It is all about absorbing them and having the ability to rebound stronger than before.

Owners like to think that they can handle anything that comes their way; they often plan scenarios and prepare for the "if this, then that." But Jerry's termination came out of the blue, and these current tough times did, too.

Being resilient means running your business in such a manner that allows the owner to run their business and accept setbacks as they occur, move on and create new opportunities and face new challenges.

The most memorable line in the movie Jerry Maguire resounds to this day: "Show me the money!" But, let's keep it in perspective; it wasn't Jerry who uttered that line first, it was his client. In the end, through the process of taking time to rethink his business, staying true to his mission statement and being resilient, Jerry was able to deliver and build his business.

Kenneth W. Keller is president of Renaissance Executive Forums in Valencia. His column reflects his own view and not necessarily that of The Signal.


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