Leadership Lessons from 'Hank'

I recently had the opportunity to attend a private screening of the documentary “Hank: 5 Years from the Brink” at The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.  In the film, former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson talks about the challenges and issues he dealt with during the financial crisis and government bailouts of 2008. President George W. Bush introduced the film and we had an opportunity to hear directly from Secretary Paulson about the experience and what he wanted others to learn from it. Whatever your politic views, “Hank” is a fascinating look at how we make decisions and lead during times of complexity and high stakes. Paulson faced extreme versions of the pressures we all face at times in our careers: deadlines, adversity, harsh criticism, and others questioning our judgment.

His story gives us some lessons on handling challenging times:

Get support. Paulson’s wife was a pillar of support for him. In one memorable scene of the documentary, Hank is paralyzed with fear and truly at a loss for what to do. Completely overwhelmed, he reaches out to his wife to ask her for advice.  In that moment, she says exactly the right inspirational words to propel him forward, out of a place of fear and to a place where he can identify and take that next step. We all need people in our lives who know just what to say when we’re stuck. Who provides that voice of reason, reassurance or comfort for you?

Frame your actions. With each looming crisis, Paulson’s focus on doing the right thing for the country was at the forefront of his decision making. He reinforced this in every communication to congress by framing the options in the context of what was truly at stake. How you frame something can be the difference between garnering support or falling flat.

Surround yourself with the right people. Paulson deliberately brought in others whose expertise supplemented his own skills, knowledge, and experience and engaged them in being part of the solution. He recognized his limitations and leveraged others to fill in the gaps.

Leaders who put this into practice can accomplish amazing things – sustainable high performance, effective crisis management, and unprecedented results.  Invest time to get clear about the types of skills and expertise you need to round out your team’s capabilities.

You can watch “Hank” on Netflix or iTunes, and I encourage you to check it out. The documentary sheds light both on the financial crisis and dealing with personal adversity as we face difficult chapters in our own careers.