A Leadership Lesson from “Freaky Friday”

A Leadership Lesson from "Freaky Friday"

If you’ve been following entertainment news, you’ll know that it has been 20 years since Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan, played a mother and daughter at odds, who magically swapped bodies in Disney’s 2003 remake of Freaky Friday. Disney has confirmed a sequel, and Curtis and Lohan are open to a return.

“Make good choices,” says the mother, Tess (Curtis), to her daughter, Anna (Lohan) in a Freaky Friday scene where we see Tess drop off Anna at school and offer sagacious advice just before she drives away.

Since Curtis uttered that epic line (which has become a meme and copypasta), all of us have been hoping that organizations and governments will appoint or elect leaders who will make unimpeachable decisions. I say “hope” because we can’t always depend on every leader to steadfastly make responsible decisions–ones that would undoubtedly, whether immediately or down the line, affect individuals, society, business, and government. 

If you’ve watched season 4, episode 8, “America Decides,” of Succession (spoiler alert), you have seen a (fictitious) television news network election night broadcast manipulated by its co-CEOs, two of the Roy brothers, who make what many would consider a heinous choice that adversely affects the entirety of the United States. Pop culture aside, as Noel Murray writes for the New York Times, “Although this episode is incredibly entertaining, it does cut uncomfortably closer to real-world politics than is typical for ‘Succession.’”

Choices and Options

Here’s the rub. At some point, someone (or perhaps a board or group) might ask a leader to make a decision based on two explicit options. In other words, they might ask someone to do the wrong thing. 

I doubt anyone would argue that integrity is at the core of honorable leadership. Ethical leaders behave according to principles and values that serve the common good, and do not deviate from their code of conduct. Along with integrity, many people cite honesty, responsibility, justice, and transparency as necessary. Though ethical leadership is multidimensional and multifactorial, holding people accountable for making responsible choices seems requisite. To make a good choice, you must consider how your decision will not only positively impact your own organization, employees, stakeholders, and customers but whether it will benefit or harm people external to your organization or the planet. Simply, what are the greater ramifications?

As a university professor and nonfiction book author, I am obliged to determine learning outcomes. What will my students or readers learn as a result of taking my course or reading my book? Back in the day, instructors framed courses based on goals. Framing courses or books based on learning outcomes works far better because it places the emphasis not on the instructor or author but on the people they serve. Much can ride on outcomes. 

honorable leadership

Honorable Leadership = Making Brave Choices

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Curtis said that she improvised that line. “For some reason that popped out of my mouth. What it really stands for is, make brave choices,” she said. At times, making good choices means we must be brave. Maintaining integrity under duress, uncertainty or challenging circumstances is possible. Whenever I think about decision-making, I think of French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre who believed that we have to make choices. He also believed that because “existence precedes essence,” every choice reveals our essence. 

Please forgive the inclusion of Sarte’s existentialist philosophy alongside pop culture references. But there’s no denying Curtis’ wisdom.

This guest post was authored by Robin Landa

Called “one of the great teachers of our time” by the Carnegie Foundation, Robin holds the title of Distinguished Professor in the Michael Graves College at Kean University. She has taught university students, as well as trained industry professionals, to generate lots of worthwhile ideas. It’s no surprise people consider her a creativity expert. But Robin Landa is more than that—she uses her creative powers for good.


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