A nod to the Oscars: “King Richard,” lessons about life and leadership.

This year there are ten movies nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. In our ongoing journey exploring lessons about life and leadership, I thought it would be fun to take a closer look at one of these contenders and see what gems it gives us. My Oscar pick goes to King Richard, a biographical film based on the rise to fame of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams and the leader behind them, their father, Richard Williams. This is a touching biopic about social class, overcoming obstacles, discipline, access, and power.

In the movie, Richard Williams is the protagonist who is portrayed as a devoted but strict father with a singular focus to raise two championship-level tennis players. The movie documents the early years of the Williams family in Compton, California, and their subsequent relocation to the Palm Beach area in Florida. We know the present-day ending, Serena Williams is considered one of the best tennis players in the world with twenty-three Grand Slam singles titles, and Venus Williams holds forty-nine Women’s Association of Tennis titles. She is considered one of the all-time talented players in the sport.

Excellence is not accidental; here are some takeaways from King Richard about life and leadership:

It’s okay to dream. Richard Williams had a dream to produce two of the best tennis players the world had ever seen. He had a high school education and was a security guard who lived in an impoverished neighborhood in Compton, California. His moment of inspiration was watching a tennis match in 1978 where he saw Virginia Ruzici playing at the French Open. From that point on, he started to manifest his intention into reality.

Do your research. Moving from inspiration to action, Richard Williams started learning more about tennis and took lessons about the sport.

Have a plan. After much research, Richard Williams put together a seventy-eight-page plan.

Leadership can be all-consuming. Richard Williams had such a singular focus that, at times, he lost sight of important things along the way, such as his wife and being present in the moment. There is a scene where he has his family watch the Disney movie Cinderella. It is a beautiful illustration of how a good intention can quickly become demotivating when you leave no room for fun and connection.

There are many heroes in your story. We rarely make it far on our own. The key to success is knowing who all the key players are to get us to our destination. In this movie, Richard Williams is so consumed by his drive to make his daughters stars that he loses sight of the supporting player in his dream, Oracene Williams, his wife, who tends to the aftermath of his behavior and is a hands-on coach for Serena.

Identify your advocates. Richard Williams is a devoted father and the ultimate advocate for his daughters. He is tireless in his efforts to get them a professional coach and make them champions. The lesson is to seek out sponsors in life who have your best interest in mind and can help you reach your goals.

Connections and income impact access. Adversity can be a superpower that fuels focus. One thing that runs through the entire movie is the strength of being an underdog. Venus and Serena Williams do not have access to the same facilities in Compton as do the up-and-coming tennis players in wealthier communities. Still, it does not stop them or their father from pushing through and putting in the work to get the results. Their father, Richard, tries to get them seen by tennis coaches but is rebuffed and is told he can’t afford the training. Richard does not have the networks or the wealth to provide Venus and Serena with access to lessons, but his tenacity prevails. Finally, he is able to get lessons for Venus with a tennis coach and tapes the lessons for Serena to use in practice.

Just because it’s never been done before doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Anything that has been done before was at one time never done. So don’t let the statement, “it has never been done before,” deter you! Why can’t it be you? Leaders who take chances in trying things that have never been done increase their opportunities to become innovators.

There comes a time when you must fly solo. Even though Venus Williams has been coached and guided by her father, there comes a time when she must choose her path, and that isn’t easy because her vision and his vision are not in alignment. Nevertheless, he respects and supports her, and she moves forward in her journey.

Know what grounds you so you can draw from that well when needed. The family unit holds all the characters together in the movie and fuels them for life’s joys and difficulties— you see this through the lens of spouses, sisters, stepsisters, and parents. Family can be those you choose or the family you are born into.

If you have seen the movie, share some of your lessons learned. If you have another pick for the Oscars, share that too!

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