Academy Awards Acceptance Speeches Offer Lessons for Leaders

This year, The Academy Awards® acceptance speeches were as stirring and genuine as any I’ve seen in years. The grace, humility, and gratitude taking center stage at the Kodak Theatre were refreshing alternatives to the “look at me” exhibitionism of other awards shows.

In the spirit of the 83rd Academy Awards, I’ve given several awards of my own to the speeches…and a few lessons for business leaders.

Excellence in Accountability


The award for Excellence in Accountability goes to… Charles Ferguson, director and co-producer of winning Documentary Feature, “The Inside Job.” Ferguson rightly used his moment in the spotlight to put attention where it belongs: On those whose abuses he chronicled.

“…I must start by pointing out that three years after our horrific financial crisis caused by massive fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail, and that’s wrong,” Ferguson said in his acceptance speech.

Lesson for business leaders: Without accountability, there is no integrity. Strong organizations require leaders driven by principle and willing to subject their public lives to public scrutiny.

Excellence in Gratitude

The award for Excellence in Gratitude goes to…Natalie Portman, winner for Actress in a Leading Role, “The Black Swan.”

Portman gave an emotional, gracious acceptance speech flowing with appreciation for the other nominees, her family, producers, those who have shaped her career. She was genuine, humble, grateful and intelligent…a reminder that no matter how high we rise, we never do it alone.

Lesson for business leaders: The most successful leaders are those whose teams flourish. Be eternally grateful to every individual who contributes to your success. Without them, you’d never make it.

Excellence in Solidarity

The award for Excellence in Solidarity goes to…Colin Firth, winner for Actor in a Leading Role, “The King’s Speech.”

Firth won an Academy Award for his stirring performance as King Edward VI in “The King’s Speech,” about the relationship between the king and the speech coach whose unique vision, persistence, and unconventional methods helped the king overcome a profound stutter.

The actor gave credit to writer David Seidler, “whose own struggles have given so many people the benefit of his very beautiful voice.” Seidler himself had a stammer as a boy, but was inspired to overcome his speech disorder after listening to King Edward’s speeches on the radio during World War II.

Lesson for business leaders: Firth’s speech reminds us of our power and responsibility, as leaders, to give voice to the voiceless. How are you empowering the brilliance within your organization to find its voice?

Excellence in Inspired Goal Setting

The award for Excellence in Inspired Goal Setting goes to…Aaron Sorkin.

Sorkin won the Writer (Adapted Screenplay) Oscar® for “The Social Network,” about the founding of Facebook. In his acceptance speech, Sorkin acknowledged those who heard Sony Pictures mandate to “make it good” and said “good enough is not good enough.” He tipped his hat to director David Fincher’s artful creation and credited him for leading others to aspire to a high standard.

Lesson for business leaders: Setting high standards means more than setting ambitious revenue and profit goals. Truly great businesses aspire to stand for something worthy, and imbue every corner of their organization with that aspiration. Does your business have the commercial equivalent of “artistic integrity?”