Thanks to the screenwriters for the leadership inspiration

By June 2, 2023ISDose


In honor of the screenwriters that are on strike with the Writer’s Guild of America, for this issue of my newsletter I’m highlighting some of my favorite inspirational leadership lines written for TV and movies. While I’m excited about the enormous potential of generative AI, I don’t believe there is a substitute for true, human storytelling like we see in the quotes below and the stories that surround them.

The selection of quotes below is quite varied, in terms of the genres, dates, and more, because great leadership quotes are everywhere you look. We owe some amazing screenwriters for these gems. I’d love to hear your favorite movie/TV leadership lines as well. Drop them in the comments. Here are some to get us started:

1. “Don’t fight back. Fight forward.” — Ola Obisanya in Ted Lasso

No alt text provided for this image

Photo credit: AppleTV+

You may already know I’m a huge fan of Ted Lasso, from my piece “7 Ways All Leaders Should Be Like Ted.” In my view, the best quote of season 3 goes to Ola Obisanya, Sam’s father, after Sam’s restaurant, Ola’s, is vandalized. He tells Sam not to “fight back” or get even, but rather to “fight forward,” meaning to keep moving passionately towards his own vision for the restaurant and for his life. Time we spend time focused on getting back at others for things that upset us, is wasted time that could be better spent pursuing our own goals and dreams.

2. “Hey Leslie, it’s Leslie. Hang in there. I love you. Bye.” – Leslie Knope in Parks & Recreation

No alt text provided for this image

NBC – Parks and Recreation

This simple line packs a lot of power in its meaning. During an all-night telethon where Leslie is desperately trying to stay awake, she calls herself to deliver a pep talk that she can listen to later. We all need someone in our corner when times get tough. And while it’s great when that support can come from colleagues, friends, or family, we should remember that we can be our own cheerleaders too. In fact, believing in ourselves is a key step in encouraging others to believe in us and our vision as leaders. Leslie Knope is a great example of a leader who dreams big, and stays positive, no matter the challenges she faces. In another famous line she describes her vision for her future (or what we at Rising Team would call a “career horizon.”) She says, “It is my dream to build a park… that I one day visit with my White House staff on my birthday. And they say President Knope, this park is awesome.”

3. “No amount of money ever bought a second of time.” — Tony Stark in Avengers: Endgame

No alt text provided for this image

Although the Avengers movies are better known for their action and adventure than for their high brow leadership lessons, this scene is one of my favorites. Tony goes back in time and briefly meets his father, Howard Stark, before he (Tony) is born. In a very time-twisting moment, he shares with his father one of the best lessons he learned from him, “No amount of money ever bought a second of time.” It’s particularly ironic because it’s likely that a lot of money went into building the time-travel capability that gives him this additional moment with his dad. Nevertheless, the point is well-made, that time is our most precious asset. As leaders we should use it well in terms of where we focus our time and remember that time spent with those close to us is priceless.

4. “No capes!” – Edna Mode in The Incredibles

No alt text provided for this image

Photo credit: Pixar

Ok, this may seem like a silly one, but I included it because I love this movie and this quote is so memorable. I’ve heard people say it over and over again in various situations over the years. There is, in fact, a leadership lesson here too. Edna Mode, the talented, sharp-witted designer of Super uniforms in The Incredibles has learned the hard way that capes are a bad idea and can get the Supers in trouble and even killed. Rather than be persuaded by customers of hers who want a cape, she uses her own wisdom and experience to set a hard and fast rule that she always follows. And in the end, she turns out to be right. As leaders we need to follow a combination of our own instincts and the data when it shows a clear pattern. (See, there really are leadership lessons everywhere….)

5. “Every champion was once a contender who refused to give up.” – Rocky Balboa in Rocky Balboa

No alt text provided for this image

Photo credit – MGM

The Rocky movies are chock full of leadership inspiration and great quotes abound in each of the films. One of my favorites comes from the 2006 sequel, “Rocky Balboa,” where Rocky is older and wiser and can look back on his career (and also briefly comes out of retirement for one dramatic fight). In this classic line, Rocky expresses that it takes grit and hard work to become a champion, and everyone has to start somewhere. This is a similar lesson to one I wrote about in my book, Purposeful, that every major world-changing movement started with a brave person who had the courage to fight for what they believe in, took one small step to get started, and then just refused to give up.

You can see just how inspired people are by Rocky’s leadership and grit if you visit the Philadelphia Library on just about any day of the year.

No alt text provided for this image

There’s always a crowd of tourists running the famous steps to music, just like Rocky. (Here’s a pic of my daughters running the steps a few years ago. They are the ones in the middle. 🙂

6. “There’s only one thing to do: learn all we can.” – Dorothy Vaughn in Hidden Figures

No alt text provided for this image

Photo credit: 20th Century Studios

I loved Hidden Figures, the story of three of the many incredible Black women who served as “computers” and engineers at NASA during the space race in the 1960’s. As a woman in tech who has faced my fair share of challenges over my career, I have tremendous appreciation for how much harder it was for them and gratitude for all they did to pave the way for others. The movie is full of inspirational lines from beginning to end and this is one of my favorites.

Dorothy Vaughan, first the unofficial (and then later the official) supervisor of the Black women computers at NASA, was smart and curious, and stayed abreast of new technologies. When the big IBM computer was getting installed, she realized that her team would need to learn new skills to adapt so she learned Fortran programming and taught her team too. She knew the only option was to “learn all we can,” and this made them prepared to be the ones who programmed the IBM.

The old adage that “the only constant is change” is certainly true when it comes to technology, and as leaders, often our only choice is to adapt. The leaders who stay curious and focus on continuous learning will be the most successful.

And coming full circle, this is true of AI as well. It’s here and we can’t go backwards. “There’s only one thing we can do: learn all we can.” Learning how to use AI to make our work faster, more efficient, and perhaps more thorough should make us better. And learning how to combine that with the storytelling and deep connection that make us human can be a winning combination. This is what we’re working on at Rising Team as well.

The quotes above are just a tiny sampling of the many, many lines from great screenwriters that inspire me. What are your favorite movie and TV leadership quotes? Where do you want to thank the screenwriters for inspiring you? Leave your thoughts in the comments. And if you liked this piece, subscribe to my newsletter for once a month thoughts on the leadership inspiration that is all around us if we remain open to it.

This article first appeared in

Guest Author: Jennifer Dulski : Jennifer Dulski is CEO and Founder of Rising Team, the industry-leading team development platform that helps companies increase engagement and retention by equipping managers to run deeply connecting, interactive team sessions, remotely or in-person, without an outside facilitator.

Seeking to build and grow your brand using the force of consumer insight, strategic foresight, creative disruption and technology prowess? Talk to us at +971 50 6254340 or or visit