I’m a sucker for movies with a personal transformation story—especially in a leadership context. Not long ago I saw one that fits the bill: Burnt, starring Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller.

The main character, Adam Jones, is a gifted chef whose personal life and reputation have imploded after a series of poor life choices forces him to abandon his role at a high-profile Paris restaurant and burn most of his relational bridges. The movie begins as his self-imposed penance ends and he begins the work of overcoming his past and reestablishing his career and reputation.

The movie reveals several leadership themes.

  • Personal Transformation. It’s helpful to realize your past failures and to learn their causes and effects. That’s wisdom/experience, but it’s not necessarily transformation. Wisdom/experience alone won’t take you to the next level. You have to put in the extra work to build additional leadership capacity; to reinvent yourself. This takes soul searching, and a willingness to see more than your strengths. One of my stock phrases applies here: You can’t get better if you keep doing the things you’re already good at.
  • Self-Awareness. There are areas for you to improve, you just have to be willing to see them.
  • Embracing an Identity of “We” over “I”. True greatness is achieved when a leader focuses less on his/her individual skills (immense though they may be) and more on making others great and achieving a common vision. This is the transition from solo brilliance to team excellence.
  • Trust in the Team. Trust and collaboration are two dynamics that we simply don’t do well enough.
  • The “Back-of-the-House.” This restaurant phrase refers to the secret sauce (obvious pun) of any restaurant: Success starts in the kitchen, where customers never see. The quality of the back-of-the-house becomes apparent on what gets served in the front of the house. As leaders, it’s easy to think about “front-of-the-house” issues, but you make your hay on what you focus on in your own personal back-of-the-house.

In full disclosure, because I have no exposure to the world and culture of the high-end culinary industry I can’t comment on Burnt’s realism. That aside, it’s a feel-good to see someone in a position of influence turn their own life around and impact the lives of those in their circle in a positive way.

Give the movie a look, and tell me if you agree!

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