Three key leadership lessons from Chadwick Boseman’s career and life that we can embody as entrepreneurs.
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September 2, 2020 4 min read
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Like much of the world, I was shocked to hear of the passing of the actor Chadwick Boseman, who was much lauded for his performance in Black Panther as well as other hit movies over the past few years.
To know he spent the last four years not just making movies that moved us emotionally and inspired us intellectually but also did so between chemotherapy and major surgery was a shock. It shows us that he truly embodied walking your own talk — owning his crown as a leader in whatever role he was playing on set and in his real life off-set.
His dedication to playing roles so gracefully and powerfully while maintaining his privacy is something many Hollywood actors can’t do without alienating fans. Boseman, though, managed to do this and to make us rethink narratives every step of the way.
There are so many lessons we can learn from him. Being a successful entrepreneur means not just creating something that stands the test of time, but also truly making an impact and sparking meaningful conversations and change. You can’t just rely on talent — you have to be conscious of the narratives you’re contributing to. So, here are three key leadership lessons from Chadwick Boseman’s career and life that all entrepreneurs can embody.
1. Build a ship big enough for more than one man
Teamwork creates excellence, and contributing to that means never seeing a role or responsibility as too big or too small. Be conscious of who’s on your team and how they can use their uniqueness to help grown your business.
I recently read that Chadwick Boseman would attend auditions for supporting roles in the films he was working on. It goes without saying that that’s uncommon for lead actors in big-budget films. But Boseman understood that developing a strong team that could perform as a whole mattered as much as his own performance.
2. Innovate by going deep and not wide
The concept of “innovation” is overused in entrepreneurship. So many businesses are merely changing the packaging and delivering the same service, support, and information as everyone else. Innovation doesn’t mean reinventing the wheel — it’s paying attention to the details no one else has thought of. Some of the companies we have come to love all innovated by embodying this trait. Think Apple, which with the iPhone put the world in our pockets, or even Netflix, which changed how we consume movies and television.
Paying attention to details is something Boseman knew the importance of. Ryan Coogler, the co-writer and director of Black Panther, has said that Boseman would often discuss lines and different ways to add depth to each scene. What stood out to me, though, was his attention to the minute details. Coogler says Boseman cared about everything from costumes to military practices. He once told Coogler, “Wakandans have to dance during the coronations. If they just stand there with spears, what separates them from Romans?”
That level of awareness is something every entrepreneur should try to embody. Truly ask yourself: What separates us from the rest?
3. Be bold enough to change the box
Being an entrepreneur isn’t about fitting everything into a neat box and checking things off a to-do list. It’s redefining the box so that the parameters can be stretched, never to return to what they were before. It might sound like I’m overestimating the importance of what entrepreneurs can create, but aren’t all entrepreneurs who bring forth new possibilities just stretching our imaginations beyond what we’d previously thought?
All the technology we see now, the evolution and change that’s happened at speeds we couldn’t have anticipated 20 years ago, is because entrepreneurs were bold enough to change the box.
It’s why Chadwick Boseman was so loved in all his roles, from playing Jackie Robinson, to playing the godfather of soul music James Brown, to playing King T’Challa in Black Panther. In each role, Boseman stepped up not only as an actor but also as a leader. As entrepreneurs in this climate, now more than ever we need fewer imitators and more leaders willing to step up.