The Shard of Glass

One of my favorite sessions to lead is called 'The Story of You.' In this program I help participants develop their own personal leadership story, based on a three-act structure learned from Hollywood screenwriters. I discovered the three-act structure as part of my own journey to develop and sell a screenplay (a journey that's ongoing).  

I'm fascinated by the link between character development on screen and character development in the leaders who run big organizations. I started to wonder about this connection when I saw the same film clips used over and over as part of leadership development programs. One standby: As Good As It Gets used to teach Emotional Intelligence.

My curiosity led me to learn more about the writer of that rich, insightful film (James L. Brooks), which then led me to develop serious respect for the process of screenwriting generally. All of which led me to Blake Snyder's book on screenwriting, Save the Cat.

Of all the dozens of books on screenwriting, none of them clicked with my analytical, MBA brain like Save the Cat. The book's methodical deconstruction of the 15 beats of Hollywood screenplays seemed like a solution to a puzzle that I didn't know existed.

Sadly, Snyder passed away on August 4, 2009, at the age of 51. Take a look at one of my favorite blog posts he wrote, to see what a subtle, keen mind he had. I really appreciate Snyder's breakdown of what he calls the "All is Lost" beat that occurs 75% of the way through a film:

At the heart of that beat is the hero not only being “worse off than when this movie started”  – and very often in jail, evicted, fired, abandoned, or left alone by the death of a mentor — but forced to face an ugly truth about himself that he’s been resisting.

Most stories involve a blind spot or flaw the hero is not aware of. And this is the part of his transformation that is so important; it forces him to look at that flaw, usually something so buried in him that it hasn’t been looked at for a long time.

That’s the “shard of glass,” that sharp-edged incident, bad behavior, tough truth or wrong done and absorbed that the hero swallowed a long time ago. Skin has grown up around its hard corners, but it’s in there — deep — and it must be pulled out and looked at and dealt with if the hero can get to that vital butterfly stage.

There's a clear corollary for your own personal leadership stories, outside of Hollywood: If you want to be taken seriously as a leader, you need to show that you've grown and changed. It's not credible to claim you were a born leader. We need to know you've found your shard of glass before we're willing to follow in your footsteps.