Organizational Leadership & Will Smith’s public assault on Chris Rock
On March 27, 2022 at the Academy Awards, Will Smith walked onto the globally televised stage and slapped Chris Rock for a joke that Chris told about his wife (See https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/28/movies/oscars-will-smith-slap-reactions.html)
Across the internet, a flurry of comments occurred from members both within and outside the organization giving a range of responses such as violence is never acceptable, comedians cross the line, that is what husbands should do, and it is another example of bullying and privilege. Discussing this with my husband, I appreciated his point that it is a sad comment on our society when an assault can occur on a world stage and the person is not escorted out, but instead allowed to speak, receive an award and given a standing ovation. I hold to hope for growth and transformation as a result.
As a values based leader, I can hear within these different responses, the underlying values of people involved. With regards to Will and Chris in particular, Will speaks to protecting family, whereas Chris, valuing humour, says it was a joke. Will’s subsequent apologies raised values of being in service when he talked of being called to be a river to his people and spoke to learning by being a work in process. Considering the full array of responses, I see various values over a range of consciousness as identified by Barrett (2017) from survival, relationship, self-esteem, transformation, internal cohesion, making a difference, and service. Without a doubt, this incident will generate much debate as people speak to competing values.
My curiosity lies with what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will do next, and how it will ultimately provide organizational leadership. Organizations, and the leader(s) who are at the helm, have an opportunity to take any difficult, unacceptable and/or traumatic moments, and move them beyond the individual to a greater common good. An excellent example that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences could draw upon is from the Air Force Academy’s 2017 response to a racism incident. The week prior, I was discussing with my MAL Executive Leadership colleague and fellow instructor, Kobby Owusu-Nyamekye, the clip he shared of Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria delivering the response (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hkUrnHT1VvI). What I appreciated about Lt. Gen. Silveria was how he, as leader, gave voice to a good way to move forward, took a stand with people in the organization, and affirmed the importance of organizational purpose, values and culture. The Academy could draw upon these ways to lead their organization forward.
Give voice to a good way to move forward
When discussing how to move forward after the racism incident, Lt. Gen. Silveria said, “the appropriate response is a better idea”. One better idea he gives is to have civil discourse and set up spaces to talk about these issues.
Following the assault incident, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences issued a statement that there will be consequences. However, they may be served well to create a restorative justice process in which dialogue and resolution is at the heart of the matter (See https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/justice/criminal-justice/bcs-criminal-justice-system/understanding-criminal-justice/restorative-justice). Will Smith has already issued a statement apologizing publicly to Chris Rock, however, noticeably absent was his acknowledging a private apology in which meaningful resolution was made. The organization could support the restorative process between these two and bring them back into the community. In this way, the Academy could proceed with a better idea which gets at the root of the problem rather than barring Smith from a future awards show or removing his Oscar with members within and outside the community debating the merit of the consequences and/or choosing sides and thus creating divisions within the organization.
Take a stand with people.
In his address, Lt. Gen. Silveria assembled everybody across the organization, and pointed out that everyone on and around the stage were there to support the message. He clearly identified all those present who made up the organization from members to leadership. He said, “that’s why we are all here because we have a better idea”. In this way, Lt. Gen. Silveria brought together the community and showed unity as an organization.
At this point, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has offered a terse statement (see https://deadline.com/2022/03/will-smith-chris-rock-incident-will-take-a-few-weeks-1234990670/) condemning Smith’s actions and asking for respect and trust as the Board of Governors seeks to deal with the incident. Letting people know that the incident is being dealt with is critical. It is now incumbent upon the Academy's Leadership to live their values of respect and trust by ensuring they follow through with dealing with the issue in a way that they said they would: expedient, fair and true to Academy standards. However, they can also seek ways of how they might bring in people to take a stand with them. They have some very public members who have spoken about the incident, and being in the film industry, could find creative and visual ways to bring those people and others back on stage as a way to support the restorative process directly or to speak deeper about violence or other topical issues aligned with their organizations.
Rally for the organization’s greater purpose, values and power of culture
Lt. Gen. Silveria commented “We have an opportunity to think about what we are as an institution... this is our institution... no one can take away our values... this is our institution, and... if you can’t treat someone with dignity and respect, then get out”. In this way, Lt. Gen. Silveria drew attention back to the organization and the power of purpose, values and how they do things in their culture.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences can utilize this moment to reignite its membership to a renewed sense of purpose, values and how they will do things in their culture, rather than proceeding from simply a disciplinary tone. Furthermore, it can speak to what is acceptable and not acceptable behaviour. I am a big believer of Lilo and Stitch Wisdom – "no one gets left behind or forgotten" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U37cChUfHk0). Rather than ostracizing someone from the community, people can rally together to find a better way, or if a person wants to choose to move on, they can. Since writing this blog, I see that Will Smith has resigned from the Academy (https://www.cnn.com/2022/04/01/entertainment/will-smith-resigns-from-academy/index.html). The Academy accepted his resignation and will continue with its disciplinary hearings. As things emerge, they have the opportunity to consider how they might model a new way purposefully and aligned with chosen values.
In conclusion, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is at a pivotal time to step up and provide organizational leadership with people from across the world watching to see the response. Whether an incident of violence or racism, organizational leaders always have the opportunity to lead through challenges to bring people together for a greater good and model a better way.
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Barrett, R. (2017). The values-driven organization. Cultural health and employee well being as a pathway to sustainable performance. (2nd Edition). Routledge.
Further Sources drawn upon for this blog: