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The “Halftime in America” Commercial: What it Could Teach Leaders

Looking back at the 2012 Super Bowl, one of the big hits was Chrysler’s two minute TV spot, “It’s Halftime in America,” featuring actor and director Clint Eastwood. While it’s taken some heat politically, the spot, created by agency Wieden + Kennedy, generated such an outpouring of emotion across all cultural, demographic, and political lines, I thought it was worth noting why. Right now, this country is plagued by far too many leaders who can’t lead. Leaders across the political, business, and even nonprofit spectrum who arrogantly assert themselves, but who can’t inspire those around them. Leaders who look for someone to blame rather than taking responsibility. So what could these guys learn from Clint’s spot? Here’s a few thoughts:

1. Timing matters. The fact that the spot played during the Super Bowl halftime and correlated that to “halftime in America” gave it context. Leaders don’t lead in a vacuum, they speak during specific times of challenge, difficulty, or success. Tie aspiration to physical reality and it becomes focused, timely, and memorable.

2. Admit the current situation. The spot opened with the challenge America is going through right now. No sugar coating or obfuscation. If your organization is suffering or your people struggling, don’t pretend it isn’t happening. Don’t use statistics to stretch the truth, or distract from what’s really going on. Be real. People aren’t stupid.

3. Stop blaming. The spot never directly mentioned the economy, politicians, or culture wars. Too many leaders are so focused on blaming people or situations, they never provide any answers. We’re in a bad situation, and we get that. We’re not looking for a blamer, we’re looking for a leader. Help get us out, or get out of the way.

4. Speak the Truth. The script called us to “rally around what was right.” Leaders today are often so afraid of offending someone, they either ignore the truth or side step it. Sensitivity is critical. Political correctness is suicide.

5. It’s about aspiration. Ultimately, the spot wasn’t created to assign blame, wallow in our troubles, or discuss what did or didn’t work. It wasn’t a high minded lecture. Its purpose was to inspire us to be great again. Great leaders are unifiers, not dividers. They call people to a higher vision that’s achievable and specific.

On the screen, Eastwood plays characters who are tough, grizzly and not afraid to do what’s right. We could use a little of that in executive suites, boardrooms, and government buildings across America right now. After all, when was the last time you heard a press conference, CEO address, or political speech that inspired you like “Halftime in America” did Sunday night?

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Phil Cooke, Ph.D, is a filmmaker, media consultant, and founder of Cooke Media Group in Los Angeles, California. His latest book is “Ideas on a Deadline: How to Be Creative When the Clock is Ticking." Find out more at philcooke.com.