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The film Hidden Figures can help us learn important lessons about Transformational Leadership and how leaders should be role models within their teams. It tells the story of three African-American women who played a pivotal role in the USA winning the ‘space race’ against the Soviet Union.

Our Tougher Minds programmes highlight how Transformational Leadership has four core components. These are the Cultural Architect, the S.W.A.P. Coach, the Action Communicator and the Role Model. In Hidden Figures, Mary Jackson, played by Janelle Monáe, provides a vivid and useful example of this latter component.

The film Hidden Figures can help us learn important lessons about Transformational Leadership and how leaders should be role models within their teams.Click To Tweet

Mary Jackson is the film’s main protagonist. Most importantly, she was a black woman who worked for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), as a so-called human computer. These were people who performed countless mathematical calculations in order to support scientific research and development. Mary Jackson showed great potential. This was spotted by Karl Zielinski, one of NASA’s senior engineers. He arrived in the United States after the Second World War, as a refugee from the Nazis.

A human story with lessons about transformational leadership

One scene shows Zielinski asking Mary Jackson to give her input into a complex engineering problem. It related to the design of an Apollo space capsule. This was despite her still being in her human computer role and being forced to work in a segregated area. That was due to US race laws at the time. After Mary Jackson gives some highly pertinent and potentially groundbreaking insight into the project, the scene then shows Zielinski asking her encouragingly if she has ever considered applying to be a NASA engineer.

She said: “I am a negro woman. I’m not going to entertain the impossible…”

Zielinski replied: “…and I’m a Polish Jew whose parents died in a Nazi prison camp. Now I am standing beneath a spaceship that will carry astronauts to the stars.

“I think we can say we are doing the impossible. If you were a white man, would you wish to be an engineer?”

Mary Jackson replied: “I wouldn’t have to. I would already be one.”


The network premiere of Hidden Figures is on Channel 4, Sat 1 Feb 2020, 9pm. Here is the official cinema trailer for the film which offers many lessons about transformational leadership


Learn lessons about transformational leadership from Mary Jackson

Mary Jackson subsequently fought and won a legal challenge so she could study to become an engineer. In 1958, she became NASA’s first female African-American aeronautical engineer. She also became the first in the United States of America. Mary Jackson had an exceptional career and went on to achieve the most senior position within her NASA engineering department. She also managed a program which promoted the advancement of women within the organisation. Significantly, Mary Jackson provides many lessons about transformational leadership and is a fantastic example of what we mean when we explain the term Role Model in our Team Power programmes.

The following are key components for any Role Model

  • Engaging in Me Power Conditioning. This involves us all ensuring our vital habits enable our brains to work well and we can be at the top of our game. Vital habits include our sleep, diet and exercise. Importantly, they also include our ability to effectively regulate our emotions, maintain motivation, effectively manage stress, build confidence and increase our productivity, creativity, and innovation.
  • Being a good role model to others – the role model component of  Transformational Leadership is also strongly connected to the way in which every team member has leadership responsibilities in this area. In simple terms, everybody in the team should aspire to support their teammates and demonstrate behaviour which helps the team.
  • Being a good person – in terms of our programmes, this relates to bringing the best version of ourselves into the work environment and supporting others to be the best version of themselves.

In this video, Tougher Minds founder Dr. Jon Finn explains some concepts which help us understand more about Me Power Conditioning:

If you missed Hidden Figures, which also starred Kevin Costner, it may be available on the Channel 4 catch-up service All4.

This Tougher Minds Blog helps you learn more about how business can develop powerful teams which can succeed in our challenging world.


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