THE TAKE AWAY
By Kersley Fitzgerald
The Intern is a movie by Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, Something's Gotta Give, It's Complicated...) starring Robert DeNiro as a stinkin' adorable widower and Anny Hathaway as the founder of an online fashion store. DeNiro's Ben Whittaker has filled his lonely days with a tight schedule of social obligations and far too many funerals. He is cheerful and supportive to a fault. Hathaway's Jules Ostin is genuinely caring — about her business, her employees, and her family — but her site has taken off far more quickly than anyone expected, and she's having trouble figuring out what her role(s) should be. When Ben joins a senior intern program and becomes her personal assistant, Jules' life begins to get clearer.
I adored this movie. The dialogue was honest and forthright, instead of twisty; no plot points came about because of foolish misunderstandings. Ben was truly supportive of and open to everyone around him; Jules was overwhelmed and distracted, but not in any way that made her a bad guy. You can read elsewhere about how Ben inspired the younger men he worked with to dress better (and carry a handkerchief) and how Jules was the epitome of grrrl power. What struck me were the themes of leadership and identity.
To that end, there will be subtle spoilers throughout, so if you want to watch the movie but haven't, I suggest you click away.
Ben knew who he was. He was a widower. He had worked in management for 40 years — in the building that now housed Jules's company, in fact. He was a gentleman, and his job was to assist. When he discovered Jules didn't know how to take advantage of his assistance, he took it upon himself to learn and find out where he could be the most help. He didn't feel insulted when she dismissed him. He wasn't offended when the much-younger employees acted a bit condescending. Although the worlds of fashion and internet were foreign to him, he wasn't intimidated because the world of people was very familiar. He not only knew who he was, he knew a great deal about the people around him (often more than they did), and he had the positivity and confidence to know he could be a great asset to everyone around him.
Jules was a dreamer who worked incredibly hard to see that dream explode beyond her wildest imagination. She knew what she was good at, and had to fight for that when others tried to bring her high expectations down to earth. She remained a tarnished idealist about herself and her abilities, even as she HANDLED the chaotic mess around her. She had a lot to learn about other people, though. And a lot to learn about the difference between leading people and using her grace to inspire them.
I've long believed that one of the biggest challenges to leadership is faithful followers. A group can accomplish a great deal if followers believe in their leader and the mission and when they have some of their own identity in that mission. When a plan fails, often it's because of unnecessary dissent.
Jules had to face this dissent on two different fronts. On the professional front, even while she battled intense doubt, she listened respectfully, considered carefully, even followed through with the given recommendations. Eventually, she listened to herself and to Ben who insisted she was right all along. On the personal front, which was much more out of her control, the opposite occurred. Even while in pain, even while Ben counselled otherwise, she stuck hard to her ideals and her belief in others. Those ideals inspired another to rise to their own potential and get fully behind her.
I was really surprised by the resolution of the story. I was expecting the message that the woman can never have it all. That the older mentor-figure would illustrate Jules's limitations. But Ben wasn't a mentor for Jules, he was a mentor for everyone around her. He showed them how to believe in her and support her. It takes an extraordinary amount of humility, courage, and vision to follow someone else and to support their dreams. It takes a sure sense of personal identity to not get swallowed by The Big Thing. I see that in ministry all the time. Where does cautious dissent lead to a shattered vision? How can a shaky identity cause a follower to crumble the foundation that a leader stands on? Followers have a tremendous amount of power and can take out a leader and a vision so easily.
The leader, of course, has the responsibility to create an environment where the followers can actually follow graciously. To have a personal identity outside the work, and yet also have a personal stake in the work. To be able to express concern in a way that they feel heard, but know it's not necessarily their decision. And to know their wellbeing is part of the mission.
This is applicable to about any social group — church, ministry, work, team, family...It's the reason God calls for submission in families and respect in congregations. I've been on both sides of the desk on this one. It's frustrating to know a grand plan could have been a grander success if only you'd been able to inspire others to the vision. And it's so easy to derail a Great Thing with a lukewarm response. The Intern reminded me to value leaders, care for and inspire followers, listen carefully, and pray for wisdom always. Traditionally, we'd think that Ben's role would be to help Jules learn how to succeed. Instead, he taught others how to help her succeed. It's indicative of our times when the hardest lesson to learn is how to support someone else.
Tags: Biblical-Truth | Christian-Life | Personal-Relationships | Family-Life | Ministry-Church
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