Leaders today are often so overwhelmed with emails, requests from their teams and developing new business that they can forget to slow down to pay attention to the fact that there are so many potential learning moments that can not only impact the person, but also help shape the culture of their companies.

I recently learned how box office champion Melissa McCarthy (Spy, Bridesmaids, The Heat, Tammy) was able to create a learning moment with a movie critic who made sexist remarks (original article) about her looks in the movie Tammy (a film where she played a character who was an at extremely low point in her life). As you read the dialogue she describes below, note that she did not get defensive and rather, took more of a coaching, questioning approach to help him understand the impact of his words.

“He’d said basically I’m only a good actress when I look attractive and that my husband shouldn’t be allowed to direct me because he let me look hideous in this movie,” she shared.

Rather than getting defensive at his comments about how she did not match the typical Hollywood criteria of beauty (thin, polished, perfect), she asked him some questions to help him question his own assumptions.

She asked: Would you do that to a man?’ … I put a lot of time and effort into having her completely not look like she cared about herself. That was part of how I felt she felt on the inside. I said, ‘Would you ever say that to a man?’

His response: ‘Well, you really looked bad.’”

Upon learning that the man had children of his own, McCarthy asked him how he would he feel if his own daughter came home and said she couldn’t have a job because she was unattractive. Would he say, “That’s right”?!

Suddenly, a light went on for the reporter, the actress said. “He took that in his heart and he was like, ‘No, I would never want that to happen. I would never in a million years want that to happen,’” McCarthy recalled of the man’s reaction. “I said, ‘Just know that every time you write stuff, every young girl in this country reads that and they just get a little bit chipped away.’”

Melissa McCarthy’s authenticity and vulnerability both on and off camera makes her irresistible to fans (her movies gross more than each of the top three male movie stars Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart and Jack Black) and she is able to create learning moments and slowly a new acceptance of beauty and talent in the Hollywood culture and beyond.

It is only when we gather courage and put our own assumptions and defenses aside when we can create learning moments that can shape an entire culture.

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. When was the last time I created a learning moment for an employee when I needed to redirect his/her actions?
  2. What would be the benefit of taking the time to create learning moments?
  3. What would I have to give up to make this happen (for example, slow down, build more time between meetings, check in more with team members, etc.)
  4. How could this help me shape more of the company culture I would like to have?