Super Leadership Lessons from Ryan Reynolds and Simu Liu - Senior Executive
Leadership 4 min

Super Leadership Lessons from Ryan Reynolds and Simu Liu

The Marvel Cinematic Universe actors took the stage at this year’s Indeed FutureWorks event to share their takes on building a better workplace for all.

by Senior Executive Media Editors on November 22, 2022

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  • Actors Ryan Reynolds and Simu Liu were among the speakers featured at this year’s annual Indeed FutureWorks event.

  • In the keynote session, Reynolds explained how a conflict resolution workshop he took in his 20s gave him his best leadership lesson.

  • Liu shared his insights on diversity in the workforce and the importance of representation at every level.

This past October, global hiring platform Indeed hosted its annual FutureWorks event for HR leaders, hiring managers, and talent acquisition professionals in NYC. For those interested in learning how the workplace continues to evolve — and how to keep up with its evolution — this two-day event was jam-packed with educational sessions. 

Among this year’s speakers were actors Ryan Reynolds and Simu Liu of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While Reynolds and Liu might appear as unconventional choices (are casting directors considered hiring managers?), both actors also have experience in more traditional workplaces, both past and present. 

During the FutureWorks event, Reynolds and Liu shared their experiences and advice for managing two common workplace scenarios — conflict and bias.

De-Gamify Conflict Resolution

Reynolds may be best known for playing the infamously combative super-anti-hero Deadpool (among many other things, such as co-founding production company and digital marketing agency Maximum Effort), but he is also a staunch advocate for conflict resolution.

During his conversation with Jessica Jensen, chief marketing officer at Indeed and co-host for the headlining conference session, Reynolds referred to conflict resolution as “the biggest leadership lesson” he’s learned.

“We live in a world that’s increasingly, you know, gamified, and I think we have an instinct to win, crush, and kill,” Reynolds said at the headlining session. “If you can sort of disengage or disarm that instinct for a second and instead replace it with seeking to learn about somebody, that is a leadership quality for me, at least, that has quite literally changed every aspect of my life.” 

Reynolds went on to explain that, in his 20s (he’s now 46), he “was a little bit lost and a little bit kind of angry, and…a walking, talking, skin-covered, maladaptive coping mechanism.” Looking to “get better,” he took a conflict resolution workshop, where he learned to try understanding and empathizing with people who disagree with him rather than focusing on winning or beating them. 

“You can’t address problems with other people unless you understand them. So for me, that’s been like the biggest game-changer,” the “Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place” star said. “It’s changed every relationship in my life. It’s changed the trajectory of my career and my business.”

And empathetic leadership doesn’t just work for the “Van Wilder” actor. In a recent survey of 889 U.S. workers by women-focused nonprofit Catalyst, 61% of respondents who have highly empathic senior leaders report high levels of innovation. Plus, 76% report being highly engaged at work. 

Jensen agreed that “embracing learning and listening” is a strong leadership strategy. “It’s letting go of the combative form of winning,” she said.

“Yes!” replied Reynolds. “There’s still room for, you know, backstabbing someone and then tasting the blood of your enemies… but it’s never going to be as effective as trying to understand somebody.”

Abolish the Quota Mindset 

From working as an accountant to setting a new precedent as Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first title Asian superhero in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” Liu shared his experience with biases in the workplace.

“It’s a struggle of a lot of Asian Americans to feel like they actually truly belong here, whether that’s Britain, or that’s America, or that’s Canada,” he said. “We’ve, I think, often felt like outsiders in our own home. I wanted to come out to stand in the spotlight and very comfortably and unapologetically say: I’m a Marvel superhero and I belong here, and everybody that looks like me that was raised here also belongs here.”

According to McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace report, advancement on the corporate ladder doesn’t always translate to high levels of representation in senior management positions. For example, Asian Americans account for 9% of senior vice presidents but just 5% of promotions from senior vice president to the C-suite. Asian American women make up less than 1% of these promotions.

“There can’t be just one narrow version of what the manager looks like or what a leader looks like. That definition is going to change with communities with different cultural backgrounds. And that is actually ultimately a good thing,” Liu said at the session.

Diverse companies have proven to earn 2.5 times higher cash flow per employee, and inclusive teams are more productive by over 35%.

Liu adds that diversity is not a quota, it’s an ongoing process to maintain.

“People think that [with] a certain amount of diversity and inclusion, a quota has been met and that’s it, work is done, we don’t have to continue to service these people or this cause when in reality, I think you have to continue to create safe spaces for your employees, particularly those that belong to minority groups to be able to feel safe and feel heard.”

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