Four lessons from the Oscars about leading in a crisis

The world collectively gasped at the Oscars as the “Best Picture” award was handed off to the wrong film last night, in a spectacle some are calling the greatest mixup of in the history of the event.

If you missed it, it was spectacular: As presenter Warren Beatty was announcing the “Best Picture” nomination, he was confused, and handed the envelope to co-presenter Faye Dunaway — who, in an epic stumble, didn’t look very carefully and confidently announced that “La La Land” had scooped up the prize.

As pandemonium started to break loose, with staffers scurrying onstage, one man handled the disaster with grace and authority: Producer Jordan Horowitz took the microphone, grabbed the incorrect announcement card away from Beatty, and said firmly that “Moonlight” was the real winner of Best Picture.

It was a bold move in what could have been an embarrassing moment for him, but Horowitz turned it into a moment in which he corrected an enormous public blunder with techniques that can teach everyone at work how to handle big problems.

1) Take control and be transparent 

First, Horowitz described the problem clearly and didn’t dance around the issue. He also didn’t wait around for someone else to figure it out. He stepped up to the microphone, announced the problem, and even offered up evidence, holding up the card with the real winners printed on it.

Contrast that with Jimmy Kimmel, the host of the show, who said he was totally confused and waiting for someone else to show up to fix the problem: “Matt [Damon] says, ‘I think I heard the stage manager say they got the winner wrong.’ …So you just kind of figure, well, the host will go onstage and clear this up. And then I remember, oh I’m the host.” Later, Kimmel had to look to A-list celebrities in the front row for guidance: “Eventually I figured out that Barry Jenkins, the director of ‘Moonlight,’ is standing behind me and Denzel wanted me to get him to the microphone to make a speech, which makes sense,” Kimmel said. “Thank God Denzel was there to make sense.”

In a situation that could have been surreal, and in which absolutely everyone seemed baffled and without direction, Horowitz knew that the audience would tend to believe the mixup was a gag, and he addressed that subtext right off. “This is not a joke: ‘Moonlight’ has won best picture,” Horowitz said.

Straight talk is a strong way for both managers and employees to handle a crisis. Radical transparency strengthens teams and confers authority on the managers who use it.

2) Have empathy 

After Horowitz announced “Moonlight” was the true winner, he welcomed the cast of the movie to the stage and made way for them to own the moment. Horowitz seemed easily able to picture what the real winners wanted: to be able to feel joy without it being diminished by the embarrassment of the mixup. He didn’t just say “Moonlight” won, he said he was delighted that it won: “I’m going to be really thrilled to hand this to my friends from Moonlight.”

“As I said onstage, those guys are my friends,” Horowitz told Good Morning America. “I wanted to make sure they had their moment.”

That capacity for empathy and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes to picture their emotional needs is a key skill for success. Empathy not only enhanced performance, but it also makes others see you as more effective — definitely the case for Horowitz, whose graceful moves were widely praised.

3) Be humble and show generosity of spirit 

Horowitz did not grandstand: He stepped aside when he needed to and promptly gave the golden Oscars statue to the cast of Moonlight, led by director Barry Jenkins. Impressively, he humbly declined when Oscars host Jimmy Kimmel joked about wishing both films could have won.

“I wanted to make sure that the right thing was done, because, you know, at that point it was not about me,” he told Good Morning America. “It was about making sure that ‘Moonlight’ got the recognition it really deserves.”

Generosity, like many emotions, is catching: Seeing a generous act causes others to adjust their behavior to meet it. That lift was visible in how warm and friendly the audience and La La Land cast became to the Moonlight winners: Horowitz had set a tone of generosity and kindness, which shut down the mood of chaos and unease that could have easily taken root.

4) Demonstrate sportsmanship and be a cheerleader for others

Technically, Horowitz and Jenkins were rivals. But that didn’t stop the “La La Land Producer” from bowing out gracefully and warmly embracing Jenkins. Horowitz did not whine about the loss or shift blame. He just gracefully handed credit where it was due, and made everyone feel comfortable afterwards.

“We kind of shared a moment, gave each other a hug, said, ‘Wasn’t that surreal?’ and congratulated each other on our work and put it all behind us,” he told GMA. “We’ll move forward and do more work together.”

Horowitz continued his public praise for “Moonlight” on Twitter, where he wrote, “And once again: congrats to Moonlight. A truly beautiful picture made by some even more beautiful people.”

Overall, Horowitz showed strong social skills that saved a bad situation and made it, in the eyes of many, a beautiful one. Jenkins showed his appreciation and awe in a tweet: “Jordan Horowitz. Wow. I’m slipping slowly into reflection, perspective. Much respect to that dude.” If you follow Horowitz’s lead, your colleagues can say that of you, too — even after disaster strikes.