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Catch me if you can! — leadership lessons to be learned from a great movie

Actualizado: 4 ene 2023

Written by Juanpablo Barrantes Leader’s approach (10 min read) Have you seen this movie? I’d suggest as a condition before reading this article: you must first watch it! And if you enjoyed it as much as I did, you might also have found some valuable insights to leverage your approach as a leader. First, let me do a brief trailer of this master piece directed by Steven Spielberg in 2002. This is a true story based on the life of Frank W. Abagnale junior (Leonardo Dicaprio). The story starts in 1963 in a New York’s town, where Frank as a 17 year old teenager lives with his parents (Christopher Walken and Nathalie Baye) while having at that moment big economic struggles, causing the couple’s divorce when his mother carries on an affair with one of his father’s friend, thus collapsing both marriage and family unity. Morally broken down, he makes a decision to run away from his shattered home and again, overwhelmed by the lack of money and boosted by ambition and an innate talent for creativity, Frank W. Abagnale junior starts a non-stop scamming journey by deliberately making hundreds of check frauds all around the USA and Europe, while being incessantly chased by FBI agent Carl Hanratti (Tom Hanks). This is the kind of crime films which keep you stick to the screen; according to the real Frank Abagnale, around 80% of the film’s arguments did really happen. To me there’s another way of taking advantage of this astonishing story by reflecting on what I see as valuable leadership lessons. You might agree with me especially because in the end, life is a never ending learning process. 

Frank’s natural talent for observation and creativity is lesson #1

Frank’s ambition for wealth is validated throughout almost the whole movie, he first identified a “winning” opportunity, then he continued leaving the watchers’ mouths wide open whenever he planned and executed each of the fraudulent moves while imposting high status characters such as an airline pilot, a secret service agent, a doctor or a lawyer. He used to invest significant time planning the majority of his fake professions, this was the case of the airline pilot, where he first posed as a journalism student, he reached an interview with an Airlines’s authority, then he thoroughly recorded and learned key information that eventually he used to his own advantage to make hundreds of check frauds. And this is precisely the learning here, not in committing such crimes of course!, but in being always at the top of the moment ready to seize opportunity and being so creative to solve day to day problems, with an out-of-the-box approach. Hanratti’s relentless focus is lesson #2

Given Frank became a nationwide serial-systematic scammer, the FBI immediately started following his path under the role of Carl Hanratti, a seasoned check fraud investigator who dedicated a hundred percent of his working and personal free time in chasing Frank. There were three failed moments where Hanratti wasn’t able to catch Frank in a lapse of almost 2 years! One of those moments was face to face, and astoundingly Frank managed Hanratti in such a wise way that he posed as a secret service agent who just caught up the check fraud scammer some minutes before Hanratti. It’s evident Frank was a master of deceit while camouflaging himself to keep breaking the law unpunished. However any of those failed moments didn’t stop Hanratti to keep working incessantly in Frank’s chase. Hanratti’s ability to focus on the few traces Frank left after each deceit was a key success factor that eventually resulted in Frank’s detention. So, focus is our second lesson learned from this incisive FBI agent, who was patient and disciplined enough to succeed in arresting the greatest scammer in America’s history so far, after various misses and over two years of permanent chase! Frank and Hanratti’s relationship is lesson #3

To make the third lesson learned sweet and short, there’s one word to relate on Frank and Hanratti’s relationship: RESPECT. Now allow me to expand on this appreciation. Even though both characters were like “enemies” one of the other, Frank took the initiative of seldom calling Hanratti to ask wise questions, allowing themselves to know each other at least in some details. Then a kind of rogue friendship just came up, even in the climax scene where Frank, totally out of control while doing hundreds of fake checks in France, he is finally arrested by Hanratti and the french police. Hanratti offered Frank his full support to bring him back to America for a fair trial. And this might be another valuable lesson: always be respectful of those around you, especially if they are not precisely your friends. Be empathetic of other people’s struggles, no matter what they’ve done for you lately. Hanratti’s insightfulness to see Frank’s talent and leverage on it, that’s lesson #4

Once Frank was finally put in jail, Hanratti was the only person visiting him, as a reaffirmation of their friendship and at that time being Hanratti something similar to his one and only relative. In a certain visit to jail, Hanratti discovered the amazing talent Frank had when he thoroughly examined a fake check and then he just made the right conclusion about who was the scammer and how his modus operandi was. —Awesome!— Hadratti thought, and he just made a wise resolution: let’s get Frank out of jail and offer him a full time job in the FBI check fraud department. That was a win-win situation, he did profit on Frank’s vast experience on that critical subject, while Frank had a second opportunity with society and even with himself. What a great lesson... Learn to see other people’s talent and help them shine while making a contribution to the world.

Frank’s wisdom to reframe a vice into a virtue, that’s lesson #5

This last last lesson is a consequence of the previous one, momentum is present at this time when Frank gets out of jail and starts working from that moment until years just before his retirement of the FBI. As per the true story, the real Frank Abagnale stays in records as the biggest check scammer in America’s history. But it’s also true that he cleaned his name and bad reputation thanks to his friend Carl Hanratti and also thanks to his innate talent and creativity. He currently works as an advisor for several banks, earning millions of dollars by designing checks and consulting for these institutions. What a great story! I finish my reflection with a last thought on lesson #5: who would think evil could be turned into goodness? For me it only takes wisdom, no matter you’ve started in the wrong side, you just need a tough lesson, willingness to move into the right side and ideally someone by your side to help you out in bad times and to enjoy the very best of you in good times.

Did you enjoy this article? Keep reading more! I invite you to read the following blog by clicking on the link below and learn more about leadership lessons I just reframed from the movie "The Wolf of Wallstreet" Just click on the link below...

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