Eddie Murphy is a Transformative Leader

    In 1982, I was a 14-year-old white boy growing up in Southern California. Eddie Murphy was the biggest thing in the world to my friends and I. 

    Eddie Murphy produced comedy albums and was featured on “Saturday Night Live”; so in our eyes, he was already an adult. We couldn’t fathom that he was scantly 7 years older than us. Cocooned in Caucasian Southern California we had no way of knowing the magnitude of the tectonic transformation Eddie was unleashing on professional comedy and American culture…all we knew was that he was funny.

    Eddie was completely fearless (and in hindsight misogynistic and homophobic) and talked openly about issues of both race and racism. Sure, there had been other black comedians, but the swath of Murphy's influence while being jarringly honest about racial differences (without being racist) was unprecedented. In so doing, he expanded what was 'talk about-able' for all of us.

    Eddie mastered many different mediums quickly. He mastered sketch comedy on “Saturday Night Live” (White Like Me), he produced best-selling comedy albums (“Raw” and “Delirious”), he recorded comedic songs and starred in blockbuster movies both serious and funny  (“Trading Places” and “48 Hours”). He could do it all, and was wildly popular.

    Pioneers like Murphy are what I call transformative leaders. They change the common understanding of what is. Our founding fathers changed the understanding of how government could function. The United States of America introduced democracy to a monarchical world. Today over half of the world's governments are democracies.

    There are four core traits of transformative leaders:

    1. Vision Casting – They see the world not as it is, but as it could be. They’re able to discard features previously deemed necessary while adding new tools that transform the user's experience (think Steve Jobs; iPhone.)
    2. Relentlessly Hard-Working – From Thomas Edison to Bill Gates, transformative leaders are famous for not only burning the midnight oil, but also driving their teams to the brink of personal failure due to work demands.
    3. Transcendently Creative – In the summer of 1977, the market was not craving another outer space flick, but George Lucas had an unparalleled vision of what it would be. From the opening shot of a simple planet followed by two spaceships entering from overhead, the movie blew everyone’s mind, and changed our perception of what was possible.
    4. Risk Tolerant – All transformative leaders face some form of existential risk. It may be financial ruin, reputational risk, career risk, or even a risk to their lives. Nevertheless, they are willing to endure those potential risks in order to realize their vision. their vision.

    Eddie Murphy proved an equally transformative leader in comedy. He said the unthinkable. He seemed fearless and shameless. No demographic was safe from his derision or ridicule. Not unlike Roger Bannister's breaking of the 4-minute mile, Murphy's breaching of forbidden subjects inspired a new generation of daring comedians. In his movies he revived a practiced originated by his hero, Peter Sellers; that of acting the part of several supporting roles, as well as the lead, in the same movie. 

    We have no one way of imagining what the world would be like if Eddie Murphy had never busted onto the scene in his anomalous way, and fortunately, we don't have to. If it hadn't been Murphy, perhaps some other daring entertainer would have done it. Regardless, we know it required casting a vision of unforeseen tactics, relentless hard work, overcoming rejection, transcendent creativity, and massive risk-taking. When I saw Eddie Murphy back in the news—hosting “SNL” and starring in a critically-acclaimed movie ("I Am Dolemite")—it stirred the shock and awe I felt at 14 when he first began to change the shape of the world as a Transformative leader.. Hats off, Eddie, we’re always glad to have you around. The world needs more of you.


    Peter Montoya is the #1 best-selling author of The Brand Called YOU and his latest book The 10 Secrets of Leadership Power. He’s also a Fortune 500-trusted keynote speaker and leadership development strategist, specializing in cultivating high-performance teams. To request a media interview, visit www.petermontoya.com, or call (949) 334-7070. 

    This article is freely available for reprint, provided it is not modified ⁠(unless permission is given) and the resource box is included with the article


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