20 Best Leadership Movies; Break Out the Popcorn

Movies are a great way to learn about leadership!

Here’s CCL’s Clemson Turregano, who has facilitated “leadership at the movies” sessions for years:

“I started using movies when I was teaching at West Point and then at the Naval War College,” he notes. “Movies, like a case study, offer real-life portrayals of examples of leadership in crisis. Viewers can use these portrayals to discuss the behaviors they would like to emulate or avoid during similar circumstances.”
Movie watching is also a great way to model complex ideas for people who are more visual in their learning preference. For instance, Turregano has used the 1957 drama 12 Angry Men to illustrate Jim Collins’ ideas in the best-selling book Good to Great, and the classic It’s a Wonderful Life to model Robert Greenleaf’s ideas of servant leadership.
The key that turns entertainment into a foundation for dialogue and learning, according to Turregano, is purposeful viewing — watching the film with a goal in mind. Give the viewers an assignment to find examples, themes or behaviors that translate to the topic being studied.

“Using purposeful viewing, participants can key into leadership behaviors that are both positive and negative,” says Turregano. “They can reflect on their own reactions to those behaviors and whether the behaviors are conducive to good leadership.”

During a recent workshop, for example, Turregano featured the movie The Legend of Bagger Vance, the 2000 film about a golfer and his mystical caddy, Bagger Vance, played by Will Smith. “I asked one group in the audience to look at the relationship and how Bagger developed and built on it. Another group was asked to view how Bagger assessed the golfer’s ability, while a third group was asked to comment on the golfer’s challenges and how Bagger supported him through these challenges. This provided excellent commentary for discussion around themes of coaching and developing others.”

I’ve had teams watch full movies as an evening activity at an off-site, and have used short clips during training sessions or team development workshops. YouTube provides us with a searchable library of leadership content on any topic.

Movies are also a great way for leaders to learn about leadership on their own!

Here’s a list of my 20 favorite leadership movies, updated with links to purchase the DVD on Amazon. See the comments section for lots of other reader suggestions.

1. Braveheart

2. Office Space (funny examples of what not to do; can also use scenes from “The Office” television series)

3. Dead Poet’s Society

4. Apollo Thirteen

5. The Great Escape

6. Miracle

7. Twelve O’Clock High

8. Remember the Titans

9. Mr. Holland’s Opus

10. The Lion King

11. The Firm

12. In Good Company

13. Hoosiers

14. Glengarry Glen Ross

15. The Bridge on the River Kwai

16. Wall Street

17. It’s a Wonderful Life

18. We Were Soldiers

19. Lord of the Rings

20. The Thing

I’m always updating my list, so if you have a favorite, please comment.