Sunday, September 28, 2008

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.


Alwyn ap Huw said...

Primary Colors (how to cover up your sins if you are a leader)

The Godfather (Contains some good tips on how to deal with those who challenge your leadership - you should try the horses head one - very effective!)

Anonymous said...

Angry 12 men is a classic example of 'i am not sure; why don't we discuss and find out'. None was convinced either way; but finally things turned out so different from the initial perspective. From that time on, I keep asking myself, have I 'discussed' enough or am I taking a decision too soon.

Erin's story is also a very inspiring one.

Chris Morgan said...

I agree that movies can be a great way to learn and develop.

As well as adult movies I have used a number of more humourous kids movies that can also illustrate serious points. For example the moment in Toy Story when Buzz has the utmost belief that he can fly. There are also some great examples of coaching behaviour in Bugs Life.

I have a couple of posts that your readers may be interested in. One has a great example of leadership (not!) from the UK version of The Apprentice.

Also included in the following post is a link to the Ricky Gervais videos produced specifically for Microsoft. If you want to know how to conduct a performance appraisal....

Dan McCarthy said...

Alwyn, Joseph, chris -
Thanks for the additions!

Anonymous said...

The King leaving his son's room in the castle scene from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" is a classic for illustrating training and communication.

Wolfie said...


You must be joking, that steaming t*rd of a movie an example of leadership - no.

Rewriting history and romanitic flattery more like.

Anonymous said...

Dan, Braveheart did not go down so well in the UK, for the reasons Wolfie says.

We tend to get annoyed when Hollywood plays fast and loose with our history.

That said, William Wallace must have had good leadership skills to unite so many disparate factions against the King of England and to command people in his army who were of a higher social rank than he was. That was unusual in the middle-ages.

In his recent films, Mel Gibson was keen to have the dialogue spoken in the languages that would have been used at the time.

If they'd done that with Braveheart, Mel Gibson would have had to learn French!

Dan McCarthy said...

Wolfie, Rick –

Thanks for the reminder that with this blog having a global audience, I need to pay attention to cultural and political considerations. I apologize to my U.K. readers if I offended anyone by listing Braveheart as an example of a “great leadership” movie. I just like his “Freedom” speech, as an example of inspiring commitment.
Wolfie, Rick –

Thanks for the reminder that with this blog having a global audience, I need to pay attention to cultural and political considerations. I apologize to my U.K. readers if I offended anyone by listing Braveheart as an example of a “great leadership” movie. I just like his “Freedom” speech, as an example of inspiring commitment.

It sort of reminds me of another U.S. movie that didn’t translate so well over in the U.K. – “Free Willy”.

Richard Havers said...

Dan, the other problem with Braveheart is that he lost....led his men to defeat. Not such a good day at the office.


Yavuz Yigit said...

Actually William Wallece is a man can not lead. He forgets and ignores the nobles, he challenges to them. He just says to Robert the Bruce: Unite us. He can be a good commander but not a leader.Second thing is the ambush part. It was obvious that it will be but he ignored that again.He threaten his life. He does not see the whole picture.

Cowboy bob said...

I offer "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" as a good example of leadership in a movie.

Anonymous said...

It would be helpful if you added a brief comment to each of your selections noting what part about the films inspired your choice (like Alwyn ap Huw did).

Also, I would propose a recent addition on which I wrote a piece - 'The Blind Side' -

Bill Parker said...

These movies are great for teaching leadership/teamwork: October Sky, Stand and Deliver, Crimson Tide, Courage Under Fire, Heartbreak Ridge, We Are Marshall, and Men of Honor. I have used Remember The Titans to have the audience assess inclusion, control, and caring--three dimensions of interpersonal effectiveness. Bill Parker

Anonymous said...

Just two more additions to your interesting list: Gladiator and The Last Castle

partha said...

Have you al seen PATTON....would recommend

Anonymous said...

Add Zulu to your list.

Anonymous said...

One good movie is Con Air. Cyrus was a good leader and throughout the fild their camp was functional

Anonymous said...

I would agree with brucelynnblog - a brief comment on the section of the movie would be helpful.

Sean said...


Just found this list, and agree with you about the power of movies to communicate teamwork - even if only sharing excerpts.

One of my favorites is John Wayne's "The Cowboys," which is a story about buildign a team that can perform well even after the leader is gone...

Dan McCarthy said...

Many thanks to all for continuing to contribute to this list!
Someday I may have to update it. (-:

Anonymous said...

Any other ideas of movies related to Training? I'm designing a course to train managers/supervisors on key concepts related to training. Any ideas would be great!

Fazl said...

I totally agree with the concept of using clips from movies to illustrate a point or initiate a disussion and am very fond of doing. Would love to get your updated list everytime you do that.

Some of my favorite clips are from Men of Honor; A Few Good Men; The King's Speech and of course The Lion King.

Anonymous said...

I teach management courses which cover social issues in the workforce and labor relations - one of the best recent movies which is great for covering issues of equality and equal pay and benefits is Made in Dagenham, a film about the fight for pay equality for female machinists in the Ford car plant. It is an engaging film for students, but also provides excellent dramatic presentations of engendered pay struggles in the 50s and 60s and working family roles.

Anonymous said...

Moneyball is a good recent example of thinking outside the box, creative solutions in tight economies and using positive communication in management.

Anonymous said...

The dvd movie to end all wars is the true story ( and even better) than the very good hollywood bridge on the river kwai. Illustrates leadership in hell on earth and the ability to transform situation and people for
Lasting impact! I use it among others in College of Engineering at California Baptist University.Dean Donaldson

Anonymous said...

The ultimate management conflict movie? The Caine Mutiny!

Anonymous said...

Any suggestions for a movie to launch a upward feedback strategy?

Mark Jenner said...

I've used Invictus in my leadership programmes recently. The scene where Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) meets the Springboks captain, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), for the first time is inspiring. It vividly demonstrates how Mandela moves so easily between "little l" leadership - humility, will, empathy - and "big l" leadership - using success in sport to unite the nation.

The Grand Poobah said...

Gandhi and Moneyball are excellent films about leadership.

Unknown said...

In teaching Leadership and the role of a Leader as an advocate for their company, one clip I use is from "Saving Private Ryan". In the scene, they are walking in a field and griping about the mission. They ask the Captain, played by Tom Hanks, why he doesn't gripe. he tells them he doesn't gripe to them or in front of them, his gripes go up.

Chuck Peterson said...

Gettysburg is an outstanding film to launch a discussion on leadership. There are so many styles to choose from and so many great scenes.

Unknown said...

Thank you for your suggestions, Other movies that i have found inspiring with leadership lessons are: 1. Dawn of the planet of the Apes
2. The Giver
3. Captain Philips

tcanotern said...

Private Ryan- has good examples of leadership - Sometimes the mission is FUBAR and you carry out the order anyway. The troops respected the lead character Tom Hanks role despite the circumstances and even as he is dying (spoiler alert) he said something very wise that the Private never forgot his entire life.
I also really liked how the lead seargant and the officer did not complain in front of the others they could vent to each other but didn't spread negativity among the troops