Monday, December 2, 2013

The December 2013 Leadership Development Carnival: Leadership at the Movies Edition

The movies can be a rich source of leadership inspiration and help us identify role models and examples of leadership skills and characteristics that we can choose to develop.
Back in 2008 I wrote a post called “20 Best Leadership Movies; Break Out the Popcorn”. It’s been one of my all-time most viewed posts, and people still leave comments with their own favorite leadership movies.

For this month’s Leadership Development Carnival, I asked my trusted network of leadership bloggers to answer the question:
What is your favorite movie or movie scene that you would recommend to others to learn about leadership (or some specific aspect of leadership)?

Here are their answers. Some I had on my list, and there are some I would have never thought of but will need to rent for some holiday viewing.
Please feel free to add your own favorite as a comment, and who knows, maybe you’ll help inspire someone to be a better leader.

1. Apollo 13 

Submitted by Mary Faulkner, from Surviving Leadership:  “ There are some excellent examples out there, but one that I go back to time and again is the scene from Apollo 13 in which Ed Harris must redirect the Mission Control team away from the mission of landing on the moon and focus on the mission of saving the astronauts' lives.  The clarity of purpose, how he supports an atmosphere of true brainstorming...all of the techniques used in the scene can be used as examples of leadership in action.”

2. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Submitted by Jon Mertz, from Thin Difference: “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington shows how wide-eyed optimism and belief in people can be met with the steeliness of questionable motives. In these moments, we can run and hide or we can summon our inner courage and fight for our integrity and the integrity of higher purpose. Mr. Smith, as played by Jimmy Stewart, exemplifies leading with principle and taking on the machinery of questionable actions.”
3. Star Wars

Submitted by Dana Theus, from InPower Consulting: “To this day my favorite movie leadership advice is from Yoda in Star Wars. "Do. Or do not. There is no try." I believe Yoda's advice is an excellent expression of leadership integrity. Leaders with this kind of intense integrity are very specific about what they will and won't do, without wasting energy on guilt, and they ask their team for the same level of integrity. With this focus, the energy of the group becomes immediately efficient and focused. This is a particularly important strategy for managing individual and team stress. Here's a post I once wrote on this subject of using integrity to manage holiday stress.”

4. Remember the Titans


There were two votes for Remember the Titans, and it’s on my Top 20 list too.
Submitted by Beth Armknecht Miller, from Executive Velocity: One of my favorites is Remember the Titans. The specific leadership angle is building teams and appreciating diversity. Denzel Washington does a great job of depicting a coach who leads a team from dysfunctional to functional.”
And also submitted by Lisa Kohn and Robyn McLeod from The Thoughtful Leaders Blog: "There are a great many movies that reflect on leadership, but I suppose my favorite is "Remember the Titans."  There are a few scenes where Denzel Washington, as a college football coach, strikes an amazing balance between hard and gentle leadership – and in the process develops leadership within his team and brings them together to excel.  While "Remember the Titans" is a moving drama, we can learn about leadership from less-weighty movies too.  Our post from a few years ago – Stupid movie lines and what they mean for leadership – reveals some of those."

5. Henry V (1989)

Submitted by Matt Paese, from Talent Management intelligence : “To learn about leadership, I recommend the movie Henry V (1989) with Kenneth Branagh as the title character delivering his St Crispin’s Day Speech. This speech preceded the battle in which 6000 British soldiers defeated 60,000 French soldiers who were fully armored and on horseback. The British had neither the armor nor the horses. Henry’s passionate and almost joyous speech, in the face of near-certain defeat and death, envisioned the promising future that victory would bring. It conveyed his faith in his own people and captured the hearts of men who stood little chance of winning, inspiring them forward to victory.”

6. Wall Street
Submitted by Miki Saxon, from MAPping Compnay Success: “There are those of us who don't go to movies or even watch them on TV. Then again, since leadership equals influence these days, perhaps I should offer up Gordon Gekko in Wall Street and his famous (infamous) "greed is good scenario. Never saw the movie, but know the scene well, as do we all. It certainly is proof that "leadership" can go either way.”
7. Hoosiers
Submitted by Joel Garfinkle, from Career Advancement Blog: “This article I wrote Feeling Equal to Someone Senior Than You mentions the movie Hoosiers. Here’s what I say:
“…first thing the coach of the Hoosiers team does is take them to the huge arena where the state finals will be played. He asks his players to pull up a chair and measure the height of the hoop. "How tall is it?" he asks. They say ten feet. The coach asks them how tall is the basketball hoop in their tiny home gym. They reply, 10 feet. There is no difference to playing on the court at home and playing on the court in front of 20,000 people. There is no difference between someone senior than you, except what you make them to be.”  
I think it’s an excellent example for the point I am making about seeing yourself as equal to someone who is more senior at the company.”
8. The King’s Speech
Submitted by Mary Jo Asmus, from Aspire-CS: “My favorite leadership movie is The King’s Speech. Although leadership is demonstrated by the obvious Duke of York (who steps up to become King George VI even though he doesn’t want the job) as he gains courage to speak despite his stammer, I think the less obvious leader is Lionel Logue, the Duke’s speech therapist.
This therapist believed in himself and his ability to help the Duke. He remained unshakeable as he persisted to help the Duke break through his lifelong speech difficulties. Lionel did this not only with talent, but through creating and sustaining the relationship, persisting even when the Duke rejected him. Lionel could see the Duke’s potential, and was instrumental in helping him to emerge as an inspiring speaker and the King of England.
This movie demonstrates that the best leaders believe in their employees, even when they don’t believe in themselves.”
9. Philomena
Submitted by Anna Farmery from The Engaging Brand: “Judi Dench is one of my favourite actresses and I have just been to see her in Philomena, a wonderful true story of love and betrayal. The scene that made me think hard about myself as a leader was towards the end when her character turned to the person who had betrayed her so badly and lied to her and said "I forgive you".
I am sure not many of the audience would have done, yet in those 3 words she released the past mistakes and embraced the future. She accepted. She chose to learn from the past but not to hold on to the past. 
So often in leadership we are faced with problems, mistakes from ourselves and others...and often the key part of moving forward is forgiveness. Forgiving yourself, forgiving those around you and even forgiving customers at times. Leaders who can learn forgiveness are not compromising, they are choosing not to hold on to the past and using it as fuel for future excellence.
Great lesson for us all to consider especially at these holiday times.”
10. Mr. Holland’s Opus
Submitted by Karin Hurt, from Let’s Grow Leaders: “True leadership shows up in the lives we impact, often without realizing it.   The leadership of Mr. Holland....
11. Bridge on the River Kwai
Submitted by Wally Bock, from Three Star Leadership: “I've never blogged about movies and leadership, because I think too many movies have superhero leaders or are about holding out when everyone seems to disagree. I don't think either of those is a good model for most leaders. The movie that has a lesson for just about every leader is Bridge on the River Kwai. It's too easy to get wrapped up in the details and handle them well while losing sight of the main objective.”
12. Support Your Local Sheriff
Submitted by S. Chris Edmonds, from Driving Results Through Culture: “One of my favorite movies was released in 1969: Support Your Local Sheriff with James Garner playing the lead role of Jason McCullough. He’s hired to be the sheriff of a Western town in the midst of a gold rush with the outlaw Danby clan taking advantage at every turn.
Jason is calm and cool, and has a vision of how the town needs to be run. His leadership is steady & consistent. He recruits key players to his cause and deals with less than optimum resources (check out this clip of him seeing the new jailhouse: And, in the end, he defeats the outlaws and wins the girl.
The leadership moral: Calm and cool can carry the day. Have a vision and a plan to make that vision a reality. Work the plan. Keep on keeping on!”
13. Coach Carter
Submitted by Mary Ila Ward, Horizon Point Consulting: “My favorite movie for Leadership (and career) Development is Coach Carter.  The reason I have chosen this movie is because of the following quote that one of his players stands up and shares after the coach has made a profound point with his players and the school board about priorities and what it means to be a leader:
            “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.  We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous- Actually, who are you not to be?  You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.  There is nothing enlightening about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.  We were born to manifest God within us. It is not just in some of us, it is in everyone. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”
The irony in servant leadership is that leaders serve others through shining their light, not extinguishing it.  And when they do, they start a fire.  Your Light is a blog post about this concept.”

14. Heartbreak Ridge
Submitted by Mike Henry, Lead Change Group: “One of my favorite movies to teach the contrast between leadership and management is Heartbreak Ridge starring Clint Eastwood at Gunnery Sergeant Tom Highway.
One scene is when the division is readying for emergency deployment. The Major is instructing the supply sergeant, "I want every round of ammo accounted for."  GS Highway requests night vision goggles and he's told to fill out the proper forms.  At that moment, the General comes up ans asks how the process is going.  Highway doesn't hesitate.  In front of his Major, he replies to the general that he believes the whole effort to be a "cluster-flop" (in the PG rated version). 
Throughout the movie, Highway leads from who he is, problems and all, by putting his job and his men first.  He speaks truth to power and stands up for what he knows to be right.”

15. It's a Wonderful Life
From Dan McCarthy, Great Leadership: “While I don’t have a single favorite, given it’s the holiday season, I’ll have to go with my favorite holiday movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. The leadership lesson here is that even the most “ordinary” leaders has the ability to have a significant impact on those that they lead.”


Bradford Thomas said...

If you want to see under-appreciated leadership skills in action, nothing beats Henry Fonda's Juror #8 in 12 Angry Men.

When everyone just wanted a quick vote, he facilitated a more meaningful discussion by seeking and sharing ideas.

He helped diffuse some tense moments by recognizing and responding to the other jurors' feelings.

But most importantly, he helped them reach agreement on a not guilty verdict by adjusting his influencing approach to address the needs of each juror.

Dan McCarthy said...

Thanks for adding to the list!

smck said...

"We Were Soldiers". Demonstrates leading my example by the main character and his military wife. A true story. And "Last of the Mohicans". While this was a take off on a novel, there are many examples of effective and ineffective leadership, as well as examples of a clash of leadership cultures.

Dan McCarthy said...

smck -
Thanks for the two additions!

Chery Gegelman said...


This is a fun post! And a GREAT list! I'm ready for the popcorn!

I'm with Beth, Lisa and Robyn - Remember The Titans is numero uno on my list.

We Were Soldiers would have come in next.

I would not have thought to list It's a Wonderful Life but I love that movie. Thank you for including it!

Dan McCarthy said...

Chery -

Kurt Stuke said...

What about the Fisher King? The movie features good performances by a great cast but the movie also explores themes like our connectedness and the weight that can accompany growth and making things right.

Ian Butcher said...

Dead Poets Society has loads of good extracts

Dan McCarthy said...

Kurt -
Never seen it, but I will now, thanks!

Ian -
Agree! It's on my original top 20 list. Thanks!

Unknown said...

Where's William Wallace from Braveheart?!

Dan McCarthy said...

Mark -
It's on my original top 20 list - may have even been my #1 if it wasn't for the holidays.