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

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.”


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
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
, 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
, 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
, from Career
Advancement Blog
: “This article I
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
, 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

9. Philomena


Submitted by Anna
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
, 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
, from Three Star
: “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
, 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
, Horizon Point
: “My favorite movie for
Leadership (and career) Development is Coach
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.”