Follow Me, Men …

Leadership is seldom experienced in real life as it is often portrayed in films.  The authors have the benefit of being able to control the characters, the plots, and the scenes.

Real life is messier and less predictable.

Still I find value in using cinematic portrayals as catalysts for discussion, even when the discussion revolves around how “That’d never happen.”

I recently participated in a discussion of leadership using films and am sharing several of my suggestions,somewhat enhanced.  I welcome any comments.

Master and Commander: Far Side of the World” stirring story and action, but the parts I enjoy are the interchanges between the officers and the men of the British warship.  Not conventional leadership stuff, but certainly includes some scenes that show the power of adjusting your leadership style to the context and situation.  One good example is the captain, played by Russell Crowe, counsels a young officer who lacks command respect.

The captain confronts situations both comic and heart-rending, and must balance the need for absolute discipline within this tight group and the all-too-human need for individual recognition and interactions which recognize both the common humanity and the individual person.  Not always an easy task.

Fort Apache“, “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon“, and “Rio Grande” – John Ford‘s so-called cavalry trilogy, which provides some interesting, if dated examples of traditional leadership within a hierarchy.  Particularly interesting to me are the scenes where John Wayne (of all people) actually portrays leaders who have hearts and care about those they lead.

The easy camraderies of the soldiers and the sometimes quirky military atmosphere which develops among people thrown into close quarters for long periods of time provides ample opportunity to examine human behavior in groups and teams.

Saving Private Ryan”   Gory and too realistic for some tastes, but with solid acting, a fascinating plot line, and a chance to see once more how people in high stress situations lead and respond to leadership.  Tom Hanks is, as usual, excellent, but the film brims with strong performances, in some cases lasting only a few seconds or a minute or two.

This is not your father’s war film, where anonymous enemies die by the bushel and heroic acts are done by all on “our” side.  The action is intense, the characters are fully formed people with complexity and “warts”, and they are in a completely unpredictable and dangerous environment.  Leadership here is unceasing and performed under unbelievable conditions.

Emotional intelligence may just be the most important asset for a leader in these situations.

Forget the stilted and oh-so-patriotic plots and action scenes – watch for the little vignettes that show people interacting in that intricate dance between leaders and followers. 

So how do you use films to enhance learning about leadership roles?

Digging on old John Wayne films in the Heartland ….


Adapted from a response to a LinkedIn discussion on leadership in films