Lights! Camera! Leadership?

Think about the last time you watched a movie. What was your reason for doing so?

Were you hoping to:

  • Laugh?
  • Get scared?
  • Escape?
  • Be thrilled?
  • Imagine possibilities?

Perhaps it was a mixture of these reactions you sought. In any case, you may not have been looking for lessons in leadership. At least, for me, the movies aren’t my go-to source for leadership wisdom. After dialing in to the October 7th, 2010 Meet Lead Change Radio Show broadcast perhaps I should reconsider. Show host Mike Henry posed the following question:

“Think for a moment about all of your favorite movies. Which of your favorite movies has a leadership message to it?”

Well, when you put it that way, hmm, let’s see. . .

Because many of my Lead Change associates are in the business world, my initial thoughts focused on movies that feature a work setting: the cult classic Office Space or In Good Company in which Topher Grace is the much-younger boss Carter Duryea to Dennis Quaid’s recently demoted Dane Foreman. Or, going way back, how about Dabney Coleman’s bullying, chauvinistic boss in Nine To Five or Holly Hunter’s driven reporter Jane Craig in the news room dramatic comedy of Broadcast News?

Eventually I settled on Dead Poet’s Society, which is centered in an all-boys school, not an office. As you’ll see below, every movie suggested by the listeners took place outside of an office setting. This is telling. While there are certainly some illuminating movies about “work”, the workplace tends to be the backdrop, not the focus, of movies. Typically, cinematic storytelling casts a much wider net, taking us to places and immersing us in situations that stretch our imagination.  And it’s in these places that we can really see leadership in a whole new light, apart from what we might typically define as “leadership” in our daily lives. Mike’s question tapped into this larger landscape and it garnered some fantastic responses from the listeners.

Here's a round up of the movies mentioned. . .

From the Blog Talk Radio chat window, Dale Lawrence offered: What Dreams May Come—which involved learning from a mentor, having to lead ones’ self during extreme adversity, and refusing to give up.

Erin Schreyer called in to say Braveheart. She loved how passionate the lead character William Wallace was and felt that it’s this passion that a leader must show to engage others.

Russ Thoman was also on the call and said that the movie Gandhi offers an excellent study in how someone can affect huge change without positional authority.

The Twitter world chimed too. Tristan Bishop said Woody in Toy Story 3 is an authentic, servant leader.  He even wrote a blog post about it on the Lead Change’s blog.  Rusti-Ann Blanke suggested Frodo in Lord of the Rings—“ordinary, but ultimately capable of taking on a daunting challenge if only we step up.”

Susan Mazza arrived later in the call to suggest Patch Adams in which Robin Williams plays an empathetic “doctor” who’s passionate about healing his patients’ emotional wounds.

Peter Mello suggested Kenneth Branagh’s portrayal of Henry V.

And our wise Lead Change founder Mike— what did he offer? He suggested The Last Castle, starring Robert Redford. The movie takes place in a prison in which Redford’s character Lt. General Eugene Irwin is incarcerated. Mike observed how Irwin was able to restore the dignity of the inmates by expecting better of them. “The power of expectations are a great thing in leadership”, reflected Mike.

What’s your favorite movie with a leadership theme? If I missed your contribution from the Lead Change call, please offer it here.  We’ve got a great list started. . . .

photo credit: istockphoto.com © Tatiana Popova