How Movies Can Help Develop Your Leadership

Movies sometimes provide a great source of reference as well as inspiration to what constitute as great leadership and effective management. There are many memorable Hollywood movies that can teach organizations of today a few things of what it takes to effectively manage and lead the organization.

Here are six movies that you can gain useful insights in what good management and leadership skills entail.

1. Twelve O’clock High (1949)

This is truly the mother of all leadership movies. Starring Gregory Peck, this movie is fundamentally Submarine Leadership a study of transactional, transitional and transformational leadership. The movie revolved around the 918th US Bomber group stationed in England during World War II. They are suffering from heavy casualties and although their commander was an efficient leader, he did not have what it takes to lead the team to victory. He is soon replaced by another commander played by Peck who effectively guide and lead the group to become one of the best bomber groups around. To achieve this he had to push his men to the limit to help them discover their own strength and give them a sense of empowerment and pride in themselves.

2. K19 Widow Maker (2002)

Harrison Ford plays a Russian submarine commander who has to take extreme measures to prevent a leak in the nuclear submarine cooling system that might lead to an explosion as well as radiation poisoning. Although he portrays a hardened and task-oriented commander, he is always where his men need him the most. One of interesting quote that he makes early in the movie is: “Without me you are nothing!” The camera then turns on the crew who are wondering what kind of megalomaniac they have as their commander. The next statement he makes shows a classic paradigm shift when he says: “Without you I’m nothing!” This shows that a leader can only lead if he/she has people who can follow.

3. Bridge Over River Kwai (1957)

The key protagonist in this movie is played by Sir Alec Guinness as Colonel Nicholson. He is captured by the Japanese together with his Battalion and sent to a Prisoner of War (POW) camp in Northern Thailand. There he meets other captured Allied soldier living in squalid conditions and forced by the Japanese to build the infamous bridge over the Kwai River. Nicholson realize that there is sense in helping the Japanese to build the bridge as it will give the allied POW a sense of purpose to uplift them from a state of defeat and also to take pride in their capabilities. The key intention was to build an excellent bridge and to destroy it just to spite the Japanese.

This movie basically tells us the importance of having a clear vision in order to stay motivated and work towards the common goal of an organization.

4. Gung Ho (1986)

So far we have been talking about war movies. This one is a comedy starring Michael Keaton. It is a about cross-cultural relationship and how the people of different cultural background have to work towards their common goal by integrating each others work practices. A Japanese car manufacturing company takes over a Detroit car plant and employ American workers who comes into clash with the Japanese style of management. This results in some hilarious moments that makes the movie great to watch. However, there are many innuendo messages that one can learn in the difficulties involved in engaging people to change their work practices to keep up with new ways of thinking and new technology. Sounds familiar?

5. Braveheart (1995)

Mel Gibson plays as William Wallace, a 13th Century Scottish rebel against the oppressive English. The learning element of this movie that we can relate to a modern organization is about building a shared vision. Shared vision is important as without it an organization will lose its sense of purpose as to its very existence. This was very much the situation in 12th and 13th century Scotland where the mighty English were systematically persecuting the Scottish of their land, family and ultimately their life. By creating a mental model to show that it is better to die a free man than to live in constant persecution and fear Wallace was able to transform a poorly equipped army into an effective fighting machine. The movie also touches on becoming resourceful and creative when faced with limitation. This very much sounds like what modern organizations are going through.

6. Modern Time (1936)

This is indeed a gem of a movie that shows the struggle of one man in a time of rapid change. Charlie Chaplin plays a worker in a factory who has to deal with constant changes to work practices and meeting incredible datelines. He is unprepared just as much as the supervisors who are suppose to oversee his performance. This leads to hilarious consequences that one might enjoy watching the movie. However, relating this to modern working environment it is a chilling portrayal of what will happen if you have dissatisfied and de-motivated employees who do not feel a sense of ownership of the organization they are working for.

Although the above six are not the only ones to deal with the theme on leadership and management, it is a good start to watch these and perhaps pick a tip or two on how you can become a better manager in your own organization.

Dr Daniel Theyagu is a corporate trainer and seminar leader who has designed and conducted competency-based training for more than 150 organizations. He is based in Singapore and can be reached



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