Leadership Notes #39 – Leadership at the Movies I

(This series of “notes” first appeared in the YahooGroup “VenturingList” and are written by Michael Brown. I thought that they were worth sharing with the Commissioner Corps.)

Most people probably love to watch movies. They can entertain. Make us laugh or cry (or both). Many of them have a lesson to teach. It’s in those we want to look at. Often times with leadership, being able to show our Venturers examples of leadership (sometimes good, sometimes bad) can be a powerful way of helping them understand leadership.

Movies are a great way to do so. In the old VLSC course, we showed clips from several movies to illustrate a vision. In the OA’s National Leadership Seminar, clips from several movies are shown to illustrate the 4 stages of situational leadership, and an edited form of another movie is shown for team development. In the current Wood Badge course, a movie is shown to illustrate some of the lessons of the course.

In your own crews (and ships), showing movies can be very useful, not just for the entertainment value, but from the lessons they show. This will be the first of several Notes to illustrate movies (and maybe tv shows) that can illustrate lessons of leadership. Doing so should not be strange. In doing some of the research for this Note, I found a few books that are about that, such as “Movies to Manage By” and “Reel Lessons in Leadership”. (I have not reviewed these books, but would hope they could be value resources).

In looking at any movie for the purposes of teaching leadership, we have to ask ourselves a few questions:

  • “What is the movie’s message/theme?”
  • “Who is it appropriate for?” (Is it too young for the Venturers, too old?)
  • “What are you trying to teach?”
  • “How does it tie in with the overall crew/ship program?”

It’s best to understand these before showing the movie for the whole crew. And don’t just show it cold. Prepare some setup. Ask some open ended questions so the crew members are thinking of these as they watch the movie. Then afterwards have a discussion about what the lessons of the movie were. But always keep in mind to keep this all fun, and not turn it into a boring school lesson.

This time we will look at 5 movies: “Mr. Holland’s Opus”, “Apollo 13”, “12 Angry Men”, “Remember the Titans”, and “The Emperor’s Club”.

Do you know the impact you make in the lives of others? Sometimes we don’t know until much later. The movie, “Mr. Holland’s Opus”, illustrates this in the 30-year career of a high school music teacher, Mr. Holland (played by Richard Dreyfus). Mr. Holland is a composer, who decides to take up a teaching position to have more time to be with his family and compose. But over time, you see his struggles (and triumphs) in instilling a love of music to his students. In the end, it’s all for not, as he is let go after 30 years. Or was it?

There can be some comparison with the experiences of Mr. Holland and some advisors, as well as the students (and what they go thru) with members of your crews. He faces some tough choices at times, both good and bad.

“Apollo 13” is about the disastrous mission to the moon that almost ended in tragedy. When an oxygen tank in the Lunar Module explodes, the issue isn’t that they may not make the moon, but that they might not make it back. While the NASA team in Houston and at the Cape work on a solution to bring them home, including an astronaut that got bumped from the flight, Commander Jim Lovell (played by Tom Hanks) must keep his team together so they all come home safely. It’s the effort of both groups that ensures that the effort to get home is a success.

A scouting connection exists, in that Jim Lovell is an Eagle Scout.

“12 Angry Men” is about a group of jurors deciding what should be a simple murder trial. The whole thing is set in the jury room (it was originally a teleplay, later made into a movie, remade again, and made a Broadway play). My personal favorite version is the 1957 movie starring Henry Fonda as the hold out juror. This juror has his doubts, which he expresses as “I’d don’t know. What do you think?” By his questioning the evidence, he (and the other jurors) realize that the case isn’t so open and closed, and slowly the other jurors come over to his side. More problematic are the ones who made their decision NOT on the evidence, but on some other deep seated issues. These are brought out during the movie and dealt with.

The big point of this movie is bringing a group around to a decision, building consensus without browbeating or coercion, but persuasion. And sometimes people make their decisions NOT for rational reasons, but emotional ones, which must be addressed.

“Remember the Titans” is a classic movie of the high school sports team genre. Based on a true story, it tells of a high school football team at a newly integrated school. The new black coach of the team is Herman Boone (played by Denzel Washington), who replaces the white coach Bill Yoast (played by Will Patton) who stays on as an assistant coach. Boone needs to build the players, black and white, into a team, which will not be easy. In addition to the issues within the team are the issues outside the team that also try to tear them apart. Yoast, who is up for the state coach’s Hall of Fame, is basically told he can get in if the Titans lose a game. But Yoast rebels against that, as it would hurt the team, at a cost of getting in. But thru Boone’s hard work, the team comes together and is an example for others. This movie is an excellent example of building a team, and you can see examples of team development going on.

“The Emperor’s Club” is a movie similar in some ways with “Mr. Holland’s Opus”, as both look at the impact of a teacher on their students, but different in other ways. Here the impact is more focused and the impact is on being an ethical and honorable person.

Kevin Kline plays William Hundert, a professor of classical studies at a private prep school. He attempts to mentor a particular student, and find that he not only lacks the drive for education, but ethical behavior, which he gotten from his father. Despite his best efforts, Hundert is unable to turn this student around, as is show years later at a reunion of students from the school. But where Hundert may have failed with this student, he didn’t fail with others.

As noted, this will be the first of several Notes on this subject. Several more movies will be covered in future selections.