Movies are a great way to see leadership in action. Whether they are depicting real events or following an original story line, watching how leaders form teams, overcome obstacles, and ultimately forge groups of people who are able to work together to accomplish great things can be both entertaining and inspiring for any leader.
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The movies here are ones I have seen on my own, or in some cases, watched and discussed in great detail at various leadership schools I have attended over the years. I found all of these to be greatly entertaining as well as immensely valuable as learning tools. So put some popcorn in the microwave, maybe grab a pen and some note paper, and dig into these classics of leadership.
This well-constructed documentary chronicles the 2005 cross country running season of York High School from Elmhurst, Illinois. Already in his 49th year of coaching and with 24 state championship titles to his credit, legendary Coach Joe Newton challenges his boys to win number 25.
The documentary features runners, but it’s evident from the very beginning that this movie isn’t about winning so much as it is about how a leader forms a team. When done well, as Coach ably demonstrates, winning is a natural by-product of solid team leadership.
This movie is packed with powerful lessons-by-example as we watch Coach Newton deal with discipline issues, disabilities, injuries, and losses of key runners even as the the championship meet looms near. Especially powerful to me were how he intentionally built his team from the bottom up instead of top down, his creative use of ritual to strengthen his team’s culture, and and the way he he develops the leaders from within the team.
I liked this movie all the more because it’s not a screen play with actors, but a documentary with an actual leader showing us how it’s done. While I do not agree with all the techniques he uses, he’s clearly doing enough things right that we should be paying attention, and maybe even taking notes.
Long Green Line tops my list of great ways to spend 90 minutes and come away entertained, motivated, and a little bit wiser about what it takes to lead well.
(PG-13) Denzel Washington stars in this uplifting film about overcoming great odds though unity of effort. The fact-based story is set in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1971 at T.C. Williams High School as the school begins the process of integrating black and white students. Washington’s character, Herman Boone, is tasked to replace the popular and successful Titans football team head coach, but struggles in an environment of hostility and racial tension.
The tough, opinionated Boone faces one challenge after another, but because he is a man of character and strength he is gradually able to build trust and grudging respect among the players, and eventually within the school.
As a leader, you will find yourself going to school on important skills like building trust, conflict management, communicating intent, and solving seemingly intractable problems. Remember the Titans is a solid story with great leadership moments throughout.
(PG) Apollo 13 was just another “routine” space flight – until these words pierced the void of space: “Houston, we have a problem.” Ron Howard directs Academy Award winner Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise and Ed Harris in a riveting suspense-thriller from Imagine Entertainment. Stranded 205,000 miles from Earth in a crippled spacecraft, astronauts Jim Lovell (Hanks), Fred Haise (Paxton) and Jack Swigert (Bacon) fight a desperate battle to survive. Meanwhile, at Mission Control, astronaut Ken Mattingly (Sinise), flight director Gene Kranz (Harris) and a heroic ground crew race against time – and odds – to bring them home.
Problem solving, team work, and poise under pressure feature prominently in this excellent movie and make it a great watch for leaders to absorb and learn from. Apollo 13 is a breathtaking adventure that tells a story of courage, faith and ingenuity that is all the more remarkable because it is true!
(PG) Based upon the Pulitzer Prize winning book, “The Killer Angels,” by Michael Shaara, closely follows the stories of several of the key leaders in this most pivotal battle of the American Civil War. While it runs long at just over four hours, I found myself absorbed in the action from start to finish.
We used several of the scenes in this movie at leadership schools I have been to as examples of decision making and problem solving while in leadership positions. From General Buford’s initial defense of the town on day one, to Colonel Chamberlain’s inspired leadership that saves the Union left flank on day two, to Pickett’s epic charge on the final day, Gettysburg does an excellent job of bringing history to life as well as depicting leadership in action.
(PG) A great story about vision, principles, and redemption, Gene Hackman portrays Coach Norman Dale, an outsider who comes to a small Indiana town to coach the underdog high school basketball team. His no-nonsense approach and his uncompromising focus on the fundamentals of the game immediately put him at odds with the town, and he struggles to convince the team that they are on the right path.
Gradually winning their trust and taking the team to the state championships, the movie is a dramatic and entertaining portrayal of team development, caring leadership, and the importance of clear vision. Hoosiers is a great movie that will inspire you to lead better, even if you don’t play basketball.
(PG-13) This is the famous story of how the underdog U.S. Olympic hockey team defeated the powerhouse team from Soviet Union, set against the backdrop of the cold war. This is a great action-packed true story that follows Kurt Russel playing coach Herb Brooks as he selects and trains an undisciplined group of 26 kids and forges them into a team with the skill and spirit to take on and defeat the best in the world.
Miracle is an inspirational story that highlights the importance of visionary leadership and the importance of teamwork.
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