May 2014


These movies are even more difficult to rank, except to go by how many recommendations I got, who recommended them and the fervor of their comments.

Lagaan – A Hindi film, with subtitles in English, that’s been on my list before. Now that it’s been cast in the leadership category, it’s very high on my list.

Elizabeth – “The first one is the best, I think.”

Gandhi – “Great for… vision, modelling the way, courage, determination, sacrifice, unselfishness”

October Sky – A couple of nominations for this one, the highlight being, “Laura Dern’s character (the high school teacher) who inspires, challenges, and stands up for the “rocket boys” in Coaltown, WV. She is not the main character, but is a key catalyst whose commitment and leadership brings about positive transformation of her students and community. One of my favorite movies.”

Gettysburg – I’m a fan of the Shaara Civil War series of books, and “Gods and Generals” was great. So this war leadership one has been on my list.

Coach Carter – “Great for… vision, setting clear expectations, team ethic, overcoming resistance, influencing.” There are just so many coaching movies. Guess I missed this one.

Secretariat – “The story of Penny Chenery is the best example of empowered female leadership in the last 20 years.”

Of Gods and Men – “It has more to do with the impact of a crisis on a small community – 8 monks in the face of terrorists in Algeria. You see their decision making process and how that changed. (Very moving and tragic story, but really better for crisis management, theology of risk, etc).”

12 O’Clock High – “A 1940′s WW2 movie about redeption vs. maxium effort…and the cost.” Great for “seeing what happens when a Leadership Change occurs.

Shake hands with the Devil – Somehow when my wife and I went through our Africa movie marathon, we missed this one about the Rwanda Genocide

 

Bonus:

These next ten aren’t on my list yet, but I could be convinced.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps – “’Greed is good.’ Unfortunately, greed and sustainable leadership cannot occupy the same space.” Haven’t seen it, but I’m a big fan of Michael Douglas.

The Lady – The story of Aung San Suu Kyi is one I’ve been interested in. Just discovered there’s a movie, but is it any good? One person thought so.

Places in the Heart – A movie “for which Sally Field won the Oscar in portrayal of depression era TX widow who keeps family and farm together against great challenges.”

Freedom Writers – I got a few nominations for this one.

Norma Rae – “Older and less well-known, but 2 Oscars and Sally Field.”

Lion in Winter – “3 Oscars, O’Toole & Hepburn.”

The Hiding Place – “Those women are still leading others today through their story and testimony.” I did watch half of this the other day when my son was watching it for a school project.

The Emperor’s Club – Nominated “for its Integrity focus that is so absent in much leadership today and as a result also in those mentored.”

Mulan – The person who nominated this one felt strongly enough about it to give it three exclamation points.

Whip It – Hard to get excited about a roller derby movie as an excellent leadership portrayal, so maybe I’m missing something.

 

Credit: Some of the comments I received included links to other lists. So let me give due credit for some of these thoughts:

There’s another list that’s worth compiling, and that’s great movies that I need to watch again because I never thought of them as leadership movies. I don’t have a rubric for ranking these in any rigorous manner. I’d love to hear your comments on the leadership lessons you saw in these, and any other surprise leadership movies you want to suggest.

12 Angry Men – This one probably should have been on my top 20 list, but since I hadn’t seen it in some time and didn’t watch it through the lens of leadership, I’ll put it at the top of this list.

Dead Poets Society – Teacher movies are obviously leadership stories.

Ender’s Game – I just watched this story about an adolescent boy who struggles to live into the leadership role he was selected for. I’m putting it here because it didn’t make my top 20, and it wasn’t marketed as a leadership movie.

The Blind Side – The Mom shows great courage in fighting for someone no one would give a chance, and in doing so I suppose she influences a football player, a coach, a team and a community. But I wonder: is this a leadership story, or just a great hero story?

The Matrix – Like the Hunger Games, it’s a story about someone who discovers everyone thinks he’s “The One.” Great reluctant leadership concept.

A Knight’s Tale – This movie certainly has its fans. Maybe watching it a third time, I’ll see its importance and leadership lessons.

Kingdom Of Heaven – This comment reflects my memory of it as well, especially the last part: “Great story of a man struggling with the loss of his wife and his faith. Finds himself a noble in a strange land, and negotiates loyalty, responsibility, and leadership with poise and kindness… the best exemplar is Salah ad Din – he could have wiped out Jerusalem entirely, but restrained his power to preserve the city and allowed the Britons to retreat.”

Runaway Jury – I love the showdown between the two men trying to manipulate the jury.

A League of Their Own – “How to lead when you have an ineffective leader.” I do recall how bad Tom Hanks’ character was and how various women, especially Geena Davis’ character, stepped up. Probably lots of good leadership lessons, then.

The Social Network – “The story of the rise of Facebook provides for us a glimpse into the brilliant mind and potentially destructive personality of the most creative and talented NextGen business leader ever.”

Mary Poppins – “seriously!” Having just watched Saving Mr Banks (maybe that one should be on this list!), I want to see Mary Poppins again. I’ll bet it is a good leadership portrayal in an unexpected package.

Glory – Any military movie could make my list, but I do recall the interesting overtones. Someone mentioned it gets into emerging leadership, one of my favourite topics.

Mr Holland’s Opus – Another teacher movie.

Aliens – someone nominated this one because of Sigourney Weaver’s character, Ripley.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Here’s the comment I got: “I just re-watched the first Hobbit movie and there are some surprisingly good themes related to unrecognized/unexpected potential (i.e. Bilbo as an ‘adventurer’), taking risks/courage (moving from our zone of comfort), conflict resolution, and an especially critical skill for every leader…swordsmanship when faced with an army of orcs!”

We Were Soldiers – Another military movie.

Trouble with the Curve – A “more subtle” exploration of leadership, where “I’d say the lady carries lead role.”

The Help – There is a whole genre of southern women who stand up to the system. This one was good, as was Fried Green Tomatoes. And I probably could have included Steel Magnolias if I had a more recent memory of it.

Chicken Run – Yes, I had difficulty including an animated movie, and I refuse to put Kung Fu Panda on this list, but here’s the comment that made me think again about Chicken Run: “Great for… vision, learning from failure, persistence, modelling the way, influencing, organisation, decisiveness.” Sounds like I should see it again, because I certainly wasn’t watching for those characteristics.

Bend it Like Beckham – The idea of leadership emerging from young, female characters in a cultural context that devalues both makes it worth watching again. I just remember it being enjoyable but a bit of a softball in terms of story-telling power.

 

Credit: Some of the comments I received included links to other lists. So let me give due credit for some of these thoughts:

I’ve been chewing on the lengthy list of leadership movies that were recommended in the comments and responses to my last blog post. As a result, I’m pulling together a series of blog posts on top leadership movies. There’s no shortage of lists, so I’m not sure mine has much to add to the noise, but it was a fun exercise.

Here are the factors I used when I ranked the following movies that I’ve seen and recommend:

  • My standard is leadership where others could have stepped up but didn’t. That’s the main factor to bump movies to the top of my list.
  • Unexpected, non-positional leadership.
  • A complex portrayal of leadership that shows it’s not as easy as it looks.
  • Resourcefulness and perseverance in the face of difficulty.
  • Portrayal of leadership at multiple levels.
  • A well-told story. I used Rotten Tomatoes ratings as my standard.

So, here they are, the top leadership movies I’ve seen:

1. Invictus – The convergence in the leadership styles, roles and methods of two leaders. The impact of that rugby team on a nation came from the collaboration between Mandela and Pienaar, the rugby captain. In addition, there are contrasts with other leaders: de Klerk, the jailers and Mandela’s security forces. Interestingly, the coaching staff don’t really feature in this sports movie. See my more complete commentary here.

2. Amazing Grace – Two leaders with very different styles, roles and methods. Everyone focuses on William Wilberforce, but after watching this one I had to pick up a biography on William Pitt. Other leadership influences show up in the abolitionists, John Newton, Wilberforce’s wife and opposition leadership.

3. Lincoln – An interesting portrayal of situational leadership as Lincoln tries to gain support for the 13th Amendment. One of the most interesting angles is the various members of congress struggling to summon courage. And a fascinating portrayal of Lincoln’s need to lead his family. Read more of my thoughts here.

4. Shawshank Redemption – While one of my favourite movies, I didn’t think of it as a leadership movie until someone made a comment on my blog post. Dufresne is an extremely unassuming man who ends up leading fellow inmates and influencing a lot of people with titles and authority.

5. Braveheart – I almost didn’t want this one to rank so highly, but it really does wrestle with leadership issues, especially between William Wallace, who practically begs others to step up and lead. There are lots of contrasting leadership styles, including the king, the king’s son, the nobles and the magistrate who tortures him.

6. Hoosiers – An unconventional leader, an impossible challenge and lots of setbacks make this a great story. In the genre of coaching—where leadership is expressed primarily through drawing out potential and influencing a team to do something it didn’t believe it could do—this movie is at the top.

7. Captain Philips – A ship captain with huge expertise in one area finds himself thrust into areas of weakness and tapping into unknown leadership ability. He goes toe-to-toe with a young, hungry, adaptive Somali leader who makes the most of limited resources and takes on a Goliath.

8. The Queen – A more recent retelling of the Madness of King George, this movie details a prime minister who must guide the monarch through a major crisis. Unlike the other movie, this story portrays leadership by the monarch and the PM and her next-in-line. She listens to advice and manages to avert disaster with decisive leadership.

9. Apollo 13 – Leadership is demonstrated at multiple levels in this story, from the flight commander to the grounded astronaut in the simulator who swallows his disappointment. But it’s the flight director who keeps everyone inspired, on mission and committed to not giving up. He adjusts his leadership style to meet the crisis.

10. The Hunger Games – I’m thinking of the body of work: the three books and the two movies released so far. A young lady who is simply struggling to survive finds herself with a boatload of followers and has to learn how to lead a movement she never asked to lead.

11. The Madness of King George – What happens when a positional leader is sidelined while a potential usurper waits in the shadows? That’s the challenge of prime minister William Pitt, who has to find a way to manage the crisis, hold off the coups and lead upward.

12. Courage Under Fire – One moment of courageous leadership by an unlikely leader is blurred by others who try to twist it for their own purposes or even bury it. The way the story is told is innovative, though it all boils down to one moment of leadership when I wish we’d been able to get more of a glimpse of what Meg Ryan’s character was thinking and feeling.

13. To Kill a Mockingbird – A lawyer takes a stand to fight for his convictions and a minority, despite huge obstacles and cultural pressure. He manages to lead those he advocates for and he models new behaviour to a mob of whites, but his greatest leadership is to his family.

14. Moneyball – A new leader, facing an impossible challenge, finds a trick to even the playing field and in doing so, reinvents the entire game. He has to persevere through enormous pressure from the system. One of his most courageous decisions was to show loyalty rather than take the high-paying, high-power role offered him at the end.

15. Erin Brockovich – A “nobody” with courage, perseverance and principles puts in the hard work, taking on a Goliath and winning. No doubt she’s a hero, but leadership is influencing others. Perhaps her greatest feat in leadership is leading upward. While her boss has the title, she sets the direction for the law firm.

16. Amistad – There’s huge potential for leadership lessons in an opportunistic slave who starts a revolt and then has to learn how to overcome huge obstacles to get his followers back to Africa. Unfortunately, the story is ultimately told about a lawyer and a former president who have to figure out how to communicate with and for them. So I found the leadership lessons diffused.

17. Elizabeth: Golden Age – This was a story of one of history’s most powerful women facing incredibly-difficult challenges. I could have moved it higher, but I temper this one with the fact I haven’t seen the first movie with Cate Blanchett, and I hear it’s better.

18. Thirteen Days – The story of the Cuban Missile Crisis is an excellent portrayal of the complexities of leadership when everything is on the line. From fiery generals used to getting their own way to cabinet secretaries who have to carry the leader’s vision to a president who needs to know which voices to listen to, this movie drops you into the agony of decision-making when there is no good decision.

19. The Iron Lady – An interesting delivery of the story of a woman who stepped up to give leadership when no one in her male-dominated world was willing to. She courageously made and stuck with decisions, knowing full well the consequences and lack of support she’d get. It’s a bittersweet movie because it shows the insignificant retirement of an enormously successful public servant.

20. Remember the Titans – Another great coaching movie, with lots of overtones and cultural ramifications. It shows how great leadership and sports success can bring people together like nothing else. (more…)