July 2014


The movie I went with for the Leadership Development Initiative film study was Invictus. In the end, what persuaded me was the timeliness of the story as well as the tight package of leadership lessons in 135 minutes. Let me share a few of my questions I used to stir conversation after the movie.

Invictus Study Guide

There were a number of characters who demonstrated leadership. We’ll start with Nelson Mandela, but most of us can’t identify with his character, so we’ll then look at a couple of the other characters.

  1. At the beginning, there’s a headline: “He can win an election, but can he run a country?” As Mandela grants, it’s a good question. Describe the leadership insight in that headline.
  2. Describe Mandela’s leadership style. In what ways—both bold strategies and small gestures—did Mandela demonstrate servant leadership?
  3. Can you think of any times when Mandela used a different leadership style? How did he employ situational leadership?
  4. What symbols and images were used by Mandela to bring about change?
  5. What are the upsides and challenges of attempting to repurpose a symbol?
  6. Mandela sets his goal on winning the World Cup—a goal he has no direct influence over. What strategies does he deploy?
  7. What did you learn about the relationship between leadership and followership?
  8. Name some of the other leaders in this movie. Which one do you most identify with? Why?
  9. Two in particular stand out, both of which are in #2 positions. Francois Pinaar, of course. But consider his chief of staff. In what ways does she support Mandela? In what ways does she challenge and become a foil to Mandela’s goals? What can we learn from her example?
  10. From Pinaar’s example, what can we learn about leadership when you’re not in the top position? How can leaders in #2 positions contribute to carrying forward the vision?
  11. The William Ernest Henley poem Invictus became an inspiration to Nelson Mandela during his captivity, and he uses it to inspire Pinaar. It ends with the lines, “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” What does Mandela’s inspiration tell us about the importance of leading yourself before you lead others?
  12. While there’s no evidence that Mandela was a follower of Jesus Christ, his life exemplifies the gospel message. Ultimately, Mandela’s modeling and message of grace is what sets him apart in human history. In what ways does he lead his country into grace and forgiveness? What were the pundits saying about South Africa when Mandela was first released, and what was the result of his counter-cultural leadership?

As I mentioned in my April 12 post, I needed to pick a leadership movie for our film study in Wycliffe’s Leadership Development Initiative. After considering more than 65 suggestions from comments here and other social media venues, I settled on one. Let me start with the runner up, which didn’t make any of my previous lists.

Runner Up: Band of Brothers

I can’t summarize it any better than my friend Brandon Rhodes, who made the initial suggestion:

Band of Brothers is the best sustained exploration of leadership that I have ever seen. Hard to narrow it to one episode, though, since it unfolds the issue in such detail over many incidents—episode 1, 2, 3, 5, or 7 might do. That last one especially, as it shows someone who displays de facto leadership while not actually possessing rank over the soldiers he winds up leading, encouraging, and protecting. Note that the first episode takes leadership as its topic, and also includes not a single act of violence—which might make it more appropriate for an audience that might include people who are sensitive about violence in film.

Not having seen the whole series, I borrowed the disks and watched all of the episodes during a one-week window. An incredible series that looks at leadership from a lot of different sides, at different levels. Some of the characters who model leadership:

  • First Lieutenant Sobel models everything you don’t want to do. Do his problems stem from a lack of character or a lack of confidence? I suspect it’s the latter, and much of his autocratic style is designed to mask his personal deficiencies.
  • Like Brandon, I really enjoyed the servant leadership style of First Sergeant Lipton during unfathomable difficulty. While the ranked leaders fail, he steps into the void. He gains a title only after he demonstrates leadership.
  • Major Winters is of course the leadership hero. While others demonstrate greater feats on the battlefield and he only fires his gun once in battle, he’s a hero to me because he consents to be promoted and step away from his loyalty and love for Echo Company. The series does a great job of portraying his competence but also his sacrifice for the greater good.
  • I think my favourite leader has to be First Lieutenant Speirs. He seems to have an instinctual ability to lead men. I love the way he cultivates his image. He builds a reputation on a couple of brave, crazy acts that keep his men in awe and fear, then refuses their attempts to dispel the rumours and break down the image. And because he’s decisive and excellent under pressure when those traits are most needed, he becomes the rescuer the company needs, fostering a form of love and loyalty that I suspect went both ways.

In addition, the stories are extremely well-told and depicted. If you want evidence, ask my wife, who regularly falls asleep in action movies. She watched every minute of Band of Brothers. Well, she did drift off during that one battle… I loved the way every episode followed a different character and used different story-telling techniques. A very clever, well-done piece of art.

So if I liked the series so much, why did I not pick it? It’s not the violence that held me back. Brandon nails it: the series is a sustained exploration of leadership and didn’t suit the format of one tight movie. I wasn’t happy that any single episode would meet my need.