Leadership via the Movies

Leadership via the Movies

Leadership via the Movies

Grab some popcorn, soda and candy and get your MBA from the University of Hollywood through these movies and shows.  

It's not exactly the same as on-the-job or classroom education but a good story by way of movie or TV show can be inspirational, motivational or just gives us a chance to laugh at ourselves.  Here's a few of my favorites.

Leadership in Crisis

Thirteen Days

In Thirteen Days, JFK and his administration come to the brink of war when the Soviet Union places nuclear missiles in Cuba just 90 miles away from the US. After a few major failures in his first year, the President is presented with a scenario where his decisions may begin a nuclear war potentially killing millions. His key military and national security  advisers call for an invasion of Cuba which could lead to a war with the Soviet Union.

There was a lingering perception of the Kennedys being weak based on JFK's father's support of appeasement with the Nazi's before WW2.  However, JFK held steady through the crisis - he didn't panic, he was pragmatic and always kept moving towards the goal which was to get the missiles out of Cuba rather than to go to war.  He didn't follow the first option but thought through several others and in the end averted what could have been a catastrophe.

Teamwork and Problem Solving

Apollo 13

What is it about 13 and crises? Apollo 13 was supposed to be third mission to land on the moon in April of 1970. However, an oxygen tank explosion caused the Service Module (SM) to be inoperable requiring the mission to be aborted. That was the easy part - then they had to figure out how to get back to earth from moon orbit, fix a problem with removing dangerous amount of CO2, determine how to power up from scratch in outer space, and have a safe re-entry into earth's atmosphere when the SM was useless. And make sure the three astronauts stay alive.

Remarkably, each problem was solved by different teams, some even in different locations back on earth in a few days.  There are few examples of leadership, teamwork, communication and problem solving at its best.



I was a sophomore in college when this movie came out in 1986.  I played on a college intramural basketball team with a big tournament game coming up against a much better, bigger team.  As usual we took these games much more seriously than we should. We decided to go watch Hoosiers as a team.  One of the great David vs. Goliath sports stories.  We came out of the theater knowing we would win.

Coach Dale's (Gene Hackman) pre-game speech in the movie:


         "There's a tradition in tournament play to not talk about the next step until you've climbed the one in front of you. I'm sure going to the State finals is beyond your wildest dreams, so let's just keep it right there. Forget about the crowds, the size of the school, their fancy uniforms, and remember what got you here. Focus on the fundamentals that we've gone over time and time again. And most important, don't get caught up thinking about winning or loosing this game. If you put your effort and concentration into playing to your potential, to be the best that you can be, I don't care what the scoreboard says at the end of the game, in my book we're gonna be winners!"

We  lost the game.  But 30 years later, I still remember the movie and can't remember much about the game other than that we lost.

Marketing 101

Mad Men

Mad Men chronicles the lives of a Madison Avenue advertising firm from partnership, to start up, to acquisition amid the backdrop of the dramatic changes taking place during the 1960s. Self destructive behavior is at a high level (seems to guarantee ratings and awards) but we do see the power of advertising from print to television and the challenges in building a company and working with our fellow human beings.

 Mad men know we don't make our buying decisions based on logic but that we make them based on emotions.  When you watch Don Draper make his pitch to Hilton, Heinz, Hershey and Kodak you see this in action at it's best.  You are ready to buy!

The Corporation 

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit

An oldie but classic staring, Gregory Peck, about the Rat Race.  Tom Rath, a WWII veteran with haunting memories, a wife and young children feels he needs to make more money to afford the larger house, the larger car and the larger everything else that goes with the American dream of the 1950s (and 60's, 70's, 80's, ... ). He gets a new job working as PR man for a television network run by Ralph Hopkins. Hopkins is the business leader who has sacrificed his family life for the pursuit of business success. He says, "The world is built by men like me".

 Tom realizes he isn't that type of man and would rather have the 9 to 5 life so he can have the family life that is more important to him.  But it doesn't make Hopkins out to be the bad guy and Tom the hero but rather that each made the decision they felt was right for himself. Although Tom did seem a lot happier than Ralph. 

Office Life

The Office

A television show about a paper company's field office in Scranton, PA., that showed office life at it's most extreme and funny.  As we watched the office, at Dunder Mifflin, we would say this never really happened in our office, but in the back of our minds, we noticed some resemblance. Outside of our families (and sometimes including) we spend more time with our colleagues at the office - and sometimes if we are the lucky ones, they stay with us much longer than we may stay with the job.

" Dunder Mifflin - Limitless Paper for a Paperless World

Ravi Madhavan