Someone reached me out of the blue. It was a high-flying executive recruiter calling to get acquainted, no specific role in mind. She had heard from a shared acquaintance that I was “on the market”. We established common ground, then: what had I done, what did I like, who did I respect, what do I want to do next, did I like working for Obama, etc… Painful conversation.
Then a surprise twist: ‘What is leadership to you and who is your favorite leader?’, she asked.
She followed that with: ‘Are you a good leader?’ (mostly), ‘What did you learn from your biggest screw up?’ (that life goes on, really), ‘What would the people that you managed and that managed you say about you?’ (it depends)’. That 15 minute conversation was fast filed into my brain’s semi-dependable hard drive.
A few weeks later, my wife and I started watching the FX series “Tyrant”. We don’t have cable anymore, so watching anything is a very deliberate act.
It’s a great show whose premise is that the younger of two sons of a Middle-Eastern tyrant has been escaping and denying his past and his roots for two decades and living in the US with his family. He returns to his country for his nephew’s wedding. The poor bastard is quickly sucked into a political quagmire when his tyrant dad passes away, a revolution against the ruling family — his family — in the making. His nasty and emotionally cuckoo older brother inherits the presidency which teeters on the brink of a civil war, a coup, etc. It is brilliantly written and the show’s essence is about one thing — a chess game of influence manifesting itself in two starkly different styles of leadership.
So there I was, watching a show, and instead of being entertained I ended up going into deep thought about leadership. What did I do? I grabbed my phone and googled the phrase “leadership lessons from movies”… 1,940,000 results in 0.26 seconds. After reading dozens of them, I came up with my own list of twelve flicks that cover the gamut and distilled the lessons of Popcorn Leadership .
Forest Gump -Love for others, moving forward, self-leadership
Braveheart -Never compromise values, til bitter end — one word: freedom
The Butler -Self restraint +sacrifice +grace is actually leadership
Glengarry Glen Ross -Ruthlessness is dark and demotivating
The Godfather -Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer
12 Angry Men -Persuasion leads to consensus, especially for the contrarian
Stand and Deliver -High expectations leads to high achievement against odds
Moneyball -Push back is often validation disguised, adapting beats dying
Schindler’s List -Transformational events create better versions of ourselves
Shawshank Redemption -Small acts lead to hope, hope leads to inspiration
Apollo 13 -Things never follow your plan, deal w the cards you got
Dead Poets Society -Carpe Diem is about questioning establishment
The list is incomplete for sure, so feel free to tell me what you think.