The Matrix Movie is a Masterclass in Leadership

Why Morpheus Is the Manager You Wish You Had

Preston Charles
8 min readMay 22, 2021


Photo by Dan LeFebvre on Unsplash

Morpheus from the Matrix

The Matrix is an iconic franchise. The movie serves as a metaphor for many groups of people based on their personal experiences. Some people see it as a film about technology, while others see a story about intrusive government and freedom. Other groups have used specific scenes from the movie to illustrate their vision of human behavior’s true and sometimes unpleasant nature.

The Matrix is also a movie about superior leadership. Action movies are known for having heroes who win the fight. The Matrix features heroes who can fight, but it also reveals lessons that could come right out of a Business Management curriculum. Like a lesson from a Management course, the Matrix can teach people powerful lessons that demonstrate the actual value of sound leadership. A skeptic may read this and wonder what The Matrix possibly has to do with a course in Business Management. My skeptical friends won’t have to wonder very long.

Victor Vroom’s Expectancy Theory

Ronald R. Sims, the author of Managing Organizational Behavior, states Expectancy theory was developed in 1964 by Victor vroom of the Yale School of Management to explain the motivation of employees.

Kim Heldman, the author of Project Management Exam Study Guide, says, “The Expectancy Theory, first proposed by Victor Vroom, says that the expectation of a positive outcome drives motivation. People will behave in certain ways if they think there will be good rewards for doing so. Also, note that this theory says the strength of the expectancy drives the behavior. This theory means the expectation or likelihood of the reward links to the behavior. The theory also says that people become what you expect of them. If you openly praise your project team members and treat them as valuable contributors, you’ll likely have a high-performing team on your hands.”

Victor Vroom’s Expectancy theory comes down to three key factors

· Valence The reward has something in it that will motivate me to perform

· Instrumentality If I perform well, someone will reward me

· Expectancy I believe I can complete the task to the required level

We can use The Matrix to illustrate Expectancy Theory. The leader in this story is Morpheus, played by Laurence Fishburne. Morpheus shows how this concept is vital in executing an effective management style. We will examine his methodology, and more specifically, we will study the impact on Neo. Neo is the prized recruit who is the star of the franchise. We will look at the factors of Valence, Instrumentation, and Expectancy.


Valence is the part of the theory that covers how much a person values the rewards. Someone displays valance by deciding that the prize is valuable enough to take action. The illustration of valence is in the scene where Neo decides that he wants to accept the truth about the Matrix. Morpheus lets Neo decide how necessary real-world knowledge is when he tells Neo, “I don’t know if you’re ready to see what I want to show you.” He does not force his knowledge upon Neo. He advises him that “You have to see it for yourself.” He offers Neo the choice of taking the blue pill and tells him, “you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe.” He offers the red pill alternative to see the world for what it is, and he summarizes, “All I’m offering is the truth, nothing more.” This sentence is an honest statement that lets Neo know what to expect from his offer. We can observe that Morpheus’s reward of real-world knowledge was enough to stimulate Neo to take the red pill and accept the challenges to come. Morpheus took the time to gain first-hand information regarding the importance of rewarding Neo with knowledge. Morpheus was intelligent enough to reward Neo with knowledge once he determined it mattered to Neo.


The concept of instrumentality applies to the belief in the outcomes. While Neo is working through his process of discovery, other characters have drawn their conclusions. Cypher, a man who has served Morpheus on his ship, is cynical and wants to go back to the comfort of the world he abandoned. He does not believe that Morpheus told the truth. There is no instrumentality as it applies to Cypher, and he will kill everyone else to escape. He taunts his peers’ beliefs, saying, “If Morpheus was right, then there’s no way I can pull this plug. If Neo’s the One, there then there’d have to be some kind of miracle to stop me” from murdering everyone in the crew. Cypher is the ultimate disgruntled employee. The rest of the team remains steadfast to Morpheus’ vision and works together to overcome his treachery. The instrumentality applies because they believe they will achieve victory in time if they keep fighting hard.


Thomas S. Monson once said, “When we treat people merely as they are, they will remain as they are. When we treat them as if they were what they should be, they will become what they should be”. A variety of people stated several variations of this phrase long before Monson received the credit. Many people have shared this idea over the years because the concept remains sound over time. This idea is the core of expectancy. Morpheus is a master of managing high-performing people because he understands the concept of expectancy.

Photo by Kate Hliznitsova on Unsplash

Morpheus expresses his confidence in Neo before he met him in person. In the last phone call before their initial meeting, Morpheus plants the seeds of assurance in Neo’s mind. For example, Morpheus tells Neo the agents have “underestimated how important you are” after Neo walks away from the initial confrontation. Morpheus goes much further than simply telling Neo he’s significant. Later in that exchange, he says, “You are the One, Neo. You may have spent the last few years looking for me, but I’ve spent my entire life looking for you”. That is a powerful statement to tell an employee during the orientation process.

When Trinity sends Neo into the room before meeting Morpheus for the first time, her advice for him is to “be honest” because “he knows more than you can imagine.” She understands that Morpheus can see things inside Neo that Neo may not see in himself. Morpheus tells Neo, “The honor is mine,” to emphasize how vital Neo is.

Morpheus’s team rescues Neo and helps him recover physically to prepare him for the real world. Morpheus already knows he’s the one. He continually invests in Neo before he ever accomplishes any tasks with them. This activity is a Hollywood example of employee development and training. The physical development includes a thorough rehabilitation of his body through diet and consistent physical therapy.

The training includes lessons in world history, the matrix structure, and how to deal with the inherent dangers within the matrix. Morpheus lays out the threat of the looming battles with the dangerous agents but provides nothing but confidence, “Sooner or later, someone is going to have to have to fight them….They will never be as strong or as fast as you can be”

The expectancy continues during combat training, during which Morpheus shouts to Neo, “Don’t think you are. Know you are”. He pushes him extremely hard but knows he will get stronger because of the demanding workload.

After explaining the basics to Neo, Morpheus explains why he is making this investment. Every leader wants something, and Morpheus is no different. Morpheus sees Neo as the man who can save the world. Morpheus tells Neo that he will free the human race. That is a high expectation. Although aware of the risks involved in bringing in Neo at his advanced age. Morpheus stands by his decision to free his mind and explains, “I did what I did because…I had to”.

The Oracle tells Neo that “Morpheus believes in you…He believes it so blindly that he’s going to sacrifice his life to save yours.” Morpheus demonstrates that belief by sacrificing himself to keep agents away from Neo. Morpheus expects excellence but will sacrifice himself to bring out that excellence in Neo. Once Neo achieves the predicted level of mastery that astounds the crew, Morpheus answers the question of how by saying, “He is the One.”

Photo by Tamara Gak on Unsplash

Morpheus: 360-degree Feedback

Morpheus is a true leader who is revered by those who depend on his leadership. As the story unfolds, different characters talk about Morpheus. It is clear that he is an unusual person, and not for his outstanding physical qualities. Members who have various levels of responsibility and status respect him. We see one example when Neo meets the Oracle. She provides some insight into his value system. The Oracle is an internal expert within their system. I think of her as an IT executive within the organization. She goes on to tell Neo, “Without him, we’re lost.” The Oracle makes it clear how important he is to everyone.

Tank, who serves as the operator on the ship captained by Morpheus, provides another example. During a moment of true contemplation, Tank describes Morpheus as “more than a leader to us” and defines him as a father. Not long after this moment, Neo completes his transformation into a high-performing team member. He understands the vision set by his leader and acts upon that vision. In other words, he internalized the competence that Morpheus always saw in him. Neo becomes grows even further into his role in the group. He is driven to action and explains his decision to fight Agent Smith by explaining, “Morpheus believed something, and he was ready to give his life for it. I understand that now.”

Neo tells Trinity to avoid engaging in this battle, but she refuses to listen to him. Trinity boldly defends her decision to accept the risk by declaring, “I believe Morpheus means more to me than he does to you.”

She makes her position clear that she will not forfeit an opportunity to fight for her leader. Neo and Trinity agree to work in tandem against a mighty enemy for the sake of their leader.


Morpheus is a great leader who knows how to accomplish meaningful work through competent people. Morpheus manages by recruiting top talent and by empowering his staff to realize their full potential. He has mastered the concepts of Valence, Instrumentality, and Expectancy. Professor Dennis Gioia once explained, “People are motivated by their expectations… they are also motivated by other people’s expectations.” In his words, when you “expect more, you get more.”

The Matrix draws on many elements of education to tell an exciting action story. I don’t know how many fans thought about employee motivation the first time they watched it. I hope Victor Vroom had a chance to enjoy this film.



Preston Charles

Preston Charles studied marketing at Morehouse College and earned his MBA in Supply Chain Management and Strategic Leadership from Penn State University.