When you need leadership inspiration you can always rely on WWII, Charlton Heston, the courageous Gregory Peck, and in a clutch Anthony Quinn as the pope or a Greek insurgent. If all else fails you can escape to the desert with Lawrence or take a winter march with George C. Scott.
Now, I admit that one of the problems we have with leadership is the fantasy world we sometimes put it in and these movies feed every dramaturgical tendency that took me (and everyone) to the movies on Saturdays. I can think of a million reasons why George C. Scott as a stern Patton may not be your ideal project manager. I can also understand why Peter O’Toole’s vision of Aqaba by the land may not be the best motivating device, and I also understand why seeing Charlton Heston, strapped to his horse,while others declare “for God, the Cid, and Spain” may not be the exact vocabulary you want to use in getting your team to put in some extra effort.
That said, you have to admit that a bit of drama can’t do too much harm. So start with the drama and whittle it down to reality, but please don’t just transfer these role-models to your work place. Use these leadership movies with caution.
See my full Top 9 Leadership Movies list here.
1. El Cid (1961)
El Cid, played by Charlton Heston, defends Spain against the Moors. Putting honor first El Cid manages to get his forces motivated to fight the Moors.
2. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) has led everything but an orthodox life. The 3 hour + film portrays Lawrence’s passion, vision, and energy deftly. It forces leaders to ask, “when does vision lead to madness?”
3. Patton (1970)
Patton, played unforgettably by George C. Scott, presents a study in disciplined, dedicated, and unrelenting leadership.
4. 30 Seconds Over Tokyo (1944)
Following the story of the “Doolittle Raid” 30 Seconds Over Tokyo showcases a leader who must innovate to meet a huge challenge.
5. The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968)
A fictional account of a Serbian prisoner turned Pope makes for riveting social commentary. Anthony Quinn, playing a self-doubting Pope must calm multiple cold-war factions with sharp political and leadership skills.
6. Glory (1989)
Robert G. Shaw, Civil War Colonel who lead the fist all-black volunteer regiment into battle, takes center stage in Glory. An example of a leader who must face criticisms, skeptics, and retaliation from all sides.
7. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) is a Alabama lawyer who chooses to defend a young black man accused of rape even though his community turns against him. It’s a story of sticking with your goals, ideas, and morals even when it gets tough.
8. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness) leads his men, fellow prisoners of war, to build a bridge over the river Kwai. While some of his men want to sabotage the bridge Col. Nicholson demands that it be built as a symbol of British dignity. Col. Nicholson is met with resistance and is accused of madness. Is vision enough? Not all the time.
9. Guns of Navarone (1961)
Capt. Keith Mallory (Gregory Peck) has to assemble an expert team of men to destroy the guns of Navarone. The problem is they all hate each other and don’t trust each other. It’s an example a leader working with independent individuals under a great deal of stress–and fire.