Federal Coach

By Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service

Blog archive

Federal Coach: The best leadership movies to get you inspired

(Fox's Federal Coach column was originally published on The Washington Post On Leadership site.)

There are many ways for federal managers to absorb the lessons of leadership—training courses, management books, advice columns like this one, conversations with peers and the on-the-job school of hard knocks.

But it’s the summertime and living should be easy. So sit back and consider watching an entertaining movie that can perhaps impart some insightful leadership lessons.

I thought I would share some of my own movie recommendations along with those of other leadership experts— movies that illustrate a wide variety of leadership challenges and approaches. You may not face the same kind of drama as these characters or achieve the same results, but the stories are inspiring and some of the lessons can be applied to the federal space.

At the top of my list is Miracle, which tells the true story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team led coach Herb Brooks. Brooks’ ability to find the right talent and bring the players together to work toward a common goal brought an unlikely victory over the heavily favored Soviet Union. Brooks was a demanding disciplinarian. While his style may not fit the average workplace, he had a vision, demanded excellence, got buy-in and inspired his team to perform far above expectations. Not a bad outcome!

Also on my list is Apollo 13, which embodies the leadership lesson that failure is not an option. Based on the true story of the 1970 Apollo lunar mission, Gene Kranz (played by Ed Harris) is in charge of flight operations in Houston while astronaut Jim Lovell (played by Tom Hanks) is the in-flight commander when there's an explosion aboard the spacecraft. The two men, facing the most stressful of circumstances, display teamwork, ingenuity, inventiveness and clearheaded direction.

Another must-see leadership movie is this year’s Best Picture winner, The King’s Speech, the story of King George VI of England who overcame a debilitating speech impediment to inspire the British during the darkest days of World War II. There are many lessons from this movie—a leader who admitted he had a problem, reached out for help and trusted people around him in order to succeed. It also is a story of perseverance and of keeping focused on a goal.

And of course, a leadership movie list is not complete without an example of what NOT to do as a leader. The best movie in this category by far is Office Space, the comedy about disgruntled IT workers who conspire to embezzle money from their uncaring and abusive boss. The movie is a clear illustration of a boss who doesn’t capitalize on the talent of his employees, doesn’t know how to handle poor performers and doesn’t provide his employees with meaningful work.

Duke University professor and leadership expert Joseph Leboeuf, Jr., also weighed in with some of his favorite leadership movies. He recommended Remember the Titans for its lessons on organizational change, transformational leadership and team building, and Gladiator, for its lessons on the power of duty, personal integrity and commitment to something outside of self.

The Partnership for Public Service’s Excellence in Government Fellows Coach Leah Kedar also offered the following recommendations for top leadership movies: Braveheart, Dead Poet’s Society, Working Girl, In Good Company, The Firm, Wall Street and Hoosiers.

Posted by Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service on Jul 12, 2011 at 4:02 PM

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