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10 Tough Leadership Lessons from Great Movies

Think you’re up for the 3 a.m. phone call? How about turning around a Fortune 500 company that’s tanking? Maybe you want to launch the next Facebook. Or do you just want to be a competent community organizer?

by
James Jay Carafano

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July 29, 2014 - 11:00 am
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No matter what the dream, to make it come true takes leadership. Luckily, Hollywood can help. Here are 10 films that teach important lessons for leading in tough times.

10. How to Turn Failing into Winning

Twelve O’Clock High (1949) is set in the early days of the American daylight bombing raids over Nazi Germany. The Allied bombers are getting clobbered. Meet Gen. Frank Savage (Gregory Peck), who has just been put into command of a bomber wing that is falling apart. To make matters worse, the previous commander was well loved by all.  Savage has to earn their respect, instill the unit with vision and purpose, and turn his beleaguered bombers into a war-winning machine. Because the film is a realistic portrayal of the dynamics of turning around a failing organization, the U.S. Navy and Air Force still use it in leadership training.

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I received the US Navy version of the '12 O'clock High' training. Two full days spent taking the movie's lessons apart one-by-one. Excellent lesson plan well taught.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
Ack!

Elliot Ness was not an FBI agent. He was an agent of the U.S. Treasury Bureau of Prohibition.

Remember, it was taxes that he finally nailed Capone on.
13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (30)
All Comments   (30)
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Excellent films, though I haven't seen "The Goonies" and "The Damned United."

To your list, my add-ons:

"Bomber Command"
"12 Angry Men"
"Hoosiers"
"Remember the Titans!"
"Fail-Safe"
"Advise and Consent"
"Seven Days in May"

10 weeks ago
10 weeks ago Link To Comment
Tora! Tora! Tora! good bad leadership film but also bad film.. Making Pearl Harbor boring....thats hard
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
thanks for highlighting Bedford Incident as a leadership film, but used it in another list, could have been Caine Mutiny too similar lessons
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
I said Ness was a "G" man not FBI that's slang for government man and ought to apply to treasury agent, thought granted they slang G man used for FBI
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
there is a very good documentary on the Shackleton Expedition http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0264578/
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
Tora! Tora! Tora! is an interesting study of leadership gone bad.

A Man for All Seasons is only kinda sorta about leadership, but I'd stil be tempted to put it on the list.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
For my money, Bridge on the River Kwai--different brands of leadership and leaders, and deals with risks and failures as well as successes--Alec Guiness, Bill Holden, Jack Hawkins, Sessue Hayakawa, each a different kind of leader in a different situation, each succeeding and each failing. Not a rah rah piece, but if you really want to explore leadership and loyalty, what to do and what to be wary of, it's one of the best.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
Apollo 13: The finest film ever made about men solving problems.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hear freeking hear.

There was one line in that movie that I think encapsulated American engineering and dedication at its finest. And that line was not "Failure is not an option."

The line was: "I don't care what it was designed to do, I care about what it can do!" As in, I don't care what you were trained to do, I only care about what you can do now to fix this.

And that's my America. May it rest in peace, and be remembered fondly, now that it has obviously been replaced by something else that I do not recognize.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
When I made third class in the Navy way back in the day. We were shown two films one was " Twelve O'clock High" which showed good leadership. The other film was "The Bedford Incident" which showed poor leadership. I must say using "The Goonies" and "Volcano" as leadership films I must have missed something. Why not use " Howard Duck " on how to make a really bad decision?
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
Missing:
Band of Brothers.
Aliens.
High Noon.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
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