5 ‘Classic’ Films And What They Teach About Great Leadership

5 ‘Classic’ Films And What They Teach About Great Leadership

Anyone who knows me, knows I am a huge cinephile. I have learned more about life, love, work and business from movies than I care to admit. Whilst I don’t approach movies with a “what am I going to learn out of this” mindset as I do books I read, one of the common threads amongst my favourite movies is that almost by some imperceptible mechanism, they imprint a profound and important lesson on my brain.

So I thought I’d collate some of the people leadership lessons I’ve taken away from some of the “classics” as rated by IMDB. Whilst the tax man may not recognise movie watching as deductible professional development, it is certainly one of the cheapest, most fun, accessible and impactful leadership learning activities you can add to your kit bag.


The Shawshank Redemption: Hope In The Face Of Adversity


Andy Dufresne reminds us of the importance of hope in achieving a goal. Whilst most of your staff’s goals won’t revolve around breaking free from prison, teaching them about the value of hope — especially under tough, uncontrollable circumstances is an essential life lesson that will prepare your team for just about anything that gets thrown at them. Just knowing that you are interested in guiding them through the tough times as well as the good is a strong signal that can unify a team towards your mission and goals.

Memorable Quote: “Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies”

Further Reading: The Adversity Advantage

The Godfather Part 1: Know When To Be Calm And When To Act


Don Corleone teaches us that being successful, even in the brutal underworld, is not just about shootouts and standovers. Knowing when to negotiate, question, collaborate and when to get your hands dirty is a critical skill in being able to keep ahead of your rivals with only limited resources. Only when his options had dwindled, or he knew he had a strong position of advantage, did  Don Corleone take swift, decisive action that would have both an immediate tangible impact as well a lasting symbolic impact. Practising constantly thinking about your goals and adjusting your approach based on your evolving progress towards said goals is a master-stroke that allows you to reach them with a minimum of friction — all talk and collaboration often leaves critical tasks not done, but all action and no talk is madness and a surefire way to alienate your people. So think carefully before you make each successive move towards your goals — does it require you to use your head, or a strategically placed horse’s?

Memorable Quote: “Accidents don’t happen to people who take accidents as a personal insult”

Further Reading: The 48 Laws of Power

The Dark Knight: The Power Of A Symbol.


Symbols are one of the most powerful, intangible stores of value amongst human beings. Symbols can inspire us, scare us, puzzle us, make us consider our raison d’être. Batman has made the stylised bat emblem one of the most powerful symbols for justice in pop culture. “The Dark Knight” instalment in the Batman franchise completes the evolution of the Batman from a “masked crusader in a cape” to an actual symbol of hope and justice that galvanises the citizens of Gotham city against its criminal underbelly.  What are the powerful symbols that you can call on in your business that people and teams can get behind — and what do you want these symbols to represent? Many iconic retail companies turn their original founders’ values into symbols through in-store statues, plaques, trophies, recognition programs, awards — even on their logo. Find something that staff can truly believe in and aspire towards, then immortalise it in a symbol. Create a great symbol and you can transcend the need for those values to be manifested in actual people — deep huh.

Memorable Quote: “Because he’s not a hero. He’s a silent guardian. A watchful protector. A Dark Knight.”

Further Reading: Man and His Symbols

Schindler’s List: Look For The Good In Everyone.


Oskar Schindler was a greedy and mostly unenviable character who, after witnessing the brutality of the Nazis towards the Jews during World War 2, feels compelled to provide refuge for thousands of Jews by employing them in his factory — ultimately saving their lives from the German death squads. In this most fundamental of human transformations, Schindler shows, the given the right motivation and the right vision, most anyone can be inspired to strive towards great and noble things. This is one many people managers struggle with, staff who have something better in them, a greater alternative fate, but for whatever reason have chosen to take another path — the simple and accepted approach in business is to just “move them on” and forget. Reach out to staff with a need for redemption, make sure they know you’re taking an interest in them and give them the tools to improve themselves — an opportunity for atonement is one of the great motivators and drivers of loyalty.

Memorable Quote: “I know you have received orders from our commandant, which he has received from his superiors, to dispose of the population of this camp. Now would be the time to do it. Here they are; they’re all here. This is your opportunity. Or, you could leave, and return to your families as men instead of murderers”

Further Reading: How to Win Friends and Influence People

12 Angry Men: Question.


When twelve jurors are sent to deliberate on the murder trial of a young man, all except one is convinced that he is guilty. The lone, contrarian juror forces the rest to question the logic and reasoning behind their initial assertion of guilt. Slowly and slowly, the lone juror begins to pick apart the remaining jurors’ prejudices, theories, preconceptions and opinions to finally arrive at a set of facts that are an enormous departure from those that each juror made in the “heat of the moment”. Always question to get to the facts when hot heads and emotions cloud the issue is the takeaway here. Learn to continually question to get to the root of a problem and its causes — trust me, you’ll make better decisions and people will respect them (and you) much much more.

Further reading: Thinking Fast and Slow

Memorable Quote: “I’m not used to supposing. I’m just a working man. My boss does the supposing. But I’ll try one. Suppose you talk us all outa this and the kid really did knife his father?”

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