Administration and Leadership, Training

Leadership Lessons from the Movies

Issue 4 and Volume 38.

EMS managers usually find people competing for their time. Whether it’s a local official with an information request, an employee who has a problem or a citizen with a complaint, somebody usually wants a moment of your time. So sitting down to a movie and locking out everything else is a treat.

But movies aren’t always just about entertainment. Thinking back to the movies I’ve seen over the years, several include specific leadership and management lessons.

Here are some films I believe EMS managers can learn from in their spare time—and they just happen to be some of my favorites.

“Twelve O’Clock High”—This World War II movie probably has better leadership lessons than most leadership books. The movie centers on a general who takes over a bombing squadron that has had terrible luck, is suffering from low morale and has high casualties.

The leadership lesson I took away from this movie: Don’t micromanage. Instead, focus on providing your team with autonomy to make decisions. You show them the end goal by clearly stating the objectives and setting a path to the goal. The first few successes provide confidence for your team. I’ve always found that you do not have to micromanage paramedics. They are usually already problem solvers, smart and motivated to things a better way.

“Remember the Titans”—Tensions were high in 1971 in Alexandria, Va., as the school board closed one white and one black high school to create an integrated school. Coach Boone, who is black, is chosen to head the football team over Coach Yoast, who many consider to be the better coach and is white.

The movie shows how Boone and Yoast worked together to integrate a team where hostilities were initially high, but were overcome by excellent coaching and leadership that translated to success on the field. There are important lessons to learn from this movie as our EMS workforce continues to be increasingly diversified with increased representation by minority groups and women.

In addition to watching this movie, I had the opportunity to listen to the real Coach Herman Boone and Coach Bill Yoast speak about leadership. It was clear from their personalities why they succeeded at the challenge of taking a newly desegregated high school football team and turning it into a state champion in the first year.

“Apollo 13”—In this film, Gene Kranz, the flight director for the failed Apollo 13 mission, finds himself in the precarious position of needing to get three American astronauts safely back to earth after an explosion aboard their spacecraft causes them to abort a moon landing. Kranz is another person who I was able to see speak in person during a conference. 
Kranz provides the leadership during the crisis and leads his team to successful return the three astronauts back to earth. Some of his notable quotes from the movie include:

  • “Work the problem, people.”
  • “We’ve never lost an American in space; we’re sure as [heck] not going to lose one on my watch! Failure is not an option.”
  • “I don’t care what anything was designed to do. I care about what it can do.”
  • When the NASA director says that this could be the worst disaster in the history of NASA, Kranz cuts him off: “With all due respect sir, I think this is going to be our finest hour.”

EMS managers can learn from this movie how to manage a crisis—something every EMS manager will experience somewhere in their career.

“Braveheart”—In this movie, Mel Gibson portrays William Wallace, whose vision is a free Scotland, independent of British tyranny. Wallace is a good example of a servant leader who feels his leadership position exists to serve the people of Scotland by giving them freedom. Most people back in the day fought in battles because their land barons required them to fight to keep their jobs, houses and the land they worked. In Wallace’s case, he motivates his countrymen to fight for a cause they believe in. His only failure in the movie is motivating the nobles to rally around his cause; they remain focused on their own interests. EMS managers can learn from this movie how positive it can be when you unite your workforce towards a common cause.

“Saving Private Ryan”—Tom Hanks plays Captain John Miller, a Ranger battalion commander assigned to rescue the one remaining son of the Ryan family, the other three sons having died in battle within a few days of one another. The movie is an excellent example of leadership during crisis, brotherhood and sacrifice.

What’s even more interesting is that Miller was a school teacher from Pennsylvania before the war. What is it about teaching that made Miller able to move into a completely different leadership role, one where lives depended on his decisions? And how is he able to keep his squad singularly focused on finding Ryan?

EMS managers can learn from this movie how to keep a workforce focused on a mission, even during high-intensity events.

Learn from the Big Screen
This is by no means an exhaustive list of films that are both entertaining and instructive from a leadership perspective. I can even remember reading an article about the management lessons of the Godfather movies.

What are your favorite leadership movies? Feel free to write me and let me know. In the meantime, I’ll have my popcorn out, catching up on my latest leadership movie.