I guess it comes with the territory. If you teach leadership, conduct research on leadership development, and "breathe" leadership materials, you start seeing beautiful examples of leadership everywhere. So today I thought I'd start a new "theme" for my blog: I will bring in 100 examples of great leadership from various movies or TV shows.
My first choice is "Dead Poet Society" - a brilliant 1989 Peter Weir movie with Robin Williams, Robert Sean Leonard, and Ethan Hawke. If you haven't seen this movie, you should rush to rent it (or better still, purchase it for your library - this one is a keeper!)
Here is a brief synopsis: John Keating (Robin Williams) is a charismatic teacher in an all-boys school. Keating encourages the boys to live fully, enjoy literature and art, make their lives extraordinary. Watch as he tells the boys to "seize the day":
Mr. Keating's methods are unusual - for instance, in order to inspire the boys to use a different perspective, he tells them to step on his table.
Yes, Mr. Keating is an inspiring "once in a lifetime" leader - but he's not the one I pick as my first leadership example. After all, not everyone can be that exciting, original, or simply brilliant. Mr. Keating is one of a kind.
I invite you to meet a different kind of leader. This person does not need extraordinary gifts or charisma. All he or she needs is courage. I'm talking about Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke), a shy young boy who would probably be overlooked by any high-po seeker or recruiter.
Returning to the story: Ultimately, Mr. Keating is "too much" for the school establishment - too strong, too original, too out of the box. The school administration uses him as a scapegoat and fires him.
In this final scene, Todd Anderson leads his classmates in a final goodbye to honor his teacher. Watch as Anderson "grabs" his leadership moment.
In The Practice of Adaptive Leadership, Ronald Heifetz explains that leadership is not who you are - it's what you do. And leadership, Heifetz continues, is not even what you do all the time. It's what you do when you must motivate people too confront change.
Some people (Mr. Keating, perhaps) find leadership natural. They grab it as easily as they breathe. These people lead because people naturally look up to them, follow their steps, ask for inspiration.
That's great - we need these folks. But these are not the only people we need. We also need those of us who are not brilliant, natural leaders. We need us to seize the day, grab the moment. The moment to make lives extraordinary. Not our own, really - but others'.
We have a lot to learn from Todd Anderson.
About the Author
Dr. Cris Wildermuth is an Assistant Professor at Drake University, where she coordinates and teaches at the Master of Science in Leadership Development.