Movieclips Monday: Lessons in leadership
Last week my son celebrated his eighth grade graduation. The event got me thinking about a scene from “Dead Poets Society,” but first, before we jump into the clip, some background.
Last September a new teacher was introduced to my son’s eighth grade class. It was her first teaching job in five years, as she had taken some time off to raise her children, and it was her first time teaching the “big kids.” She was nervous but soon gained the children’s respect. The year turned out to be our school’s last (due to the consolidation of Philadelphia’s archdiocesan schools), and the teacher’s leadership brought my son’s class closer together than they had been years prior.
The teacher engaged the students in conversations, inspired them to improve, and shared with them some of her favorite and most inspiring movies — one of which provides today’s movie clip.
At the class’s graduation dinner on Wednesday, my son took the microphone and stated, “Words cannot describe how much we appreciate her, but I’m hoping this action will.” He took the chair beside him and stood on it, saying, “O Captain! My Captain!” The other 16 graduates followed suit throughout the decorated gymnasium, standing on the chairs at their tables and reciting the same line. Their teacher had set a goal not to cry that night, and for the first time this school year, she failed to meet her objective.
“Dead Poets Society” is about the importance of learning to think independently and the dangers of conformity. The movie also demonstrates, as my son’s teacher has, the importance of true leadership. In the film there’s a stark difference between Mr. Keating’s style of leadership and that of the other teachers. The other teachers are more traditional leaders. They are stern, highly disciplined, and use intimidation to maintain control. In contrast, Keating (played by Robin Williams) leads through quiet confidence and competence. His ability to inspire and behave differently endears him to the students and allows him to earn their respect rather than demand it.
We can learn key lessons from these leaders. First, treating your teams with respect is the best way to earn their respect in return. My son’s teacher did this by treating the students as young adults rather than as children. Second, demonstrating your passion for what you do will inspire others. In the film, Mr. Keating’s love of poetry is evident in how he speaks about it and in his rejection of cold poetry analysis in the beginning of the film. How often do we let our team see how passionate we are about what we do? Probably not often enough.
Lastly, get to know the members of your team. Mr. Keating interacted with each of the students and was a trusted adviser to them. My son’s teacher got to know each of them well and spoke of them individually as part of her final presentation.
I enjoy watching inspirational films and applying them to our daily lives and interactions with our teams. But it’s even better when we have real-life examples of leadership closer to home. Seek out those examples and learn as much as you can from them. It will make you a better leader and hopefully earn the respect of your teams.