Leadership Hacks From The Movie : Saving Private Ryan

Saving Private Ryan is one of those movies that we can watch a couple times and still feel like the first time. I would tread lightly on discussing the gore of war, but it is more than just a war movie. The depth of emotions that came with each scene is just a few of the ingredients that made it amongst the greats.

I still remember the first time watching it. There were no online streaming sites, Netflix was not around and the internet was primarily for business or education, so we did what any movie fan would do in the early part of 2000’s–rent a VHS. If you are unfamiliar of what that is, well…, you missed a good chunk of your life so Google it now. I just remembered we still have the old player in my family home, it would be good to advise them to keep it, that piece of technology could become antique.

Saving Private Ryan is a 1998 American epic war film directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Robert Rodat. Set during the Invasion of Normandy in World War II, the film is known for its graphic portrayal of war, especially its depiction of the Omaha Beach assault during the Normandy landings. The film follows United States Army Rangers Captain John H. Miller (Tom Hanks) and his squad (Tom SizemoreEdward BurnsBarry PepperGiovanni RibisiVin DieselAdam Goldberg, and Jeremy Davies) as they search for a paratrooperPrivate first class James Francis Ryan (Matt Damon), the last surviving brother of four, the three other brothers having been killed in action. (Wikipedia)

The internet has volumes to say about the film. From behind-the-scenes stories, to trivia, to how Spielberg played with paradoxes. This article, however, will focus on some simpler perspectives, which is finding coroporate lessons that we can take away from the movie.

War educates the senses, calls into action the will, perfects the physical constitution, brings men into such swift and close collision in critical moments that man measures man

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Lesson 1 : Teams Need A Common Goal

In any organization, from the ground to the highest echelon of corporate structure, teams are seldom built by the leaders that will be at the helm. Frequently, leaders inherit teams. To have a part in building an entirely new team, collecting a preferred selection of talents, is a priviledge, not a lot of young leaders in today’s coporate context get the chance to (so if you have, count yourself lucky)

In the context that we will employing scenes from a war movie and relating it to coporate leadership, perhaps, it is safe to assume that just like in the military, especially in that of World War II; where units must be made and gathered to work seamless almost overnight, it is not unfair for organizations to ask their leaders to jive, mesh and integrate into their inherited or newly-built teams in the shortest time possible.

After all, the business world, would not have read Sun Tzu, if we cannot relate how they feel and think everyday to war (no pun intended).

The current challenge is, which is most likely a serious strain also since back then, is that teams need time to trust each other–which is fundemantal to any cooperation, collaboration and teamwork. Every team, is made up of diverse individuals with varying backgrounds, beliefs, experiences, personalities and preference. To expect them to simply be united in a matter of weeks or months, is a steep order indeed. Weirdly, how much time is needed, is yet to be fiured out–we just know, deep inside, that it needs time. Somewhere between a month, ideally, but no more than an eternity.

Team performance, unlike what most would think, is not simply a question of leadership. The success of any team goes far beyond education, experience and competency–of the individual members and the leader.

When a group of individuals are clustered together, may it be in a confined space or the proverbial boat, differences will arise. This is what we exactly see in the move as the unit received the order of going ahead to the frontlines, away from the from the action, to recover a Private named James Ryan. Yes, even a seasoned team that had been in many death-defying missions still disagree, argue and fight internally.

A compelling scene of how team dynamics really work and how leadership plays a crucial role in guiding talented individuals, is when the unit encounters a machine gun nest defended by an isolated crew of German soldiers.

Order, though, in his manner of communicating, proposing that the unit takes the machine gun nest down, Captain Miller was met with varied opinions and objections. The more prevalent ones being that, that it is needeless to take it down, that incoming forces can deal with them with the minority vote on taking it down so it will not be able to ambush others.

Saving Priate Ryan, Unit Huddle, Movie Scene
Unit discusses, then argues need to take down machine gun nest.

Imagine that! Battle-hardened soldiers, who earlier, had just been so frustrated to not see action, was now avoiding, what they considered to be needless conflict. We can only imagine, how peculiary frustrating it must have been for the Captain, but this is where leadership in the process of building teams come to life.

Seeing the hestitation and hearing the obviously selfish recommendations; Captain Miller demonstrates a lesson in what is right and leadership by initiating all preparations and even spearheading the attack.

In moments of hesitation, where teams break down as individuals, it is the leaders who cement trust, confidence and purpose. The best line ever said on the scene perhaps was the captain telling the boys, the objective has not changed, the objective is to win the war. A fine lesson in redireting teams towards something that will unite diversity in moments of discord–a relatable and sensibile goal.

Lesson 2 : The Burden Of Leadership Is Heavy

Someone said something about leaders being the ones to climb the tree to update everyone that we are in the wrong forest or something to that effect. For whatever its worth and the actual line is, whether it was Jack Welsch or John Maxwell who said it, it speaks true of the heavy burden of leadership.

Take for example the scene in the movie after the taking of the bunker. Neutralizing a dig fortified with machine guns and heavy artillery did not come easy nor without casualty. Their doctor died, in one of the most emotional scenes of the movies. It is easy to assume that after dealing death and seeing so much, people can just get used to it, but perhaps not. After seeing the soldier through his last moments, the Captain hides to shed tears of sorrow, regret and perhaps guilt. One can only imagine the feeling of losing someone in your command.

Just when you feel sorry for the Captain in the scene and you want to give him respite, he goes back to his unit and finds them arguing about what to do with the captured German soldiers. Do they kill them to ensure that they no longer participate in the war? Or should they let them go following the rules of the Geneva convention, and being that the nature of their mission cannot accomodate holding on to captives? Alot of viewers take this to be a discussion of morality, yet to this humble spectator, what struck me was how the Captain got everyone to harken togehter again as a team.

While everyone was almost pointing guns at each other due to the argument, the Captain takes on a bet that everyone had been having about what he did before joining the war. He asks how much the bet is on and shares that he used to be a teacher and how his decision is not entirely hinged now on what is right or wrong based on the articles of war, but on how he feels that every life he/they take, perhaps needelessly, makes him feel farther and farther away from home. It drove a point to everyone and what was just a heated argument a few seconds earlier, turned cold and everyone just had a reverberating resonance to the lines.

That is the burden of leadership; to cry and be unmoved; to suffer and stay calm, to be confused and yet confident, to be hope, when at times there seem to be none, and to be the epithet of what is right, ideal and good–because teams do not just look for success, much more than many care to admit, teams look for mearning in what they do.

Lesson 3 : Be Like Captain Miller

The movies starts with an elderly man kneeling at the resting place of who we are then introduced as Captain Miller. Miller and Ryan, did not know each other for long, they only spent weeks together in the most unlikely of situations. Yet, the effect Captain Miller had to Ryan was so profound that even after many years, up until his age of white hair, he still held the Captain in such high regard, enough that he would ask him if he had earned it (the last word’s the Captain uttered to him before dying, were, earn it)

Taken into such context, maybe, just maybe, the hallmark of leadership is to leave an indelible positive mark on the lives of others.

A tall and idealistic notion, which is absolutely easier said than done, but not impossible.

Just how did Captain Miller leave an mark on Private Ryan, though?

This article would like to claim that it was the Captain’s selflessness; his willingness to put the need of others before his, and his readiness to sacrifice so others can advance; be safe and progress–that made him unforgettable to the young Private.

Leaders of today juggle an extremely difficult role.

They are to ensure team efficiency in functioning for enteprise success and at the same time, accomodate the individual nuances and circumstances of each member. To leaders, young and old, who have people in their charge and care, these two must come first and second; to the expense of their own needs coming third (that is, if they are single, imagine where it lands if they have spouses, kids and other family members to care for).

It is absolutely exhausting, just imagining it, yet to a true leader, this is the source of fulfilment. True enough, Captain Miller dies in the movie, but knowing that he had ensured that safety of Private Ryan, he passed away, with the look of someone fulfilled. He had mentioned earlier, that every person he kills makes him feel farther away from home, this time, he helped someone get home and for whatever its worth; amidst everything–he felt closer to home.

Capt. Miller encourages Pvt. Ryan to live, tasking him to, “Earn It”.

If you are one of those leaders, who are selfless in helping their teams continually contribute to enterprise success while genuinely supporting the personal career advancement of those in you care–you deserve all the love and recognition!

Yes, the road must have been hard and will only get tougher. But your selfless attitude and fine behavior, amidst any and all circumstance, in every interaction with your team as whole and individually; will and is making ripples that improve human society, in its own little, but no less powerful way.

That time helped a new colleague finish his work, because he had just started at the expense of you staying longer in the office; that instance when you covered for a single mother who could not make it work to tend to her child even if you had to come in earlier to work on your items; that time when you genuinely thanked someone for their hard work; and most importantly that time when you made everyone feel that they are all valued, cared for and appreciated even if you had not been made to feel so yourself–is perhaps, how leaders can be like Captain Miller and leave an indelible positive effect on the lives of others.

Things I Learned From The Movie: Batman Begins

The Batman franchise has been, if not the most lucrative superhero movie on the cinema since the comics hit the screen to date. Over the years, and after many iterations of the caped crusader, there has never been a loss in appeal for fandom.


While many of us miss to recognize this, there is something about the life of Bruce and Batman, that connects the story to us, something in a very subtle way resonates with all of us profoundly.

Not entirely sure about everyone, but the fact that Batman has been the most filmed superhero in history, must account for that.

In this article, we will be referencing to the Batman in the Christopher Nolan trilogy. For me, each segment was just a masterful way to teach the deep philosophical queries we encounter every day.Some of which, we have either learned to ignore, left others to answer or are still figuring out.

And so, I am listing two things that I have learned from its first installment—Batman Begins.

Lesson 1, We All Need and Can Be an Alfred

In the Batman Begins, we see that as a child, teenager and even during his crime fighting years, Alfred had not just been integral, but crucial in the success of Bruce Wayne.

From caring for Bruce as kid, to welcoming him from Princeton even to picking him up when Scarecrow got the best of him—it will be fair to say, that there will have been no Batman without Alfred.

But it is not just in these moments, that we find how essential Alfred was to Bruce and Batman if we could treat those two differently.

alfredAlfred took care of Bruce as a boy, basically raised him up.

He watched over the family business, which must have been daunting, imagining the sharks that attend those board meetings.

Most importantly, as Bruce comes to his crusade, he had been his voice of reason, devil’s advocate, first fan, partner in crime, only friend and father.

Arguably, I will go as far as saying that maybe Alfred had been a better parent to Bruce than Thomas would have been. This by no way, discounts Thomas Wayne being a respectable man, but how many fathers, especially billionaire fathers support their boys’ decision to put on a mask, fight crime come home with broken angles or even worse (as wee in the course of the trilogy). I doubt there will be many.

alfred 2

Again this is subject for debate or another article. The point is, for all intents and purposes, perhaps without Alfred, there would be no Batman. The ultimate scene the encapsulates Alfred’s role in the mythos of Batman, for me, would be that scene where he takes the drugged Rachel Dawes home, comes back to rescue Bruce from getting killed as Wayne Manor burnt and reminding of why we fall—so we can get back up.

We all need an Alfred.

We need that parent, that we wish we had, that friend that knows how to throw witty sarcastic jokes (we had puns before memes), that person that allows us to experiment on who can be so our potential can come out, but wait patiently on the sides to catch us when we fall and redirect us when we go astray.

We can all be an Alfred.

We can be that friend that supports our friends in their wild imaginations, that friend who never gives on our friends, that friend that is always there to tell the hard truths, but at the same time give all out support.

Lesson 2, We Have to Be Who We Are Not, And Not Be Who We Are

In many scenes of the movie, particularly in the Batman Begins, we see Bruce having to show a personality quite contrary to his true self.

He unduly imposes himself by buying a hotel to let his escorts bathe in a decorative pool, acts like incapable to handle the family business and pushes people out of Wayne Manor on his birthday at his celebration. Rude, seemed an understatement.

Though, many of us think that these scenes were about showing how hard it is to maintain a normal life and truly those may well be specifically to detail that, I found a different context.

One scene that is less for the trailer, but quite captivating was that chance meet Bruce had with Rachel, after he exits the hotel he just purchased, because he can.

rachel dawes 2

That scene, where Bruce was trying so hard to be explain himself to be contrary to the actions Rachel sees is quite familiar, to me, if not for many of us.

You know, when we so badly want to tell people, that we are really something more, deep inside, and they tell us that our actions define who we are?

Well, I have been told that many times growing up. That for some reason, you cannot be artistic if you do not do art or be a god-fearing person if you skip church and have a tattoo or something. That you cannot be a good person, if you do bad.

While I disagree to that an all levels, I caution at the more popular interpretation of the just-be-yourself-digital-age wisdom.

For example, we cannot attend a funeral and act like we are having fun, be in a church service and sleep, be in class drunk or tardy at work for no reason. No, that is not the point here.

What I really mean, is that we are all forced to wear a mask, for reasons far less than Bruce. Some of them worth doing so, perhaps several that are not. While the mask maybe our real self, or the one we chose to show—like Rachel telling Bruce, that Bruce Wayne is the mask and Batman is the true persona, is subject for many debates, I just settle on the questions of—is it still worth it?

Even Bruce had to hang the cape.

Are you part of the LGBT community, but come home wearing a mask to be the person your family expects you to be? The corporate leader who has to keep the strong façade to secure authority, respect and leadership? Or the

umasked Bman

preacher’s kid who wants to study science over the Bible? Or maybe, that friend who had fallen for your best friend, but cannot tell them because he is not into same-gender relationships?

Whoever you may be, we have all worn masks.

The only thing that may be different from what Bruce does, to ours, it that at least at the end of the day, he takes the mas of knowing it has helped achieve something.

Is your mask helping you do so?