Leadership Hacks from Morpheus (The Matrix)

The Matrix is an American media franchise created by writers-directors the Wachowskis and producer Joel Silver. The series primarily consists of a trilogy of superhero films beginning with The Matrix (1999) and continuing with two sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions (both in 2003), all written and directed by the Wachowskis and produced by Joel Silver. The franchise is owned by Warner Bros.

The series features a cyberpunk story of the technological fall of mankind, in which the creation of artificial intelligence led the way to a race of self-aware machines that imprisoned mankind in a virtual reality system—the Matrix—to be farmed as a power source. Occasionally, some of the prisoners manage to break free from the system and, considered a threat, become pursued by the artificial intelligence both inside and outside of it. The films focus on the plight of Neo (Keanu Reeves), Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), and Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) trying to free humanity from the system while pursued by its guardians, such as Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving). (Wikipedia)

I remember watching this on VHS, something many of us here may remember well. At least, if you are a 90s kid. If, not, well a VHS tape is similar to a cassette tape, which again is a poor trigger for visualization, considering it may have went extinct at the same time, so I’m just putting a picture below.

VHS player and tape, the entertainment set of the 90s.
The entertainment set when I was a kid.

Before I get derailed again, I am tethering us to the topic of this article–Morpheus, the visionary captain of the Nebuchadnezzar in the Matrix franchise.

If you had read the first of this Leadership Hacks From movies series, Leadership Hacks From Erwin Smith, that is awesome and thank you for finding time, doing so means you already know why I have been trying my best to learn some leadership lessons from movies, TV series and the likes. For you friends, who are just tuning in, you may want to check that article out. The writing may be horrible, but the lessons, should be helpful.

There are three Leadership Lessons I have learned from Morpheus after watching The Matrix trilogy, until its fourth installment comes to the cinema, for the nth time.

Lesson 1: Leaders Inspire

I like to think that Zion, the last human city ruled by the council, was like the head office or the corporate center. Then the Nebuchadnezzar and the rest of the hovercraft entrusted to each captain and crew,easily, on the same context, would be teams, crew and departments.

Looking at it this way, it would not be to difficult to see yourself in Morpheus, may you be a supervisor, line manager or senior management, the burden of leadership is all the same. Different titles, varied jobs, but same roles nonetheless–to lead.

While we get to meet many more captains in the course of the trilogy, there was something that made Morpheus stand out from the rest–his ability to inspire. One can only imagine that amount of inspiration needed to get everyone on board the Nebuchadnezzar operationally performing. The task is truly Herculean and the word Herculean here is used to the fullest extent of it.

The crew of the Nebuchadnezzar, in The Matrix
The crew of the Nebuchadnezzar

To better appreciate the situation the offices of today offer free gyms, sauna, gaming rooms, vegan diets and many more perks bundled to keep the workforce happy and engaged. All that and maybe more, to encourage productivity, retention and engagement. Only to experience the same turn-over in employees, operational challenges and levels of disengagement. Yes, that right there is a puzzle many know the answer, to, but had not solved.

Anyway, our roles of today, are much easier compared to Morpheus’, but clearly he had better results minus all the perks. All that he had against the slew of stuff we now have at our disposal is that immeasurable capability to inspire. His will to anchor all his decisions, actions and drive to his core beliefs–which ultimately like gravity, just pulled everyone to its core.

This point takes us to the second lesson we can learn from Morpheus.

Lesson 2: Leaders Know Their Why

In The Matrix, Morpheus sacrificed himself to save Neo. Then in Matrix Revolutions, we see him let Neo take one hovercraft to Machine City for reasons Neo did not really fully articulate. Some of these decisions would have any current manager fired,or at least suspended.

When Morpheus allowed himself to be captured by Agent Smith, they were not quite sure if Neo really was the one and even still unsure if such really existed. Then, in the third installment, when the sentinels were storming Zion and all hovercraft was needed, he allowed Neo to take one for what seemed to everyone a hopeless act of desperation, when they could have brought all ships back to Zion and blast and EMP to their advantage in the war.

Morpheus undergoing torture after he sacrificed himself to save Neo.
Morpheus tortured post capture when he sacrificed himself for Neo.

All these actions where clearly not the most logical ones. In fact, their Commander, Locke, thought Morpheus had simply gone bonkers.

There is, however, underlying reasons to each and all of Morpheus’ decisions. He knew his why. He knew why he was fighting, why he was assigned to a hovercraft, why he was a captain and why he is different from the machines.

We may formulate different answers to the questions atop, but truly there was just one for Morpheus. He was fighting to end the fight, he was assigned to a hovercraft to end the fight, he was a captain to end the fight, he is different from the machines because we wants and will end the fight. Everything he did was anchored to his Why, his core beliefs, his being and purpose.

In organizations of today where roles are specialized, diverse and are multitude it is easy to lose sight of our Why. We have a different why as a person, as an employee and as a private individuals. We say that I am doing this because this is the most efficient way to complete the project, I am like this because I care for you and I am helping out because you are friend.

There is nothing wrong with that, for sure, but this siloed idealogy where we are different people to different roles, activities and times limit us from being the leaders we ought to be. Once a person finds the why, especially when a leader finds it, the viel that separates everything is removed and all becomes central to that core–the Why.

Instead of the reasons given above, it becomes–“I am doing this because I believe in making a difference, I care for you this way because I want to make a difference, I am helping you because I believe in making a difference”. As leaders, we cannot be a caring person at home and disconnected at work, neither can we be fun during engagement activities, but boring at meetings and most importantly we cannot be saying one thing and doing another.

Lesson 3: Leaders Believe In Their Teams

When Morpheus extracted Neo from the Matrix, he did so with the belief that he was the one. We are not privy as to how, though we get hints now and then. We know the Morpheus had observed Neo, who has then Mr. Anderson for quite some time and that there are some checklists that he was using as a criteria, which most likely was taken from either what the Oracle said or the prophecy,

In our corporate settings, we experience a very similar situation, too. When we are going through appications, interviewing people and all the more when we welcome them to the team. While we are not looking for the One, who will be saviour of the human race, the feeling is not entirely different. The suspense, apprehensions, and concerns mingled with hope and excitement in hiring a new colleague.

It is in this phase that we learn something from Morpheus on how he shows confidence in his crew, empowers them and makes them believe they can be bigger than themselves. To begin with, Morpheus had an on boarding and orientation process. He introduces Neo, the newbie, to the crew, then takes him to a simulated environment where Neo, the new hire, can show his ability and start learning the ropes.

Onboarding a new recruit, Morpheus style.

We do not know what Morpheus’ expectations are, but we can see from the team that being the One, definitely comes with some huge burden. Everyone seems to expect a stellar performance from the get go. This, too, is not very different when we welcome someone new to the team. Everyone will have expectations, either that the new member will be stellar or simply average, either ways, Neo’s simulation results simply demonstrated he was a newbie after all–he failed the jump simulation.

It bothered the team so much and it must have given Morpheus some thinking, too. You remember that first time you hired a new member, then the person just fumbles his way on the first day? It must have been like that. But the real leadership lesson here is what comes next.

The day after, he takes Neo to the Oracle. Yes, this was that door knob conversation about, “I can only show you the path”, but it what comes after that, should yield the real lesson.

Neo comes out of the room looking as confused as ever. Any manager today, will be worried about that. A confused look, more often than not, means disaster at work. But, as Neo starts to share what the Oracle told him, Morpheus waves his hand in the nonchalant fashion telling him that he had already heard what he was supposed to and that the message for Neo was for him alone. So where is the lesson here. It was the trust and confidence Morpheus imbued Neo.

It was his unfazed look of certainy in Neo and the series of events that led after, that contributed to Neo truly accepting his role as the One and being it. It was the trust he made Neo feel that made him become, who he hoped he would be.

In our teams where we do our best to avoid errors and opportunities, it is easy to doubt when someone new fumbles. We start questionning our hiring skills, process and maybe the training or onboarding. This even gets more piqued when the team feels that they are carrying the weight of the newbie and is not making things easier, rather tougher when the reason he was hired in the first place was to help out. What a nightmare it is, if you had felt and experience the situation, but the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar never really felt that way, nor did Morpheus who had to go through torture. The reason behind this, most likely, was that one Morpheus made everyone feel that same way he did Neo on their first day at work.

He believed in them and trusted them to deliver, and if they had opportunities he believed in them still.