Tips and Techniques

Finding Leadership in Film

The Leadership Challenge model is an extremely powerful way to accurately and succinctly describe what leaders who accomplish the extraordinary do every day. Whether used in a presentation, with a class, or a workshop, The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® was created to keep the interest of even the most skeptical of listeners. However, having taught over 60 workshops and given over 100 lectures and classes that describe this leadership framework, it has become quite evident to us that keeping attendees focused on the material—despite its evidence base—can still be challenging.

Movie clips and videos serve as an excellent educational and entertaining method for facilitating discussions of key points around The Five Practices. Some learners have a natural tendency to be distracted, and if you aren’t talking really fast or using lots of other teaching aids, you risk losing them. We call this the “Sesame Street” phenomenon where you have to be singing, dancing, or wearing some sort of costume (or doing all three at the same time) during the education process to keep them focused. Some are natural cynics who want to see even more proof that the Practices and behaviors addressed in The Leadership Challenge actually work. And an excellent technique to entertain the easily distracted and to mollify skeptics is to supplement your discussion with videos or movie clips.

YouTube is where you’ll find hundreds of educational, entertaining, and unique videos that can be used to emphasize a key point about leadership. You’ll also find clips from a variety of movies such as Apollo 13, Gettysburg, Patton, A League of Their Own, Remember the Titans, Jerry Maguire, and a very recent movie called The Intern that offer great examples of leadership in action. (Be sure to research these to avoid violating copyright laws, however.)

TED Talks is also especially useful, with short clips featuring all types of industry experts talking about their research, experiences, and life stories to make key points. In fact, in our experience it will be hard for you NOT to find a TED Talk that applies to a particular point you are trying to make when teaching leadership. TED Talks by Simon Sinek, Stanley McChrystal, Colin Powell, Shawn Achor, Drew Dudley, Sheryl Sandberg, John Wooden, Rick Warren, Itay Talgam, and Chad Pegracke are just a few we have used in our presentations.

In some cases, you don’t have to show the video or movie clip, you can just remind attendees of the scene you want to reference and chances are quite good they have seen it and remember it. Regardless of the techniques used, movies and videos can help enhance your message as well as entertain. And we recommend the following process to help you maximize learning:

Time Required
15 minutes for introduction and viewing; 30 minutes or more for discussion and debrief

  1. Screen the movie or video completely before showing it to your audience. You don’t want any surprises such as inappropriate scenes or language. We recommend not exceeding 15 minutes per clip so you don’t lose your audience. 
  2. Before showing the movie or video clip, explain briefly what the audience will see, prepare them for special scenes so they don’t miss key learning points, and describe how these relate to a specific behavior or to one of The Five Practices. 
  3. Be sure to allow plenty of time to view the movie or video and for discussion after viewing. Depending on the size of the group this could mean up to 30 minutes. Divide large groups (10 or more), into subgroups of 5 or 6 and allow 15 minutes for small group discussion. Bring everyone together and allow small groups to share with the larger group the key points they saw and heard (remaining 15 minutes). 
Discussion and Debrief
We recommend you prepare key questions to help focus the audience during the discussion phase. We have learned over time that even when we find a video that works well in describing Enabling Others to Act, for example, other Practices can also be seen and discussed. We highly recommend you bring any other Practices into the discussion so participants can see how all the Practices work in concert to help leaders achieve extraordinary results. For example, we recently showed a short clip from the most recent movie called The Alamo. The scene we use in our teaching depicts LTC William B. Travis informing his soldiers that no help is coming to defend the mission. During that short scene, he clearly is Modeling the Way, Inspiring a Shared Vision, and Challenging the Process in addition to the primary focus of Enabling Others to Act.

Movies and video clips are a great way to enhance your teaching of The Leadership Challenge. Finding the resources isn’t hard. The hard part is sorting through all the material available. However, using a formal process for selecting and incorporating videos can maximize the return on your teaching.

Jody R. Rogers, PhD, FACHE, a university professor specializing in healthcare administration, and Jeff Haun are the only two Certified Masters of The Leadership Challenge within the U.S. Department of Defense. Together, they conduct numerous workshops within the Army Medical Department. Colonel Scooter Drennon and Dave Bitterman are Certified Facilitators of The Leadership Challenge and work closely with Rogers and Haun conducting workshops within the Army Medical Department and the Department of Defense. Jody can be reached at


Articles & Stories