There is no shortage of advice out there for business leaders. From books to magazines to television – everywhere you turn someone is hawking ideas for c-suite executives. It can be a challenge to separate the useful from the useless.
In this cluttered landscape of business tips, a picture truly can be worth a thousand words. A motion picture, that is. Here are our top five Oscar-winning films that succeed in showing, instead of simply telling, valuable business lessons.
Be Customer-Focused, Not Competition-Focused
Taken prisoner, Maximus finds himself forced to fight to the death in the arenas of ancient Rome. Through a series of fights, he comes to learn that he is the performer in a particularly bloody form of entertainment and that his survival depends upon winning the support of the mob. When, after a brutal bout, Maximus exhorts the blood-lusty crowd at the Coliseum with the cry, “Are you not entertained?!?”, the line practically jumps from the screen. The takeaway: if you know your customers and deliver what they want (albeit not with Maximus’s obvious disdain), besting the competition will take care of itself.
Leaders Build Team Trust Through a Shared Bond
CIA agent Tony Mendez must smuggle a small group of American diplomats out of Iran during the Iranian Revolution. He knows it’s essential that they trust his leadership, but he starts out on the wrong foot, introducing himself with a false name while demanding that they memorize cover identities he has selected for them. When two of the diplomats balk, Mendez realizes he must reveal himself to win their faith. He tells them his real name and about his son, putting his life in their hands just as he asks them to put theirs in his. This mutual bond cements the team and gives them the cohesion to pull off the escape. The takeaway: a successful leader establishes stakes that are common to the whole team.
The Bridge On the River Kwai (1957)
Never Let The Task Obscure The Mission
When Japanese forces take British soldiers prisoner in Burma during the Second World War, the ranking British officers, Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson, convinces their Japanese captors to allow his troops to take over the construction of a strategically important bridge. The project raises the British soldiers’ spirits and maintains discipline. But, over time, Nicholson becomes so obsessed with the quality of his bridge that he loses sight of the fact that it will aid the enemy. When British commandos wire the bridge to explode Nicholson at first tries to stop them, only to realize his mistake in his dying moments, when he falls on the detonator and destroys his creation. The takeaway: executing tasks is important, but never at the cost of losing sight of the mission.
The Sting (1973)
Assume Hackers Are More Clever Than You Think
Con men Johnny Hooker and Henry Gondorf set out to avenge the death of their partner by swindling a crooked businessman, Doyle Lonnegan. To set the hook, they take advantage of Lonnegan’s pride and greed, convincing him that they are bookies who can place winning bets on horse races that have already been run. It sounds too good to be true, but Hooker and Gondorf are so careful in executing their grift that a wary Lonnegan and his henchmen – and even movie audiences – fail to spot it. The takeaway: in this age of rising cyber-threats against businesses and c-suite executives, business leaders should never assume they can spot the con.
Personal Integrity Fosters Lasting Alliances
Rick Blaine pretends not to have any beliefs. He runs a casino in Casablanca that hosts the best and the worst of humanity. But, underneath the veneer, Rick is a patriot and a man of deep convictions. When circumstances force Rick to choose between his professed neutrality and his personal integrity, he chooses the latter, helping the woman he loves to escape with her husband, a leader of the resistance. By revealing the values that he had previously treated as a vulnerability, Rick builds a lasting bond with a new ally, the local police commander, Louis Renault. The takeaway: business leaders who practice personal integrity find allies in unexpected places.
What is your favorite business lesson from a movie?