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By Brian Mac Intyre
It was the summer of ’89. I had my dream part-time job, which was working in a cinema, courtesy of my J1 visa – and for a pop culture junkie, you can’t do much better than that.
A few movies made quite an impression on me that year at the Loews Cineplex, Copley Plaza in Boston. Copley Plaza was what the Americans call a “tony” shopping mall… so posh that there was even a swanky hotel inside it.
Sadly the cinema is no longer there, as I found out on my first visit back to Boston a quarter century later in 2014. But the leadership lessons I learned from those three months are still imprinted on my memory.
That’s because few mediums rival cinema in terms of imparting life lessons to millions around the world. Speaking of lessons, I remember clearly the rollercoaster of emotions that was Dead Poets Society.
“O Captain! My Captain!” is one of the most oft-quoted movies lines ever, sometimes even uttered by characters in other TV shows and films through the years. And if a captain isn’t a leader, then, well, you know the rest.
The second most famous quote is, of course, that old reliable from Latin class. Carpe diem is great advice for any leader to give to their troops.
English teacher John Keating (Robin Williams) is a truly transformational leader as he uses the power of poetry to embolden the teenage boys under his tutelage, ending in that famous scene where they clamber up on top of their desks to salute him. And it’s also a fitting tribute to the wondrous talents of Williams himself.
The next film I saw that summer was a sleeper of sorts, but it awakened me to the power of sports movies.
Most films in that genre are about underdogs triumphing against all the odds. But when you add magic realism to the mix, you get Field of Dreams.
At the start of it, Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) hears a voice imploring him: “If you build it, he will come.”
He keeps on hearing voices and so he seeks out reclusive author Terence Mann (James Earl Jones) for help in interpreting what he’s supposed to do.
At one point, Ray asks Terence what he wants. To which Mann replies: “I want them (his loyal readers) to stop looking to me for answers, begging me to speak again, write again, be a leader. I want them to start thinking for themselves.”
Isn’t that what any true leader wants from their followers?
(As it turns out, Ray was just wondering what Terence wanted to order from a hot dog stand!)
Ray himself displays leadership qualities when he goes with his gut instinct and builds a baseball diamond in his cornfields.
Later on in the film, the ghosts of Shoeless Joe Jackson and seven other Chicago White Sox players appear on his diamond, decades after they were banned from the game for throwing the World Series in 1919.
Ray risks everything, even his family farm, to fulfill his vision. And the payoff is, well, you’ll just have to watch.
Lastly, an inadvertent lesson in leadership comes from Tom Hanks. He starred in Turner and Hooch, a tale about a police detective who adopts a dog to find a killer.
Even though it was a hit at the box office that summer. Moviegoers had a bone to pick with Hanks about the movie’s controversial ending.
“I have to make a confession: I was the main proponent of killing Hooch,” he told BBC Radio 5.
“It was a Disney movie and when we were putting it together I stood up at a table and pounded my fist and said, in the grand Disney tradition of Old Yeller, ‘Hooch must die…’. And so they killed Hooch. We killed Hooch and we never should have. We should have, I guess, kept that doggy alive, so we wouldn’t have made the children cry.”
Admitting your mistakes – another great example of true leadership.