Leadership Movies & Books

Whale Rider

Great movie about family, tradition, maintaining your identity and values in the modern world, passing leadership on to the next generation…and so much more. All of these issues are relevant in some way to the work world.

Whale Rider

Whale Rider (2005): Great movie about family, tradition, maintaining your identity and values in the modern world, passing leadership on to the next generation…and so much more. All of these issues are relevant in some way to the work world.

The movie features a quest for a new leader—a succession planning project. In the movie, the older generation is working hard to identify and develop younger leaders in order to preserve and protect the tradition, and lead their community into the future. The future of their community is at stake. As you watch the movie, track the different tactics that are used to develop the next generation of leaders. Purely at the tactical level: are they doing the right kind of things; what tactics are they missing; could they do more? Is there any other way—do we not also have to do the same kinds of things when we do succession planning in our organizations?

The new leader, it turns out, comes from an unsuspecting place. What can we learn from that about identifying our future leaders, casting a wide enough net, and giving as many people as possible opportunities to learn and grow (this is the underlying project of Gladwell’s Outliers)?

At first blush, you might assume that this leader and her situation (in the movie) are so unique that not much would apply to leadership in a modern organization. If you take a minute to list all this leader’s unique strengths, you will find that her strengths are shared by many leaders in all walks of life: she is persistent, courageous, and innovative; she cares deeply for her community; and so on. Which of those attributes and skills do you admire most; which have you seen in leaders you admire; which do you share; which do you want more of? It would be interesting to compare and contrast her strengths to those of Gandhi and Patton (other blogs, coming soon).

Note that she is also a bit of a rule breaker, a maverick (tough to use that word with a straight face after the US elections in 2008). Her disobedience is an enormous problem for the community’s leader.  Rule breaking poses real risks and dangers to a community or organization. It can disturb important practices that have been finely honed for generations; it can be a sign of disloyalty, and can even bring about mutiny. But is disobedience always bad? A certain kind of disobedience to tradition, or rule breaking, is also an essential ingredient of innovation, testing new ideas, charting new paths, and questioning the status quo.

This raises a very important question—extremely important to get right at a practical level: What kind of innovation and questioning, and how much of it, can we tolerate in our quest to build strong, healthy, functional, living, innovative cultures in our organizations?

The movie, finally, raises important questions about tradition and progress—tradition versus progress. Which is more important? Do we need them both? If so, what is the right kind of balance? And how can we have them both—how can we achieve this, practically speaking? With respect to your organization, which of your traditions are most worth preserving? And which of your traditions and core values can you preserve and honour even as you push hard for progress? These are real questions that organizational leaders need to ride.

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