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Cheap Training Tip #3: Leadership Goes to the Movies

Cheap Training Trick #3: Leadership Goes to the Movies

I ran across an old black & white documentary clip from the 1950’s on YouTube the other day and, after I stopped laughing, it got me thinking about using movies in schools and in adult educational programs. When I was in school, we used to cheer those days when the teacher had us watch a movie. Movies meant free time, (nap time for some), and few expectations for us all. Since the movie was always the teacher’s choice, brought on board because of its relevance to the topic at hand or its educational qualities, we as students weren’t that invested in the movie. As I started to teach in higher education, I also had a handful of my faves that I would use in the classroom to help to illustrate a key point or concept or idea. A few of my students would inevitably pick out the points I was hoping they’d find, but, more often than not, students just seemed bored.

While there is certainly a time and a place for the use of movies in workplace training classes, I am more convinced that students should do more of the work. It’s far more interesting and effective to your participants if they identify movies that reflect key learning points rather than you. Make the search for a movie as the actual assignment!

I introduced this approach in my leadership program to help participants more firmly grasp different leadership styles. This activity has become one of the top-rated workshops to date in my leadership programs! And the best part? Zero cost (okay, $25 bucks at the most) to run. Talk about an effective, cheap training trick, huh?

It’s a 2-parter. You’ll need to give students time in between sessions to research and identify their movies. Assign a reading ahead of time. Then, at the first session, review the reading and introduce your students to leadership styles. You can use whatever matrix of leadership styles is most relevant and useful to you, but I gravitate to Blake & Mouton’s Leadership Style Grid (Blake, R. R., & J. S. Mouton, The Managerial Grid, 1964,Houston: Gulf) or Daniel Goleman’s six leadership styles (Daniel Goleman, “Leadership that Gets Results,” Harvard Business Review, March-April 200, pp. 78-90, R00204). An assessment component is always good here, too.

Next, randomly divide the group down into smaller groups and have each group draw one of the leadership styles you’ve discussed. If your group is very large, you can have two or even three groups with the same leadership style.

The general assignment is to have each group find a contemporary movie or documentary with a character that illustrates the leadership style they drew. For example, if they drew the “coaching” style of leadership, the group would want to find a movie with a character who emphasizes learning & development and actively gives feedback about people’s strengths and needs; someone who takes a “try this” approach to developing others, putting his/her needs on the back burner for the sake of developing the individual or members of the team.

Let the groups know that the movie doesn’t have to be a text-book example – it’s often far more interesting to find a movie that shows struggles and how the leader overcomes these struggles by using this leadership style. And even a “bad” example of your leadership style can be informative.

Give your groups a short time to plan and organize. It’s up to them to figure out how to complete the activity as a team. Also, I let the groups know to select clips from the movie – we can’t watch entire movies! They should also be prepared to show the clip and discuss how this clip illustrates their leadership style. Give them a time limit – 20 minutes should be sufficient per group, but you decide.

By now you’ve probably guessed that groups come up with some amazing examples. The last group I ran through this activity came up with “Remember the Titans,” “Armageddon, “The Great Debaters,” and “Lean on Me,” to name but a few. “I will never watch a movie in the same way,” one participant replied. That’s what we want from our sessions: getting folks to learn and think on their own in ways that work for them.

A few things to consider: make sure you plan ahead and have the right technology on hand! You don’t want to tie up your time fussing over technology. And if your workshop happens in the afternoon, don’t forget the popcorn. Plenty of popcorn.

Total cost: Popcorn & movie-theatre candy = $25. Now that’s a cheap training trick.

If you try this activity, email me and let me know your outcome or any variations you come up with!

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Barbara Ann Smolko

I really like this idea! I work with a Watershed Council and we were always finding ourselves talking about books and movies so we started a book club and a film forum. I really like the idea of taking it a step further and asking people to come up with examples that illustrate a particular point. Thanks!

Midori Raymore

You and Joan Resnick should get together. She’s in Oregon and I had their groups Leadership course through work. They used some video and other clips plus many other creative ideas. I think Joan would really like this idea. She’s in gov loop and when she accepts my friend invite, I’ll point her to you.