Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Leadership in Films

Last Christmas, my wonderful wife gave me one of my favourite Christmas presents ever (probably just behind the Scalextric set I opened at 3am one Christmas morning a few years back...): a year's unlimited movie going to Cineworld. Since then, I have seen 67 movies, more than one a week on average. I love films and I love getting value for money too!

I chose to turn the movie going into something of a work project too: after each film I write a two paragraph review of film followed by two paragraphs on the leadership theme hiding between the frames of the movie. And I have done this with every film, not just the earnest and 'deep' ones.

So there are the leaderships themes from Frozen, Dallas Buyers Club, Interstellar and The Penguins of Madagascar. And many more: just click the label 'film' and you will see then all. Or if there is a film you are considering buying as a DVD, and it came out this year, there is a good chance I have reviewed it.

So what next? Well, I couldn't resist doing it again next year. So I have renewed my membership (hallo Cineworld, you have me for another year!) and will continue to blog about each film and leadership theme. If you want to follow my progress, you can subscribe to this blog or follow me on twitter: @JonSHarvey. I also use the hastag #leadershipinfilms

So I hope you have enjoyed my reviews so far and are looking forward to next year's films. I know I am!

Finally: Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year!!  (My Christmas Message video is here too)


Plucky penguins to the rescue!

The Penguins of Madagascar is a silly, silly film that is very, very funny. It feels like a return to the cartoons of the 50s and 60s which did not try to mimic real life but wallowed in the ridiculousness that the medium can allow. In this film, an octopus tries to destroy all penguins from a submarine the size of the QE2. Only a crack team of four penguins, who can manoeuvre a gondola on stilts through the streets of Venice can defeat him... See what I mean?

John Malkovitch is the voice of the Octopus and Benedict Cumberbatch the voice of the foxy leader of the 'North Wind'. See this film for no other reason than their acting. This is a great family film for all ages: truly. A family with a 5, a 10 and a 13 year old could enjoy this movie. It will also make you addicted to cheese puffs... (why weren't they selling them?)


Skipper is the kind of leader that we all want to see & be: fearless, always has a plan (even if he doesn't have one...!), appreciative of everyone's individual strengths and never gives up. Were the world to have more leaders like this plucky penguin!

The question to resolve for all leaders, is how do we get to be like this and remain like this? Leadership is often referred to as a journey: but it is not a straight journey from A to B. It twists and turns, goes back on itself and occasionally goes through tunnels with very little light, even at the end... Every leader has to know what is keeping them going.

What keeps you going?
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This is the sixty seventh of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Dragon's gold fever

For much of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Thorin Oakenshield stumbles around gripped by "I'd rather have a gold & bejeweled shield" fever. This is not unlike a director and set of producers stretching a short children's book into an epic trilogy in hope they can make more money on it that they did with their previous project. And inventing an elf (Tauriel) for a bit of love interest (and extra footage) all seems a bit desperate to me.

I liked the first film of the trilogy and a few national treasure actors saved the second, but the third is just one long fight fest that gets all rather tedious. I can't speak of the acting as there is little of it, although there could have been more. We could have seen the transitions of Thorin brought to life with sharp scripting and good acting, for example. Fans will flock in their droves of course but please know that the Hobbit is actually a very sweet story about the journey of an anti-hero. Read the book!


Oddly, for a film all about battles, whilst command is on display, not much leadership is. I am sure it had to be there: how else do you get a bunch of dwarves (who would rather be in the pub telling stories), elves (who would rather be living hundreds of years in a dell somewhere) and orcs (who would murder their granny in a blink, to get what they want) to fight as a team against each other - for so long?

I can only imagine that their leaders must have drawn their attention to a) the gold b) someone else getting the gold c) heroism d) survival as a race and e) more gold - or variations and mixtures on those themes. Leadership is about harmonics: finding the words and actions that will resonate with your followers so that they will follow you. Whilst some people just seem to know these chimes (you know, the so called 'born leaders'), most of us have to diligently research and test them. This means listening, even to uncomfortable truths and feedback.

How is your research into the harmonics of your followers?
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This is the sixty sixth of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Bear with me

One of my highlights of childhood Christmases was my regular gift of the new Blue Peter annual. Inside this treasure trove of delights was always a special Paddington story involving the crotchety next door neighbour, the hapless Browns and the bear with a hard stare. All of this is wonderfully transferred to the big screen in Paddington.

This is a gorgeous tale, written more for adults than children in my opinion. The people laughing loudest were the adults in the cinema appreciating the puns and embedded cinematic references. But mostly, under the fur, it is a story about migration. It celebrates the capacity of the British public to welcome not only a Peruvian immigrant but one from another species into their hearts and families. Do not go and see this if you are a UKIP supporter or holding on to some little Englander xenophobic view of the world. But do go and see this if you want to be charmed by a calamitous bear with a heart of South American silver and gold!


At one point in the film, Paddington is accused of lying which is seen as the worst possible betrayal of the trust he has been shown by the Brown family. (He isn't lying, of course!) This reminded me of the most important aspect of solid leadership: telling the truth.

Yes, leaders may sometimes have to be a little economical and not say everything that they know. And at other times, a small amount of gilding is probably allowed. But outright lying and deliberately telling a falsehood is something no good leader will ever do. (A problem comes when leaders are lying to themselves and lose track of what is true and what is not...)

Have you ever been lied to by a leader you had learned to respect? What then happened?

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This is the sixty fifth of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

With HOPE in your heart

Since discovering 'Adopt-a-word' (a way of supporting the 'I Can' charity which helps children and young people to communicate), I have chosen a word for the forthcoming year. You can read about my previous words here. For this coming year, I have chosen:


Why hope?

Because, quite simply, hope is what keeps me going. And I suspect I am not alone in that. When I wrestle with my own personal, professional and political challenges, it is my hope that things can and will get better, that keeps my chin up. If I did not have hope, I would give up now. Hope is the basis of my actions to build a better world, (and be the dad, husband, son, family member, friend... human being that I wish to be).

Sometimes, I feel daunted by just how much hope I have for my family, my friends and the wider world. I feel daunted because there is so much to hope for: a world in which everyone gets the opportunity to dream and to have the resources to realise those dreams and ambitions. And when bad things happen in the world that are taking us in the opposite direction, I have to ramp up my hope some more.

Every now and then, I come across shining examples of where other people are committing to hope as well: hope for a better, fairer and more peaceful world. And this feels good: my 'hope batteries' get a recharge.

And in the last 24 hours, we have had this in bucketfuls! The tragic events in Sydney have been broadcast around the world and three people have died. Others have been seriously wounded. (My thoughts are with them and their close ones.) It would have been all too easy for this news to be turned into hate for people who follow Islam. Instead, a random story of compassion (originally not posted for public consumption) has grabbed the headlines and the #Illridewithyou hashtag has taken over international social media. For me this represents a determined faith in the unity of all and solidarity with everyone: never say for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee. The #Illridewithyou hashtag is a defiant act of love against those who would use the Sydney siege to foster hate & fragmentation.

The hashtag is also a act of hope: hope for a world in which peace, tolerance and humanity thrive and grow, (while violence, hate and bigotry wither away).

And so with hope in our hearts, none of us ever have to walk alone...


May I wish you abundant seasonal greetings, whatever faith or none that you have, and I hope that you will join me in hoping for an amazing 2015 for everyone in the world!

Monday, 1 December 2014

Horrible leadership

Horrible Bosses 2 was an inevitable but slightly contrived sequel that I saw mainly because it fitted in with schedule. (I really wanted to see Paddington but I arrived too late!) But I am glad I did: several laugh out loud moments made this an enjoyable frolic through an increasingly ludicrous story.

The cameos by the likes of Kevin Spacey and Jamie Foxx add some real spice to the movie (although I think Jennifer Aniston has still to discover her post Friends ouvre...). Overall it delivers a successful comedic punch. So suspend disbelief, forget the first film and enjoy this one!


As this is a film about horrible bosses, the film is bursting with examples of poor management, lousy leadership and unethical business practices! But this blog likes to highlight the good leadership themes contained withing movies so I will focus on the role played by Kevin Spacey.

His character is a little rough around the edges but he is very clear and concise in his business dealings with the three hapless friends at the centre of the film. He is intense and they all know where he stands, albeit a little bruised by his company!

Are you as clear, concise and intense as Kevin Spacey's character?

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This is the sixty fourth of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Panis et circenses

The Hunger Games series has gained a broad span of fans: the cinema was full of women & men of all ages to see the 3 films in succession last Wednesday evening. Mockingjay part one did not disappoint although this film is more psychological and satirical than the previous two. The acting is top notch & the special effects seamless.

The film is dedicated to Phillip Seymour Hoffman who tragically committed suicide during filming. His contribution to the movie is immense. This film should be seen by all if only to make people question the media pap we are often fed. But also see it because this story will grip you as you wonder how it will all end. (You may be surprised - if they follow the book...)


There are many models of leadership on display in the film. I will focus on one: Haymitch. (Not who you were expecting?) He is a constant through out the films, always at Katniss' side: advising, goading, distracting, nudging...and drunk most of the time. But without him, the heroine would have died two films ago.

But what makes him a good leader? He is honest & straight in his feedback. He knows what help Katniss needs. When he is needed, he is there. He is setting strategy mindful of many factors. Despite many reasons to be cynical, he rises above that.

Do you have a Haymitch in your life?

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This is the sixty third of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Imagine this: a computer that saved millions of lives

I loved the line in The Imitation Game, used more than once: “Sometimes it’s the very people no one can imagine doing anything who do things no one can imagine”. In our modern day, Alan Turing would be called a geek, perhaps told he had Asberger's... but he would not have been prosecuted for being homosexual and forced to receive hormonal 'treatment' (at least not in progressive countries).

While Ada Lovelace is the mother of computing (and perhaps a film needs to be made of her life too, one day), this is the story of the father of modern computing. Put simply, the work of Mr Turing and his team at Bletchley Park shortened the second world war by at least two years, possibly longer. I can rave about the acting (Benedict Cumberbatch is stupendous and Keira Knightley shows great depth) but I will also rave about the costumes and sets: both superbly done. This is an evocative and provocative film that you simply must go and see.


This film might have been sub titled: Secrets & Sacrifices. In common with most war films, this is a story of sacrifice, but not in the usual way. Part of the sacrifice was to give up, almost for ever, telling the truth. This might sit easily with the agent of MI6 (who adds more humour than I expected to the film), but it does not rest easily with the team of geeks who wrestle with playing God and almost literally rolling the dice.

And so it is for leaders too. Leaders cannot always tell the whole truth for a whole range of reasons. Secrets must sometimes be kept. We all keep secrets: arguably it is what defines being an adult. But leaders have to appear open and transparent even when they know they are not being so. This requires some considerable mental & moral juggling combined with a high degree of care in what is said publicly

As leaders, where do you learn how to do this?

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This is the sixty second of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Magnificent will and lasting testament

I saw Tony Benn: Will and Testament at the Film Place in Buckingham. (It is not the kind of film that I would expect Cineworld to show, although I wish that they would.) As you might expect this is a biographical film about the late, great Tony Benn. Many people on the Left admire him as the one true socialist to ever obtain ministerial office in the UK. Many others (also on the Left) despise him as a loony that kept Labour from power during the dark days of Thatcherite rule. The Right have demonised him also, unsurprisingly.

What comes through in the movie is genial and wise old man who spent his life thinking about what were the right and wrong things to do. You may not always agree with his conclusions but, if you see the film, you cannot doubt his commitment to thinking deeply about the moral questions of our age. This is a reverential film about a historical figure who will one day have a statue in the halls of the Palace of Westminster.


Leaders cannot duck moral questions. We might think we can in the pursuit of better performance, higher efficiency and greater effectiveness but we would be deluding ourselves and those that we lead. Arguably, every leadership decision is a moral one: leaders are constantly juggling in whose interests certain decisions are made or not made.

In the film, Tony Benn talks about his lifelong commitment to fanning two flames: the flame of anger at the injustice in the world, and the flame of hope to make things better in the future. He said that he wanted his epitaph to be "he encouraged us". Shouldn't that a fitting epitaph for all leaders?

How do you encourage people?

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This is the sixty first of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

We can all have bad days but...

Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is jolly romping slapstick of a movie that I really enjoyed. There are no Oscar winning acting performances (although watch out for the lead boy when he grows older, I think he is gong to be very good), but it is not that kind of film. What is delightful is that it has some unexpected twists and turns, including a cameo performance from the legendary Dick Van Dyke.

Basic plotline: cuckoo in the nest pubescent boy who seems to always have bad days while the rest of his family have perfect ones, wishes his family they could experience a little of what happens to him. And they do... big time! Cue silly moments involving a disastrous driving exam, a drunk Peter Pan & a green marker pen that may to may not be poisonous... It's fun.


The lesson of this film is a very, very simple one: we can all have bad days but it is what you do with them that matters. All (well, almost all perhaps) bad days can be turned into good ones by a combination of grit, team work & loyalty, and a sense of abandon (in for a penny... etc) And the magical "when it's over, it's over... but not until then".

Leaders (and in the case of this film, there are three) have a critical role to play in this creating the environment in which such learning (or what to do with bad days) can occur. Leaders must show their capacity to do this and praise others for doing it too. Leaders also have the responsibility to make it OK for people to make mistakes and have a bad day, sometimes. It is a critical!

When was the last bad day that you had... what did you do with it? And what/who helped you to do that?

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This is the sixtieth of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Zig zagging through love and life

Say When (or Laggies as it is known in the US) wasn't quite the film I was expecting... For a start, I didn't know that it was set in Seattle and Kiera Knightly has an American accent. I spent a good portion of the film wondering where it was going, but maybe that was the point..?

This romcom breaks quite a few rules. For example it mixes 20 something romantic dilemmas with teen something ones in a way I have not met before. It is a cute film, it will keep you guessing, and it will challenge you to wonder about relationships as all good romcoms do. So, I am not very wild about the movie but if you're a Kiera fan (as I am), you will enjoy this.


This is a film about someone finding herself after she realises that she is suddenly out of kilter with the world she inhabits. So she goes to inhabit another world for a short while, to give her a fresh perspective. Although, that is not quite what happens, as the main character's experience is not linear in the narrative. It jumps around.

And I was left feeling that isn't that what life is like anyway? Leaders may like to pretend that improvement and change are linear and progressive but actually it is usually a question of 3 steps forward and 2 steps back in a different direction. So good leaders are flexible and light on their feet, while being patient enough to know that change zig zags around. The general direction is what is important not the specific steps.

When did you last zig zag?
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This is the fifty ninth of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Somewhere, over the horizon...

I went to see InterStellar expecting to be impressed and delighted with a well made film. I was a little anxious about the 169 minute length. I didn't expect to be blown away by the scale, depth and sheer bloomin' humanity of this movie. I cannot praise it highly enough. You must, must, must see this film!! This is a movie I will be telling my grandchildren to watch (when I have some and they have reached a suitable age!)

From one perspective, this is a very straightforward film with a very simple story. From another angle, it is as rich, satisfying and complex as Midsummer Night's Dream, 2001, Mary Poppins, and Dr Zhivago all rolled into one. An unforgettable epic which will change you.


Leaders often talk about a going on a journey as a metaphor for change or transformation. Indeed, I cut my organisational development teeth using the book written by my then boss called "The Journey to Excellence". It is an evocative and practical metaphor.

But as in this film, leadership is not really a journey around the stars, or from A to B. It is in fact, no journey at all because leadership happens inside us. Like the spaceship in the film, leadership is about spinning: turning ourselves around, weaving new perspectives and going deeper... if we allow ourselves to do so.

What is spinning inside you right now?

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This is the fifty eighth of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Letting go of secrets & lies...

What We Did on Our Holiday is a peach of a movie. Building on the winning formula of Outnumbered, where children take a central role in the humorous narrative, this is a film to delight, entrance, move and generally make you laugh out loud. I giggled & chortled through most of this film. And when I wasn't doing either, I was probably shedding a few tears. This is a rich and warm film: as beautiful and powerful as the highlands of Scotland.

The film is about how adults teach children to tell the truth yet all the while drawing them in to our untruths, secrets and lies. Billy Connolly plays the kind of grandfather that every child should have: funny, adoring and above all, truth telling. And you will have to see the film to understand how much the children believe him and believe in him. This film will charm you. (PS and if Andy Hamilton doesn't get a knighthood soon, there is no justice in the honours system!)


This may not be an exact quote, but at one point in the film Gordie (Connolly) says that not all parts of life should be written down as it doesn't help. He is making the point that some things should not be documented. To this I would add, not all things should be recorded either.

Over the weekend I was having a debate about people's rights to privacy and how we are creating a world in which some of our most intimate and now even most tragic parts of human life are subject to youtube scores, facebook likes or retweeting. We need to be sure that what we record (and especially make digital) is going to add to the world not subtract from it. Leadership is about making those fine judgments too: when is it right to move past things and allow them to disappear like a puff of smoke... and when not to do this...

What do you record? What do you let slip away?

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This is the fifty seventh of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Going, going, gone... girl

Gone Girl will keep you guessing until the end and then even beyond! It is one of those films that will grip you and fling you around like dog with a stick. At various points you might speculate that you have an idea what is going to happen, but you will be wrong, so wrong!

This is a slick movie with some fine scripting and smooth, very cool acting. Watch the eyes of the main characters especially: they tell the real story of what is happening all along. Even though it is two and half hours, this will pass by in minutes and you will be left wondering why you did not finish your popcorn... This is a film to go and see!


Gone Girl is all about image and how image can destroy you or uplift you. Some people seem to think that leadership can also be a stage act. Wear the right clothes, put on the right face, take the right stimulants and it's showtime folks! But what the film also shows is that image is a very fragile thing.

Appearance and the appearance of confidence matter. Of course they do. But they can only take you so far. Good leadership has substance that is far more than skin deep. Leaders have to look beyond their own mirrors.

What are you reflecting on today?

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This is the fifty sixth of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Never give up!

I awoke yesterday morning to the breathtaking news that an Anglo-Polish team had managed to use a man's nasal nerves to repair his spine and restore some life changing functionality to his lower body. Amazing! For me, this was a Christiaan Barnard moment: a genuine breakthrough in medical science. My hearty congratulations to everyone involved, not least the courageous patient at the centre of it all.

I listened to a humble, excited and indeed 'frightened' Professor Geoffrey Raisman on BBC Radio 4 talking about how his research had begun in the 1970's. He said he was frightened (I think) because the future is now so pregnant with possibilities for thousands of people, that it is so daunting and scary.

This is of course just one case and replication will be a critical next step. But I cannot express how excited I am at the idea that our bodies can be helped to repair themselves in ways that we never thought possible. If this research can lead to treatments that can help people regain control of their limbs, bodily functions (including breathing) after traumatic injury or strokes: this is truly momentous!

All of which got me thinking: are we using all the technology available to us to build community safety, prevent crime, reduce road fatalities and generally achieve an even more peaceful society? What crime prevention ideas have been bubbling around for 30+ years (in the heads of people like Professor Geoffrey Raisman) that are doggedly being pursued but which have not yet made it, as it were?

And by technology, I don't just mean the machines that go ping or the clever use of biology or chemistry: critical though they are. I also mean the new ways of thinking, the news ways of practising that can really make a difference...

For me, one of the key ideas in this latest news above, is "don't give up": if you think you know of a way that will help humankind, stick at it! It may take you 40 years but if you know it can work...

And it all comes back to leadership: the best leaders in the world listen lots and look for every which way to support innovation in practice. How is your leadership doing?

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Cowabunga!!

My son was heavily into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when they first arrived on the scene 20 odd years ago. So it was with a sense of warm nostalgia for those days when my son was very young and delightful (in the way that small boys are - though he is still wonderful now!), that I sat down to enjoy the film. I was expecting good CGI, a loose and not too complex story with some convincing acting. I was not disappointed, indeed I was thrilled! There is even a cameo performance from one of my favourite actresses: Whoopi Goldberg (who I still think would make a fantastic Dr Who).

This film is a glorious romp that does not take itself seriously: these are teenage mutant ninja turtles after all! The film bubbles with heroism, silliness, beauty (of NYC) & good baddies! The narrative is entirely predictable but enjoyable as a consequence. Go and see it with some popcorn, maybe even clutching a small figurine.


This film is all about having fun while doing some very serious and important things. Batman never laughs and Clark Kent only just manages a half smile. Do the X-Men ever have a party? Probably not: the weight of saving the world weighs heavy on most super hero shoulders.

But what this film suggests that is having fun is part of it. How many leaders do you know who can engender a sense of fun and joy? As a leader, how do you balance the serious stuff with the fun stuff? When was the last time people saw you laugh or just do something a little less of ponderous importance?

How do you make work.. fun?

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This is the fifty fifth of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Bread & Roses

Pride is a sumptuous and joyous film of the very highest order. It tells the true story of how a group of gay men and lesbians decided to raise money in support of striking miners in 1984 & 1985. The narrative tension pivots on the culture clash between the cosmopolitan bohemian London activists on the one hand and that of miners & their families from a traditional and small Welsh town on the other. The fusion will warm you, inspire you and delight you.

The acting, costumes and sets are top notch: evoking an authentic reminiscence of that time in British history. Bill Nighy is wonderfully understated while Dominic West quite the opposite. Meanwhile Imelda Staunton & Jessica Gunning are as solid as tweed and tins of baked beans. And the lead actor, Ben Schnetzer, is luminous. This is a must see film!



This film is peppered with profound & diverse leadership in so many places, it is difficult to know which theme to choose to highlight. Huge dollops of tenacity, humility, determination to succeed, courage, curiosity, honesty and of course pride & confidence are all on display. Another huge theme, if not the whole plot, is about finessing adversity.

This is epitomised in one part of the story where the activists are referred to as 'perverts'. They decide to own the word, turn it around and use it ironically to build their campaign. How many leaders are able to take an insult and bat it back like a cricket ball? Good leaders are not just robust, they are robustly ironic too.

Does your leadership cricket bat need any linseed oil?


And I must offer a special plug for a song which features in the film: Bread & Roses. It is sung beautifully by Bronwen Lewis. Click here to be enchanted.

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This is the fifty fourth of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Navigating by stars

David Cronenberg is not known for his frothy romcoms, so I was not expecting to 'enjoy' Maps to the Stars. I was correct. This is a dark movie about not just Hollywood's 'underbelly' but the desperation between its toes and under its fingernails... This is a gripping and tragic film that will draw you inexorably into its sticky and glutinous morality.

The acting is steely, cold and understated: delivering performances that will chill and greatly impress you for their naked honesty. If you want to see how ambition, arrogance and greed can corrupt people, this is the film for you. And be impressed by the make-up too: it cannot be easy to make someone look like they are not wearing make up quite so well. This is a film strictly for hacks & fans, I would say. And which probably explains why there were only a dozen people in the cinema watching it on a Friday night. Nonetheless it is a film to see.


A central theme of this film is about saying sorry and seeking forgiveness and thence capacity of the wronged people to be able and willing to forgive. It is not easy doing either, as the film so graphically shows.

I saw a poll the other day which listed the qualities of politicians that people respect the most (and dislike the most). High on the list, if not at the top from my recollection, was the capacity and willingness to apologise.  I think we expect the same of any leader. We all make mistakes and leaders are no different. The mark of an excellent leader is one who can truly say sorry (something I have blogged about before) when the need arises.

How good are you at saying sorry?

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This is the fifty third of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Not the Oxford that I know...

I lived in Oxford for twenty years. Even so, I was always aware that much of it was hidden to me behind the bowler hatted door stewards and alluring gates to the various quads. The Riot Club appears to open a few doors on a side of Oxford I was only dimly aware of...

This is a chilling film that will lower the temperature of your bones. The basic story: boys club plus tribal arrogance plus copious alcohol results in some very unsavoury things happening. You get the gist I am sure. It is tightly acted and directed with the visual treat of an Oxford stage. This is a film to see and speculate on how much of it could be true...


The clear message of this film is that all the members of the club are future legendary leaders of the country who will be bound by the chivalrous pack of one for all and all for one. It is a tale of deep clan loyalty built on shared self interest. (There are no prizes for guessing the connections this story is seeking to make...)

One of the questions the film left me with was: how much of leadership power is borne of credibility built on action by the leader her/himself, and how much does this power arise from past loyalty & favours bestowed or sealed? And what is the optimal balance?

From where does your leadership power arise?

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This is the fifty second of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Is sex funny?

Sex Tape starts with the interesting premise: to what lengths would you go if you thought that a private video of you & your partner having sex had been made public against your intentions? The movie suggests, short of murder, quite a long way... Ignoring some of the glaring narrative holes in the plot line, this film is funny in parts... but also rather cringe-worthy in other parts.

The two main actors are, of course, very bankable stars with deep comedic roots. But if I was left wondering whether Jason Segel co-wrote this just so that he could get naked with Cameron Diaz, then I am not sure the film works. I ought to have been immersed in the story rather than looping out into wondering about the film's provenance. The best bit was Jack Black ironically dispensing relationship advice. The film is OK but it is not brilliant. It is certainly not a date movie unless you have been with your partner for quite a while...!


Part of the comedic tension rests on the conflict between the public and private personas of the main characters, especially the one played by Ms Diaz. The risk is that her image will be tainted by the disclosure of the other...

Even before the advent of social media and 'the cloud' (which, as Ms Diaz points out in the movie, is merely someone else's computer), leaders have faced this challenge. It is called 'walking the talk', professional integrity or ensuring your deeds match words etc. Of course every leader believes she/he has integrity. But in a leadership role it is about what other people think... So it is vital that leaders get this feedback.

Who gives you honest feedback on whether your words and deed match? 

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This is the fifty first of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

I am amazed that some films are made

I saw Maze Runner in a cavernous auditorium surrounded by whispering Serbs reading the subtitles. So it was maybe not the best place to appreciate this movie. The film is something like a cross between Lost, Lord of the Flies and Sinbad. It left me cold and with an overwhelming desire to take the 'copy & paste' function away from CGI programmers.

The acting, plot line and direction were as clunky and wooden as a puppet on a string. The twists were 'meh' and it contained about as much suspense as salt & sugar bag of popcorn (gosh... will this be a sweet or a salty mouthful...?!). The end features one of the most shameless set-ups for a sequel that I have ever seen. So don't bother: not even if I you are bored late at night in an Eastern European city...

"Hey, look... I think I can see a story in there somewhere... maybe?"

Leadership is a big theme within the film: as in 'who exactly is the leader?' But among the staged fights, heroic deeds and muscular camaraderie, there is a quieter form of leadership that relies upon thinking, contemplation and analysis. Without this kind of leadership, the story could not have ended (well... sort of ended: see above).

Of course, there will always be the need for bold & extrovert leadership that provides a visible focus for people to focus their energies and spirit upon. But where there is yang, there must also be yin to achieve balance and sustainable progress.

Does yin leadership balance with yang leadership in your organisation?

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This is the fiftieth of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Twist & shaking off the past

SPOILER ALERT: I went to see Before I Go To Sleep last night.

Having just about recovered from a trailer to a horror movie that I am definitely not going to see, I settled down to the film billed as "an intriguing amnesia thriller with an extraordinary twist!" This meant I spent almost the whole time trying to guess what the twist was going to be. (Please note Cineworld: declaring there to be a twist is akin to a spoiler - which is why I have put this at the top of this blog)

As for the movie, it just was not taut enough for me. I am not sure how many 'amnesia thrillers' there have been (is this a genre that I need to study more?) but I don't think this is one of the best. It just felt a bit too heavily ladled with clue hints to the audience. Technically the movie is proficient, the acting solid (as you would expect from the cast) but something was missing. But maybe all the narrative twists have been deployed before?


Leadership is about change and developing organisations to do things differently in a changing world. Learning new skills, exploring new outlooks on the world and adjusting personal, as well as organisational, strategies is mix of acquiring something new and forgetting something old.

In other words, learning something new is also almost invariably about unlearning something old. So as a leader, it is your job not only to usher in the new, but also assist yourself and others unlearn the old. This means, at the very least, highlighting this fact and allowing people time to decouple themselves from the old ways. A bit of managed amnesia, if you like.

When was the last time you helped someone forget an old skill or outlook? What did you learn about how best to do this?

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This is the forty ninth of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Baseball movies usually do nothing for me...

Being a Brit, I have always failed to grasp the quasi religious obsession that America has with baseball and therefore baseball based movies. But Million Dollar Arm is different. Not many films make me punch the air with elation, but this one did! This is a peach of film that will leave you glowing like the Taj Mahal at sunset. Go see it. You will be uplifted.

The acting is superb: understated but completely authentic. The story, as all true stories are, is a classic mix of ups & downs, "will he/she/they, won't they/she/he" moments and a sumptuous & satisfying conclusion. The photography is evocative & ironic. It all comes together so well. Indeed, I was driven to buy an Indian take-away on the way home: that is how sensory the film is.


There is only one character who doesn't go on a journey in this film, but I will leave you guess who I think this is. Some long distances are traveled geographically but these are short compared to the spiritual treks the remaining characters have. But this isn't a film about enlightenment. This is a film about self belief and confidence.

I was asked to design a series of modules for a leadership programme the other day which I happily listed to include strategy development & application, coaching, process redesign, change management... yada yada. But actually what I would like to do, is just show them this movie... Because in the end, how fast and accurately you throw the (leadership) ball is far less about technique and far more about self belief.

What do you believe you can become?

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This is the forty eighth of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Cops breaking the rules

Let's be cops if fantasy romp with about as much narrative integrity and close directorial editing as a blancmange, albeit a very funny (in the main) blancmange. Whereas the Keeper of Lost Causes is anything but funny but is probably a far truer reflection of grimy, frustrating, laborious policing. Both films are worth seeing, but not in the same sitting. I saw them both separated by a day. A week in between would have been better.

Many of the biggest laughs with the funny cops movie appeared in the trailer and, as it turned out, this buddy movie had its strong poignant and thriller moments. The unfunny cops movie, in Danish with subtitles, continued the now established genre of dark Scandinavian crime thriller with excellent acting from the three main characters. Although in the end, it felt like more of a TV drama than a feature film.




Oddly, although the two films are very different, what links them is a commitment to doing the right thing even when they have been told not to so. I won't expand on that, as I do not want to give too much away about either plot.

And this is also the case for exceptional leaders: they will do what they know to be right even when people around them are telling them to stop or do something different. Indeed what probably marks superlative leaders out is their courage to break the rules.

When did you last break a rule or defy an instruction?

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This is the forty sixth (and seventh) of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

100% simplicity

After Under the Skin, I was a little nervous that Lucy would underwhelm me as much. Thankfully I can report that, safe in the hands of Luc Besson, it is film to enthrall, shock and shake you. You may think you have the gist of the story from the trailer, but you don't.

At times, this film felt like a lecture with a melange of what appears to be stock footage to emphasise certain points. But at other times it is a roller coaster ride through the streets of Paris and synapses of Scarlett Johansson. A strong narrative, determined and grimy performances from all the cast and seamless editing all make for a movie you will not forget.


This is no SPOILER (unless you have not seen the trailer..): the premise of the film rests on the idea that we are only using 10% to 15% of our brain power and upping that percentage leads to exponential increases in our capacity to manipulate our environment. (What this does to your ethical standards, I will leave you to judge!)

Many leaders spend a good deal of time on increasing their capacity to absorb information, practice techniques and approaches acquired in business schools and generally seek to be better, sharper and more skilled than those around them. However the best leaders also seem to be able to inspire fresh efforts with simplicity and common sense.

So when you are 'sharpening your saw', how are you also keeping things simple as they can be (but no simpler...)? 

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This is the forty fifth of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

What if there is no question mark (...?)

I spent the first few moments of What If wondering why there was no question mark at the end of the title. Was this just another (Canadian) way of saying whatever? Was the other half of the title missing, so why not miss out the question mark too? Anyway, then I got wrapped up in the movie and began wondering how it would all end. How would this movie take fresh look at an old topic: can a (straight) man and woman just be friends or... Harry met Sally yada yada (?)

Well the good news is that this film will keep you guessing up until its closing minutes. I dare you to predict how it all ends. This is a fine script, delivered authentically by the main characters. It is well cast, photographed and scored. It has cute and awkward moments in good measure. The film will leave you wistful, philosophic, hopeful and twinkling about fidelity and love. Go see it. Another film to make you smile.


The plot of the film centres on truth and honesty: are we being honest with a person if we don't tell them the whole truth? There are always plenty of rational reasons why a leader may not always tell the whole story and feel obliged to keep something back. And this conflicts with a broader principle of being a truthful & straightforward leader. Or is this what makes a leader a leader: the ability to balance honesty with discretion?

Someone once said (was it Groucho?) that if you can fake authenticity then you have got it made. And we have all observed leaders who appear to be able to do this and yet we still want to follow them: as if we are prepared to collude in the deception that we are not being told all that we need to be told... Perhaps this is because we know (or think we know) that being 100% open, honest, truthful is just not tenable in many situations. And then do we go a step further and stop being wholly honest with ourselves? When does less than 100% honesty turn from being discrete, politic & careful into mendacious, manipulative and corrosive?

What if we don't know when we are crossing that boundary?

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This is the forty fourth of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Australia is just a small island

I gave up resistance yesterday and went to see The Inbetweeners 2. I can report that it is funny: very funny. Although if you are not into scatological humour, you might find some of the scenes a bit close to the edge of 'OMG!'for you. I have been following this teenage (?) foursome since the TV series began in 2008 and enjoyed the first movie as well. It is possible that you can only truly appreciate this oeuvre of humour if you were a teenage boy once, but the cinema was full of both men and women yesterday afternoon.

As you will probably know by now, the plot centres on a trip to Australia by the four likely lads (ranging in real ages from 27 to 31) in search of >insert appropriate inappropriate slang word<. It isn't all ribald, raunchy & rough comedy (well not quite): it does contain some well aimed satire on the whole 'travelling the world' culture. You will leave with a smile on your face and (if you are like me) a few memorable lines (watch out for the guitar quote by the fire) to cite.


The yurt scene highlighted for me the challenge of inquiring, listening and truly accepting all that might be said when a leader asks for views on a particular topic. The humour in the scene centres on whether some statements are deemed acceptable whilst others are not, even though the leader has said that all contributions are OK...

Leaders cannot operate in isolation. They must inquire, listen and absorb the views contributed by those around them. They may disagree with what is said or written. But if there is any schism between inviting complete honesty and not being prepared to hear the honest opinions of others, this will close down the dialogue. People will just contribute what they think the leaders wants to hear.

How are your schisms?

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This is the forty third of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Galactic diversity

Despite having seen the trailer a number of times and not being a comic book reader, I didn't really know what to expect from Guardians of the Galaxy. So it was with unalloyed joy, that I sat back in my seat, and reveled in this romp through the universe. This is a 'fat' movie that has several subcutaneous layers full of humour, pathos, tenderness, irony and seamless sfx. And the story is damn fine too and sets up well for a sequel, which I believe is on the way.

It is difficult to talk about the acting especially when several of the characters are submerged in CGI makeup and one says the same the line over and over again (well, nearly, and with different intonation). But the acting is convincing: indeed the first ten minutes plummeted me into an emotional relationship with the main character at a speed that is rare. If scifi is even a small part of your soul, go see this movie!


There have been a few times in my career when I have been part of a dream team: where everyone just seemed to bend and wrap themselves around the other team members creating a fusion of collaborative high performance. I and they just seemed to know how the others would think and act, and could adjust our actions to complement everyone else's.

I have long wondered whether this was just good luck or whether the quality of the leadership made the difference? The team that saves the galaxy in this movie are thrown together by chance. But it is the leadership which manages to change the group into a team. On display in the film is a combination of straight talking, the setting of inspirational goals, determination, compassion and humour. That recipe works in the movie, but I think different recipes are needed with different teams. The art of leadership is determining just what is needed.

When did you last turn a group into a team? How did you accomplish this? What did you learn?

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This is the forty second of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Disturbing dystopia

I know many people just don't get science fiction: how can something so unreal have anything worthwhile to say? On the other hand, I would say that SciFi allows for hypotheses to be tested and (more critically) current trends to be extrapolated. In this sense, SciFi movies are history in reverse. Just as people who forget the past are condemned to repeat it, people who 'forget' the future are condemned to enter it...

The Purge: Anarchy is probably one of the most discomforting films I have seen in a long while. If you look past the bloody violence, you will see a violence of an even greater kind (I will let you find out what). The message that this is where America is heading unless it sorts out its gun worship / crime is imparted with as much subtlety as a machete. Nonetheless, the story (within the hopefully implausible future) is plausible (just) and the acting workaday convincing. Mix Rollerball, 1900 and Grand Theft Auto and you are about there. Go with gritted teeth and something to grip...


Timing is everything in leadership. It is about knowing when to act, when to pause, when to run (as in away from people brandishing machetes!) The film is full of such moments when the leader/hero stops, collects his breath, thinks and coolly decides what to do next. As the audience, we are doing the same: what would we do now?

Pausing is one of the most powerful leadership traits. I know we are sometimes lured into admiring and therefore seeking to emulate the 'snap decision makers', the leaders who can 'make things up as they go along' and 'think on their feet'. But good leaders only do this when the situation demands: pausing not only allows more time to consider options, it also means that others are more engaged as well.

When did you last pause publicly?

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This is the forty first of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Fairer outsourcing to SMEs

There is an article in this morning's Independent heralding the arrival of Piers Linney (BBC Dragon) to the Cabinet Office's SME Panel. You can read the article here. As the Indie's comment system seems a bit restrictive, here is the full comment that I wanted to post!
For readers' information: the Cabinet Office SME panel has been meeting for over 3 years and welcomed Piers to his first meeting last week. The Panel has been working with the Cabinet Office on a suite of interventions designed to ensure a level playing field for government procurement. 
If you search on > sme panel cabinet < a number of useful links will pop up. 
Panel members represent the breadth of suppliers to government and have given their time freely in support of the bold objective to introduce the hyper value for money, innovation and boost to British enterprise that only SME's can bring.
Jon Harvey (SME Panel Member since 2011)
There is also a stream of articles on this blog about the work of the panel, if you wish to know more. Here is the link to all those articles (and related ones connected to procurement).

UPDATE 290714 | 0758: The Cabinet Office has published its own follow up article, listing (for the first time) the members of the Panel that has been meeting over the last three years. Including yours truly.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Duh movie

I feared when I saw he trailer for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie some weeks ago that all the best (and possibly only corker) gags would feature. Sadly I was right. I enjoy the TV show hugely and I really wanted the film to be good. But it is not, sadly. Basically, the film is neither fish nor fowl.

Whenever, I see poor movie, I try to think how it could have been better. So here goes: the story needed more credibility (it did not hang together). If you are going to make a point of saying 'but this is a movie', do it more! Make that a comedic theme. And if you are going to use the knowingly playing to camera trick (a la Frankie Howerd), then do it more (it's a movie not a half hour TV show!) A disappointing film and I hope there is no sequel made except on the small screen (where it works really well)


The film is peppered with the talents of the usual cast of characters who reveal themselves to have depths & pasts that have hitherto been hidden. At various times these talents are all deployed to bring the story to a successful conclusion (just!) This got me to pondering on how good leaders can bring out the hidden talents of people.

Much of this comes from the belief that everyone has at least one hidden talent if not several. The leadership art is in creating the conditions within which people will be prepared to show what they can do and that these talents can be subsequently harnessed in pursuit of organisational goals.

Do you believe that everyone has at least one hidden talent? How good are you at creating the conditions whereby these talents are revealed and then used?

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This is the fortieth of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Planet of Trust

The story of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes pivots on trust: can two tribes (humans and apes) learn to trust each other enough to prevent war... or not. Anyone who knows the whole story (and I can still remember the moment when Charlton Heston rides along the beach - which I saw more than 45 years ago), will know which way the story goes. Nonetheless, the narrative is gripping and leaves you pondering on the real conflicts of the world.

Of course, you can simply be amazed by the quality of the special effects and the digital make-up worn by the apes: it is breathtaking. Andy Serkis probably won't but would deserve an Oscar for his portrayal of Caesar. And this is a spectacular film with excellent cinematography. It won't be everyone's cup of tea. But it is a very worthy film.


Some leaders appear to think that trust is like a tap that can be turned on or off. Whereas in truth, I think, trust is something as fragile as butterfly's wing, is earned by (not to be expected as a result of) assiduous and ethically consistent behaviour, and exists in the minds of those who trust.

It has been my experience that most people want to trust their leaders and look for opportunities to do so. Which means, I think, that most people are reasonably forgiving when a leader takes a decision that appears at odds with wider plans. But there are decisions from which there is no going back and trust if not destroyed forever, is lost for a very long time. The art of being a good leader is knowing when you are at risk of crossing the line and making one of those latter decisions. It is then a question of finding another path (or not of course).

What have you done recently that might have come close to that line? 

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This is the thirty ninth of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Voluptuous panic

Some films transport you to different worlds and places - essentially taking you out of yourself. Some films get under your skin and bury deep into your heart - taking you into yourself. Boyhood is a film of the latter kind. Watching a boy grow up (and his family change around him) compels you to mull on your own childhood. And if you are are Dad like me, on your own fatherhood too. Indeed the word that sums this film up is: compelling.

Some of the acting felt a little bit stiff and if you are hoping for some great storyline, there isn't one. Instead we observe the kinds of events that shape all of our lives: the humdrum, the awkward, the occasionally dramatic and achingly poignant. All are momentous and yet all are ordinary. Just go with the flow and go see this movie: it will stay with you for a very long time. (And watch out for the line that talks of voluptuous panic!)


Leaders never stop growing up. If you think you have leadership sorted, it will be because you don't have it sorted. Leadership is about learning: nothing more, nothing less. I am told that sharks die if they stop moving. It is the same for leaders: stop growing, stop learning, stop reflecting and you may just as well stop.

Recently I was fortunate enough to receive some impromptu coaching from someone I trust and have great confidence in. Over some damn fine coffee, she asked me some damn fine questions. And I changed: made a critical decision and reframed what I am spending my time doing. It felt like a load had been lifted from my shoulders (and still does). At any moment (and good coaching helps), this can happen to any of us. We keep on moving, changing, growing and developing.

Perhaps there is a sequel to this film that may have already begun: called 'Adulthood'??

What moments from your childhood would you put on film? (Why?)

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This is the thirty eighth of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Again & again!

Begin Again is one of those very rare movies that having seen, you will want to see again. I did. I would have quite happily walked straight back into the cinema and watched it once more. This is a delightful, charming, transcendental film with a sound track to die for. It is like watching a woodland brook bubble and glide over shimmering stones. There is a main narrative but surrounded by small eddies & whirlpools of sub plots which could have spun off into stories of themselves.

The acting is authentic and passionate: as naturalistic as many of the best films of France. I have no idea what Kiera Knightley & Mark Ruffalo are like in real life, but they just seem to inhabit their roles. Indeed, all the acting is magnetic & bright eyed: the performances draw you in. This is a powerful film that you simply must go and see.


This is story about doing what is right for you: not being persuaded to sell out, compromise or just fit in. In this respect, it is awkward movie that should (if you let it) make you wonder if you have, perhaps, lost some connection with the dreams you began with.

The hardest part of being a leader is truly knowing what is your 'thing', your 'bag', your 'cri de coeur', your passion / focus / aim / ambition... (whatever you want to call it). What will you not give up? What are you at risk of giving up? What have you given up so far but could find again? What have you lost forever?

If you want to lead people: you have to know the answers to these questions.

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This is the thirty seventh of my 2014 series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Monday, 7 July 2014

What makes a Mâch~iâ~velliân whistle blowing leader?

Machiavelli, not one to mince words, wrote:
A prince must therefore always seek advice… he must always be a constant questioner, and he must listen patiently to the truth regarding what he has inquired about, moreover if he finds that anyone for some reason holds the truth back he must show his wrath. (from 'The Prince' Penguin Classics publication translated by George Bull, 1981)
If he hadn't have been the world's first public sector management consultant, Machiavelli would have been a whistleblower. Truth was very important to him. Wise & grounded leaders still regard truth as an essential ingredient in running any organisation successfully. Only unwise leaders want to surround themselves with people who offer only sanitised versions of the truth.

And so it is that remarkable leaders take action to encourage whistleblowing. This of course is not what happened to James Patrick, whose story is now well known. But if you have not seen it, I commend this short video interview of him by the Cliff Caswell, editor of Police Oracle. But other leaders can and should do different. But what needs to be put in place?

There is some useful guidance here: Whistleblowing arrangements: Code of practice (PAS 1998:2008) which includes a useful checklist. The Public Concern At Work website is a rich source of information and case studies as well.

But all this got me to thinking, what would I expect of a leader who not only claims to be supportive of whistleblowing (as many do) but who is, in fact, supportive of it. In my opinion, such a leader would:
  • Evidence an ability to listen and act upon information provided via whistleblowing
  • Understand and be able to explain in straightforward terms, the difference between grievances and whistleblowing - and when they need to be invoked
  • Be able to give examples of where whistleblowing has made a positive difference to the services being provided to the public
  • Be able to counter convincingly (the oft repeated accusations) that those who whistleblow usually end up outside the organisation or being passed over for promotion (etc.)
  • Put in place sufficient resources (such as a helpline and more) to allow confidential whistleblowing to occur
  • Be clear that whistleblowing rights are extended to all, including contractors
  • Sponsor and help shape an effective communications strategy that reaches into every nook and crevice of the organisation, so that everyone knows about how they can whistleblow
  • See how whistleblowing connects with organisational improvement, reputation management, social media & comms policies and leadership development
  • Challenge other leaders who may have bought the T-shirt but are not quite wearing it yet!
  • Review progress and test whether whistleblowing is happening as it should
  • Be whistleblowers themselves (should the need arise) and have the capability and commitment to speak truth unto power
  • Show even more ability just to listen... (and learn and act...)
There is probably more (what would you add?).

But how do you measure up?

Friday, 4 July 2014

Dancing on sunshine

I spent the first half an hour watching Walking on Sunshine wondering how I would improve the film. Some films just work from the off, while others... um... don't. Some musical movies segue from one song to another effortlessly and convincingly. This film doesn't. Instead 80's hits are shoehorned in to what is essentially a cup cake of movie.

The acting is uninspiring, the sets just a bit too twee (I wonder if the Pula tourism authority paid for a lot of this film!?) and the narrative is about as substantial as candyfloss. What can I say? Go see this movie if you are still living the dream of 80's and addicted to all romcom films. If not, there are better films around.


At one point in the movie, one of the characters says that perhaps she is in love with love. This got me thinking about whether some leaders are in love with leadership rather than the results they are achieving. I finally got around to watching Into the Wild the other day (my son has been saying I should see this for a while) and a) it is a 1000 times better than Walking on Sunshine and b) it too carries a similar message: happiness is only real when it is shared.

Leadership is not a thing in itself. It is a always a means to an end. And than end is a result worth having: a change to the world that is valuable to more people that just the leader her/himself.

For whom do you practice your leadership?

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This is the thirty sixth of my new series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.