What We Learned About Leadership From "Remember the Titans"

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by Erin Coldewey

4014_c121-2-6George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr.; our history books are teeming with great leaders. And as it happens, so are our theaters. As we settle in with popcorn and the lights dim, we sometimes learn a little something about effective leadership.

Coach Herman Boone, portrayed by Denzel Washington, and the rest of his on-screen football team in the 2000 film “Remember the Titans,” are a prime example because as we settled in with popcorn and the lights dimmed, we learned a little something about effective leadership.

To watch the trailer click here: http://video.disney.com/watch/remember-the-titans-trailer-4beb46cbf80a9207ce46f149

Lead by Example

“You been doing your job?”

The challenge was issued after a particularly taxing three-a-day practice, escalating into a heated exchange.

“See man, that’s the worst attitude I ever heard,” said Bertier, the team captain, setting up his counterpart to deliver this succinct truth: “Attitude reflects leadership, captain.”

As an operator, you are the neck of your business. You have the ability to turn the head any way you’d like it to go. If you want your employees to greet customers enthusiastically and respectfully, make sure you do the same. If you want your team to be punctual each workday, make sure you are the one turning on the coffee pot in the morning. If you want shop problems to be dealt with calmly, promptly and respectfully, remember to do the same in the face of a complaint or angry customer. If you want to find your business facing the right direction, it’s in your power.

A Nugget of Truth

“I may be a mean cuss, but I’m the same mean cuss to everyone.” –Coach Herman Boone (Washington)

While you won’t find “be a mean cuss” in any managerial self-help book, there are two important leadership qualities buried in this line delivered by Coach Boone: consistency and equality. From starting quarterback to third-string bench warmer, Coach Boone was going to treat every player the exact same way and every player knew what to expect from him. Be consistent in both your reprimands and your rewards, and employees will never wonder about results of an action. By the same token, consistency is part of good employee DNA. Good employees do their job to the best of their ability on a daily basis with each car and each customer. It’s also part of being a good follower.


“If we don’t come together right now on this hallowed ground, we too will be destroyed, just like they were. I don’t care if you like each other or not, but you will respect each other. And maybe...I don’t know, maybe we’ll learn to play this game like men.”

With this quote, Boone gave us the work place version of “I love you, but I don’t have to like you right now.” It won’t ever be perfect, but respect for time, for opinions, for personal property, for all things and in all things, including disagreements. It will go a long way with all parties. Teach your team to reach for respect first.

Being a leader has its own unique set of joys and challenges. Should you find yourself in need of a little direction, it may be possible to find the truth you’re looking for somewhere between the opening and closing credits of a good movie. And if that doesn’t work, you can always, always, remember the Titans.

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