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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Leadership Lessons from Saving Private Ryan

I was already half asleep in the bus as I traversed the two-hour journey home from Makati to Fairview when I heard the dialogue between Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) and Pfc Richard Reiben (Edward Burns). They were showing "Saving Private Ryan". I opened my eyes but couldn't see the monitor from where I was seated. The bus was full to the brim. I closed my eyes again and intently listened to the banter among the actors. The message was so clear and intriguing I had to look the dialogue up and here's what I found from (Spoiler Alert!) IMDB:
Here's the video:

Private Reiben: Oh, that's brilliant, bumpkin. Hey, so, Captain, what about you? I mean, you don't gripe at all?
Captain Miller: I don't gripe to *you*, Reiben. I'm a captain. There's a chain of command. Gripes go up, not down. Always up. You gripe to me, I gripe to my superior officer, so on, so on, and so on. I don't gripe to you. I don't gripe in front of you. You should know that as a Ranger.
Private Reiben: I'm sorry, sir, but uh... let's say you weren't a captain, or maybe I was a major. What would you say then?
Captain Miller: Well, in that case... I'd say, "This is an excellent mission, sir, with an extremely valuable objective, sir, worthy of my best efforts, sir. Moreover... I feel heartfelt sorrow for the mother of Private James Ryan and am willing to lay down my life and the lives of my men - especially you, Reiben - to ease her suffering."
Mellish: [chuckles] He's good.
Private Caparzo: I love him.

This scene highlights important leadership characteristics. A leader is clear about his role in the organization. He doesn't go to his subordinates to gripe about the lack of clarity of the mission or leadership decision. Leaders should also have tolerance for uncertainty. They should have the ability to perform in ambiguous situations. Looking back, I am guilty of failing to demonstrate these abilities in the past. There were times that I felt helplessly confused about the decisions made by my superiors that I griped in front of my staff. One staff called my attention about this and told me that everytime I did it, I lower their morale. It was a bitter pill I had to take but it made me realize how important for a leader not to do what I did.

Another scene in the movie that resonates well with me was the one where the soldiers especially the character played by Burns was questioning the mission. Reiben and Seargent Horvath (Tom Sizemore) were at each other's throat. Reiben wants to leave the mission and Horvath won't allow him. Another soldier was cursing and at the same time begging Captain Miller to intervene. He was calm and seemingly in deep thought. I too was wondering if that reaction is possible and if the scene was realistic enough for if it was an ordinary person in that same situation, he would have shouted at the top of his lungs and told the soldiers to stand down or have the mutinuous Reiben arrested for insubordination or something. It dawned on me that the character Captain Miller was no ordinary leader and that situation requires extra ordinary leadership. It requires more than a knee jerk reaction. It requires mindful leadership. I imagine the character figuring out what's going on, why things are happening and how he
can fix it.I imagine he realized that the situation does not require authority, especially with one of the soldiers ready to defy him. It requires, diplomacy, clarity and understanding of purpose because it was the purpose that was being questioned.

Captain Miller: I'm a schoolteacher. I teach English composition... in this little town called Adley, Pennsylvania. The last eleven years, I've been at Thomas Alva Edison High School. I was a coach of the baseball team in the springtime. Back home, I tell people what I do for a living and they think well, now that figures. But over here, it's a big, a big mystery. So, I guess I've changed some. Sometimes I wonder if I've changed so much my wife is even going to recognize me, whenever it is that I get back to her. And how I'll ever be able to tell her about days like today. Ah, Ryan. I don't know anything about Ryan. I don't care. The man means nothing to me. It's just a name. But if... You know if going to Rumelle and finding him so that he can go home. If that earns me the right to get back to my wife, then that's my mission.
[to Private Reiben]

Captain Miller: You want to leave? You want to go off and fight the war? All right. All right. I won't stop you. I'll even put in the paperwork. I just know that every man I kill the farther away from home I feel.

Captain Miller: Sometimes I wonder if I've changed so much, my wife is even gonna recognize me whenever it is I get back to her, and how I'll ever be able to, tell about days like today. Ahh, Ryan. I don't know anything about Ryan, I don't care. The man means nothing to me; he's just a name. But if, you know, if going to Rem"al, and finding him so he can go home, if that earns me the right to get back to my wife, well then, then that's my mission.

After his monologue, the team was one again. While the captain said things in the first person, he might as well be talking about them. They must have realized that what he wanted is the same as what they wanted. They are in this together, hence they should get out of this together.

I'm sure there are a couple more things to pick up from this movie but these are the two important leadership lessons that I've learned from it so far. I'm thinking of watching it again soon so that I can learn a bit more...

Till then...

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:09 AM

    I think your coments are very wise. thank you for sharing that worldwide!


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