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Seeing is believing.  Maybe its because the language of our subconscious is said to be symbols that images convey concepts to us so powerfully.  Movies are designed to take us through a transformation with a character we can relate to.  This is what makes movies such powerful mentors for leadership.

A great example is the movie Argo.  Over the span of the movie we see Joe Stafford rise to the challenge of protecting his wife above all else.  This is the leadership quality of recognizing what is of value and protecting it.  We see the same Warrior King traits in Tony Mendez when he uses his discernment to do what he feels is right, despite monumental pressure from his government.  He takes on the ultimate tyrant boss, gambling his life to preserve his integrity.

I couldn’t believe how tense I felt watching the movie even though we all know how it turns out  (it is based on the real-life crisis in Afghanistan 1979).  It shows how engaged I was with the emotions of the people on the screen.  This engagement is a great teacher.  When you can imagine yourself behaving in a positive leadership role it is easier to recreate those actions in real life.

Nueroscientific research shows that when you are emotionally engaged, relaxed, and eat good food (might be a stretch, but I certainly enjoyed the popcorn) your brain re-wires more easily.  This may be why Stanford University has mandated that all its course include an arts component.  Story teaches in a very powerful and enjoyable way.

This is why I recommend you see Argo and get together with your co-workers over coffee and something nutritious and talk about the leadership lessons in the movie.

I particularly enjoyed watching Joe Stafford as he transformed from the Tyrant and Coward archetypes to the Warrior King (I always feel I have to soften the words Tyrant and Coward because they are so loaded.  Firstly, we all have these shadow archetypes and if we cannot accept them in ourselves then we cannot respond to the growth they offer us as Joe does.  We also can’t help other people grow out of their shadow sides.)  When Joe sits in front of the tv with the crisis unfolding before him and admits he was a passive tyrant it is very compelling.  He is on the road to growth (I won’t say too many details because it is better to experience it.)  The Coward archetype is active when Joe refuses to accept the reality of their situation.  He avoids and denies when he should be getting on board and taking action to help save themselves.

Then movie Joe (we don’t really know what the real man did) cautiously agrees to put himself in the hands of Tony Mendez.  He is a passive participant but no longer an impediment which is a good first step.  The fact is, though, this attitude is not enough to bring them to safety. 

The magic moment in the movie and in his development happens when something snaps in Joe, at the airport when they are being detained, and he decides to kick into gear and do all that he can to make the team successful.  It is beautiful to watch.  He sells that crappy screenplay like his wife’s life depends on it, sound effects and all.  There comes a time when you read the situation, figure out what it is going to take to be successful and you step up to the plate as a leader.  This is what we witness Joe Stafford do in Argo.

Tony Mendez echoes this theme when his tyrant boss, the US government, decides the risk of embarrassment isn’t worth it and kills the mission.  Always a Warrior King, Tony uses his discernment and decides to follow through with the plan.  His integrity will not allow him to be less than the man he knows that he is.  This is an example of how to take on a force more powerful than you.  When death is an option you are willing to risk, you remove a lot of the oppressor’s power.

It is so powerful to watch a movie and feel like you are the protagonist facing a challenge.  This is the greatest teaching tool for leaders to expand their understanding of the human condition.  Leaders can learn from experiencing the actions that bring transformation and then considering how to bring that feeling to the story of their own leadership.