A new approach to leadership training



This new use of popular movies to teach leadership skills has been proven successful.

The challenge of leadership training is that leaders consider themselves “above average”. If they weren’t already adequate leaders, after all, they would never have been placed in positions of authority, right?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. Effective leadership is perhaps one of the most important yet difficult and elusive skills for anyone in authority to master. Leadership is about following, and there is no one size fits all when it comes to motivating or understanding others. Money can motivate a young officer trying to buy a house, more than a senior officer whose material needs are mostly met.

Additionally, where one works within the department or organization will affect the type and amount of information one receives, so people will calculate costs and benefits differently, which will lead to divergent perspectives on priorities and action plans. Creating unity of purpose and action amid different perspectives is a thorny challenge for a leader.

Last, but not least, is the interpretation of communications, both verbal and non-verbal, which vary with age, culture, gender, and a myriad of other factors.

The problem with leadership training is that people think they don’t need it, and asking people to delve into abstract issues such as emotional intelligence and personality types is often dismissed as issues. sterile and boring businesses. It helps to provide simpler guidelines, such as the United States Marine Corps Leadership Principles, but people should see in action to internalize them.

Let’s go to the movies and pass the popcorn

There are a number of films that illustrate the intricacies of leadership, especially in difficult situations. War films such as “Twelve O’clock High”, “The Lost Battalion”, “The Caine Mutiny”, “Band of Brothers”, “Gettysburg” and “Fury” illustrate important points such as various styles of leadership, as well as their strengths and weaknesses; developing goals and implementing strategies to achieve them; make courageous decisions in difficult circumstances; motivation; de-escalation of conflict; the discipline; develop the cohesion of the unit; communication strategies; and manage stress.

There are many non-martial films that explore the same issues. These films include “12 Angry Men”, “The Lifeboat”, “Remember the Titans”, “Crimson Tide”, “Lord of the Flies” and “Mutiny on the Bounty”.

While these films touch on the general areas mentioned above, they also touch on specific topics and offer unique insight into the challenges of leadership. For example, “Twelve O’clock High” addresses the following key issues:

“12 Angry Men” illustrates different issues, including:

  • The art of convincing
  • Ethics
  • The value of skepticism
  • Manage self-fulfilling expectations and prophecies
  • Avoid “group thinking”
  • Defuse anger
  • Non-verbal communications

Finally, “The Caine Mutiny” addresses topics such as:

  • Loyalty
  • Manage dissensions
  • Maintain discipline in difficult circumstances
  • Chain of command
  • The constraints of command
  • Mental health challenges
  • Compassion

Developing a lesson plan on leadership skills

With the belief that watching a movie would be more informative and entertaining than more traditional leadership training, I developed a lesson plan and submitted it to the Virginia Criminal Justice Board for approval. He approved the lesson plan and awards four continuing education credit hours to each participant for each leadership session taken.

Our leadership program requires our supervisors (sergeants) and command staff (lieutenants and above) to watch a specified movie once per quarter and then be ready to discuss it in person or through Zoom, depending on the current circumstances of the job. pandemic. Prior to viewing the film, a two to three page study guide is sent to all participants to help them focus their attention on key leadership points. The film is then discussed under the guidance of a mentor during a mandatory two-hour meeting. Notes on lessons learned and participants’ perspectives are recorded and then distributed to all participants.

Proof of concept

On February 9, our police leaders discussed our first film, “Twelve O’clock High,” and it was a resounding success, as anonymous court reviews report. The following important lessons were learned, including:

  • The characteristics of a good leader
  • How certain styles of leadership can succeed in a hierarchical organization but fail when innovation is needed
  • The importance of two-way communications and, in particular, the need for subordinates to understand the mission and how their individual actions contribute to its achievement
  • How competence and discipline are essential to success
  • How leaders must demonstrate their own abilities to be credible
  • People are able to achieve higher standards than they realize
  • Pride is essential to the cohesion of the unit and, therefore, to the accomplishment of the mission
  • Don’t let friendship get in the way of the mission
  • Structure, rules and discipline provide a common reference and help unify action
  • The need to grow subordinates by enabling them to meet the challenges of different jobs and different levels of authority and responsibility.

Some procedural lessons learned

In addition to the substantive lessons discussed above, we also learned several procedural tips that contributed to the success of the training.

  • First, while in-person training is recommended, we found that it was possible to do virtual training as long as participants’ cameras were on. The cameras allowed the moderator to see who wanted to speak and to regulate attendance in an orderly fashion.
  • Second, although our chief and deputy chief attended the training, they did not provide it. Instead, they participated as a normal group member. They were able to bring their points of view but did not use the forum to justify their decisions.
  • Third, the decision to identify questions and talking points before viewing the film focused participants’ attention on key themes as they watched the film, thus greatly contributing to the quality of the discussion. The final lesson, which will inform the selection of the following films to watch, is to choose a variety of older and contemporary films, and not just military films, to appeal to different tastes, generations and styles.

NOVA Police’s initial effort to identify key leadership issues and improve the skills of our supervisors and commanders has been well received. In the coming months there will be more movies and discussions and we believe our leaders will enjoy watching these leadership lessons in enjoyable movies and discussing them frankly among ourselves. Stay tuned!

For a copy of these free training materials, contact Lieutenant Weinstein at [email protected] or (571) 422-9928.

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