This paper outlines leadership characteristics identified in the movie, Invictus. Invictus is based on a true story about Nelson Mandela a few years after his release from his twenty-six-year imprisonment. Elected president of South Africa in 1994, he has a tremendous challenge as he works to heal and unite a country after years of apartheid. He decides to take advantage of the upcoming 1995 Rugby World Cup that South Africa is hosting and hopes to draw people together through the universally understood language of sport (Bealman, 2020). The leadership theory used to support the analysis of this film comes from the authors Kouzes and Posner’s (2012) 30-year research on the topic using data from over 2M people across the globe. Their featured book is called, The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations, 5th Edition. Professional references are provided in-text and links to the source can be found in the Reference section on the last page(s).
Movie Overview: Invictus
Source: IMDB (2009) | Image: Film Cover – Invictus
Introduction and Leadership Philosophy
In my last post titled, Model the Way, I outlined and explained multiple leadership characteristics used in the movie, Pay it Forward (2000). The leadership strategy I used as reference for my evaluation aligned with Posner & Kouzes (2012) book titled, The Leadership Challenge: How to make extraordinary things happen in Organizations, 5th Edition. In general, Posner & Kouzes describes their philosophy with five practices of exemplary leadership that focus on a leader’s actions to ‘Model the Way’, ‘Inspire a Shared Vision’, ‘Challenge the Process’, ‘Enable others to Act’, and by ‘Encouraging the Heart’.
For the movie, Pay it Forward, I focused on characteristics associated with the first practice of exemplary leadership – Model the Way. In this post, I’m going to share what leadership characteristics were identified in the movie, Invictus, using the same leadership philosophy. However, in order to continue learning the philosophy, I’ll focus my analysis on two different practices of exemplary leadership linked to ‘Inspire a Shared Vision’ and ‘Challenge the Process’.
According to Posner & Kouzes (2012), leaders are expressive, and they attract followers through their energy, optimism, and hope. With strong appeals and quiet persuasion, they develop enthusiastic supporters. To do this, leaders must be able to ‘Envision the Future’ by imagining exciting and ennobling possibilities and ‘Enlist Others’ by appealing to shared aspirations (Posner & Kouzes, 2012). Additionally, it’s equally important to ‘Challenge the Process’. Because risk-taking involves mistakes and failure, leaders accept the inevitable disappointments and treat them as opportunities for learning and growth (Posner & Kouzes, 2012). To ‘Challenge the Process’ leaders must ‘Search for Opportunities’ by seizing the initiative and looking outward for innovative ways to improve and ‘Experiment and Take Risks’ by constantly generating small wins and learning from experience (Posner & Kouzes, 2012).
With this in mind, I’ve outlined a few examples of such behavioral characteristics from the movie that stood out most, listed below.
“Look to the Future” (Scene Time: 0:08:24 to 0:11:53)
Scene synopsis: In this scene depicting the first time President Mandela addresses the staff of the president’s office after his election, he shares his observation that many from the previous administration are packing their offices in preparation to leave as he takes office. He tells his audience of their right to make that choice; however, he hopes they will stay and help serve the country. The president describes what he needs and expects of those who stay and tells of the importance and necessity of their work. (Bealman, 2020)
What examples of ‘Inspire a Shared Vision’ do you see in this scene? “Today is today. The past is the past. Moving forward, we look to the future” (Full Sail University, 2009). This quote sets the tone for effective leadership characteristics that are displayed throughout the movie. For starters, while President Mandela walks down the hallway to his new office and calls for a quick turn-around meeting, you may notice that certain staff members are making comments amongst themselves like, “he wants the pleasure of firing us himself”. This skepticism gives the impression that the old staff does not have faith in the new President, nor do they trust he will support their cause (for whatever their reasons). However, as an effective leader would, President Mandela slowly starts to transform the old staff’s perspective on his approach as the country’s leader by helping his team ‘envision the future’ of South Africa as a bright-and-shiny star around the world given their opportunity to make a difference as supporting staff of the country.
The President also displays effective leadership characteristics by addressing everyone equally with a simple gesture of respect (i.e. Good day!). In this approach, he is trying to establish rapport with his team by telling them the truth and purpose behind his vision, while connecting with them on a common level about their possible negative perspectives toward him. Ultimately, President Mandela sets the example of experimenting and taking risks as he decides to lead the 43 million people of his country to greatness using a different approach than his predecessors. With this approach, he ‘enlist others’ such as his staff to join him on the journey, only if they are also willing to put in the hard work as he clearly explains he will as their leader.
According to Posner & Kouzes (2012), whether you’re trying to mobilize a crowd in the grandstand or one person in the office, to enlist others you must ‘Appeal to Common Ideals’ and ‘Animate the Vision’. In this scene, President Mandela does both passionately from the bottom of his heart.
If you were on the president’s staff, how do you think you would have felt after hearing his message? It all depends on what my belief system was going into the meeting with the newly elected President (i.e. was I for or against him?). However, using the hypothetical scenario that I was against his causes before he became President, I would also be skeptical about the situation. Generally speaking, I’m quite the optimistic person so I would have been pleasantly surprised to hear the message President Mandela delivered. I would have been excited to hear that the new President was in favor of sustainable improvements using the staff’s support for enablement and facilitation. I would be stoked to know that my leader was giving me an opportunity to make a change and be a part of something larger than life itself.
What parts of his message stood out to you? What stood out to me most was the comment he made stating, “We want your help!” and “We need your help!”. This was important to hear because not all so-called leaders will ask for their staffs help. Much less encourage them to continue their efforts given the situation at hand. In addition, I thought the message “We look to the future” was powerful as well because it showed President Mandela’s interests in the future of the country without dwelling on the past.
“Need to Exceed” (Scene Time: 0:45:29 to 0:51:16)
Scene synopsis: President Mandela has invited the Captain of South America’s rugby team, Francois Pienaar, to his office for tea. He talks with Francois about his philosophy on leadership and how he tries to get others to do their best. He talks about inspiration and what it should do. President Mandela shares how he survived his prison confinement. This scene shows how two different leaders create their visions for those they lead. Additionally, in a follow-up scene after his visit with the president, Francois shares his vision with the team. His inspiration and clarity from the president’s message is evident when he tells the team; “Times change and we need to change as well.”
When President Mandela spoke with François in his office and asked about his philosophy of leadership, how do you see his vision for the country coming across in what he hopes François can achieve through rugby and the World Cup? President Mandela’s vision seems to clearly make sense to Francois during his visit to the big office. President Mandela resembles that of a true leader by seeking to ‘connect to what’s meaningful’ regarding Francois and his team. He makes a comment to Francois that, “you all have a very difficult job”, which makes Francois question the statement with, “your job as President must be just as difficult”. This shows the President’s ‘make it a cause for commitment’ approach to the conversation by describing both their responsibilities as equal in life given their goals to make a change. Finding a common purpose is also another characteristic that President Mandela displayed when communicating his vision with Francois.
What else did you notice the president doing? I also noticed the President showing that he was ok with doing things on his own (i.e. setting the example) like preparing and serving tea to Francois before their meeting started as he conducted small talk to warm Francois up to the big question about his leadership style. The President was very polite to the Assistant that brought the tea and he paid close attention to Francois’ answers to his inquires. According to Posner & Kouzes (2012), leaders need to strengthen their ability to hear what is important to others in order to be effective (i.e. listen deeply to others). This was a great example of the President doing just that.
How does François’ follow-up meeting with the team mirror the challenges that President Mandela faces with the country? Francois’ follow-up meeting with the team was very similar to the situation President Mandela faces with the country because people are always skeptical about change. In this case, Francois introduces new ideas to his team by clarifying his values, setting the example and doing what he can to inspire a shared vision. With the initial kickback from his peers, Francois stands by his word and seeks to inspire others by his actions not just his wordd. Although Francois is in a vulnerable state (i.e. fear), he exemplifies that of an effective leader because he stands by his word with the intent to support a good cause whether his team plans to follow or not.
What do you see François doing to share his vision? To share his vision, Francois makes it transparent to the President that he leads by example. He emulates the Presidents approach by stating that he is doing it for the greater good of the country, not just his team. But, Francois realizes that creating an environment for his team to excel will be difficult but he—like the President—is willing to do what it takes to make a change for the better. Furthermore, Francois ‘creates images of the future’ with the smooth delivery of his vision when speaking with President Mandela. In this case, you can tell that the President easily relates and finds the connection he was seeking to help inspire young Francois.
Discussion Question for Both Scenes
What other practices and leadership behaviors did you notice in these scenes? There were many other leadership behaviors illustrated in these same scenes worth noting. For instance, President Mandela’s bodyguards learned to work together, regardless of their initial differences, based on the inspiration of their fearless leader. Also, it was evident that President Mandela showcased effective leadership characteristics when he decided to show up at the South African Sports Authority townhall meeting to inspire a shared vision. That scene was very powerful because he was able to relate to the common person’s ideals and by sharing his vision with others, influence their perspectives on the Rugby team and the future positive impact it could have on their country.
In conclusion, it’s critical that we all make small steps to become leaders or better leaders at that. The world is filled with situations that require leaders to take action. But make no mistake, this will not be an easy task. Instead, it will require fortitude and courage. Like President Mandela said, “the best way to inspire others and self is sometimes accomplished by through the actions of others”. So, don’t think in order to be a good leader that you have to do it all by yourself. Instead, seek the support from others…the ‘Invictus’ way.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
Fast Company. (2010, September 16). Dan Heath: Want Your Organization to Change? Put Feelings First [YouTube]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JhBzxy7CneM&feature=emb_logo
Full Sail University. (2020). Invictus [Digital Campus: SWANK]. https://digitalcampus-swankmp-net.oclc.fullsail.edu/fullsail273761/play/947eafeeca9923dd1282fde935f113c0d6dfceb2f59921400c235925d5d27e95
IMDB. (2000). Invictus [Image]. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1057500/mediaviewer/rm469405184
Malik, A. (2013, September 13). Inspire a Shared Vision [YouTube]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MtianRQYlIg&feature=emb_logo
Natty Stander. (2015, September 11). Daniel Goleman: What makes a leader? [YouTube]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WICq_Pj8ZUk&feature=emb_logo
Poetry Foundation. (n.d.). Invictus. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/51642/invictus
Posner & Kouzes. (2012). The Leadership Challenge: How to make extraordinary things happen in Organizations, 5th Edition. Jossey-Bass. https://learning.oreilly.com/library/view/the-leadership-challenge/9781118281963/
Wujec, T. (2010, February). Build a Tower, Build a Team [YouTube].