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Learning to Lead through Movies

One of my favorite ways to learn how to lead is through movies. Watching a movie is often more engaging than a lecture or discussion, especially with a younger audience - like kids.

The next couple of weeks could be a slow time at home with the kids, or hanging out in the office with a skeleton crew trying to look busy. If you have some down time, why not make the time useful with some leadership training disguised as movie night?

We have compiled a list of several of our favorites that we hope you’ll enjoy. We tried to keep things PG-ish, especially if watching with kids. Many of these are available on streaming platforms or to rent online. Enjoy!

Sports movies

Sports-centric movies work for a reason – they offer insight into leading, building teams, preparation, competition and grit, often in the face if adversity. Here are a few we recommend:

Hoosiers: We love everything about this movie – redemption for a coach after scandal, teamwork, perseverance, and overcoming odds.

Remember the Titans: Leading under pressure. Building a team that supports and believes in each other. Overcoming ingrained prejudices and institutional headwinds. Becoming an internal leader. LOVE IT.

Miracle: This movie is insanely rewatchable. Despite knowing the outcome (spoiler: they win the game) it is a nail-biter. This movie is about a great coach that builds a team for a specific purpose, with each player chosen to do a job. Not just about talent, but about heart. Companies should take note.

Moneyball: This movie is about one of the first forays by a sports team into focusing on the right metrics to build and run a successful team. It changed how baseball (and now basketball) is played on the most fundamental level. It’s also about how a team with limited resources can beat the odds. Start-ups should watch this movie more than once.

War Movies

While not a genre that everyone enjoys, war movies can illustrate people leading under extreme conditions. The older movies are generally less violent than newer movies - but everyone chain smokes and drinks like a fish, and strong female characters are few and far between, so be warned.

Mr. Roberts – this is a personal favorite of mine that most have not seen – humorous and touching. If you have ever had a bad boss – you might relate.

Twelve O’Clock High – probably the most iconic war movie about leadership.

Bridge on the River Kwai: A great illustration of motivating people either by the threat of punishment or coming together under difficult conditions for a common goal.

Business Movies

Finding positive movies about business can take some work, but there are some out there. Here are a few we think you might enjoy:

The Intern – There are many elements of this movie that works. Robert DeNiro is the retiree that as a "senior intern" brings calm internal leadership to an ecommerce start-up. Anne Hathaway as a female founder struggling to build her vision of a company while balancing family and the workload.

Joy: A great story of seeing a path other than the dead-end one you are on. A female founder building up a family business despite the headwinds of all the naysayers.

The Pursuit of Happyness: Will Smith is terrific in this one about overcoming the odds and how grit and hard work can triumph. Critical to the story that we appreciate is a corporation taking a gamble on a bright, but unconventional candidate.

Jerry Maguire: (Note: this one is Rated R) Most remember this classic for the iconic lines “Show me the money!” and “You had me at hello.” The story arc we appreciate is how Jerry upends his career so he can run his business the way he feels it should be run – with compassion and love for his clients.

Food Movies

The restaurant business has about as much drama as war and sports. Plus food to make your mouth water. If you have some foodies in your life, they might enjoy these movies:

The Hundred-Foot Journey – this recent gem flew below the radar but is about finding your passion, belief in your ability, and overcoming prejudices.

Chef: (Note: Rated R for a scene with a zillion F-bombs, other than that it’s family friendly). This movie has a ton of elements we love – from finding your passion (food movies are often about that) but also leveraging social media to grow an enterprise, having a great team, and finding success.

Animated Movies that Grown-ups can tolerate:

Have you ever been caught watching a cartoon by yourself? I have. Often. There are many that I enjoyed watching as much as my kids. Here are a few of our favorites.

The Incredibles – One of our favorites. Worth it just for the scene where Mr. Incredible is stuck in a cube farm in an insurance company.

Kung Fu Panda 3 – A goofy movie, yes, but a great story about becoming a leader.

How to Train Your Dragon – The How to Train your Dragon trilogy is excellent. The first in the series is about unconventional leaders and seeing beyond “this is the way we’ve always done things” to finding a better way.

Moana – This gem has a lot of elements for young leaders – including self- awareness and confidence, to putting others before self.


Period biographies of great leaders in history can be an excellent source of inspiration. Here are several biopics we love:

Lincoln – Arguably the best US President, this film focuses specifically on the crucible that was the American Civil war.

Gandhi – This epic offers lessons in inspirational leadership, as well as resistance through non-violence to achieve goals.

The Iron Lady – Margaret Thatcher was the first female prime minister of Britain, and navigates a career destined to change the rules of leadership and politics.

There are hundreds of movies we left off the list, but we hope you found a few that you might not have seen that you will enjoy.

Building great leaders takes time, and the story is often fraught with trials and naysayers. If you are a leader or learning to be one, we wish you a successful journey.

For all of our readers, we wish you the best this holiday season We hope you get some down time with friends and family and come back stronger than ever. Keep riveting.

If you are ready to lead a new team, or are looking to add to yours, we’d like to hear from you. The Rivet Group is an executive search and consulting firm specializing in placing the right leaders at all levels within organizations. Find out more about us at

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