In this installment of Your Leadership Coach at the Movies we’re exploring how Coach Boone and others lead against the grain in Remember the Titans. This Disney classic, beloved by football fans everywhere is about the 1971 merger of a black and white high school, in formerly-segregated Alexandria, Virginia. When the black students enter T.C. Williams High School, despite the disapproval of parents and students alike, the best black and white players from two different football teams merge into one. Adding to the tension, the esteemed head coach Bill Yost is ousted for Herman Boone (played by Denzel Washington). Coach Boone is offered the job partly because of his skills, but mostly because he’s black. Viewers quickly learn that the athletic association plans to fire him after a single loss.

The movie, which is loosely based on a true story, is packed with lessons for leaders. Coach Boone is the obvious great leader within the film, but under his direction many characters exemplify great leadership as well. Here, we breakdown a few of the most-inspiring lessons.

1. Tell a Story to Elevate Your Team Out of Themselves and Into the Bigger Goal

Coach Boone helps the team realize what they’re accomplishing is bigger than themselves.

While at training camp, the black players and white players despise one another, so they don’t work together. One morning Boone has all the players and coaches embark on an early morning run, where he leads them to the site of the Battle of Gettysburg. He tells the players, “50,000 men died right here on this field fighting this same fight that we’re still fighting amongst ourselves today. Take a lesson from the dead. If we don’t come together right now on this hallowed ground, we too, will be destroyed.”

He takes a key historical moment to help the team see that the black versus white fight they’re currently in the middle of has been an issue for 100’s of years. Boone doesn’t talk to them about football, strategy, or the impact the in-fighting will have on winning games. Instead, he appeals to their personal side and humanity. This is a turning point in the film. After the visit to Gettysburg, the boys slowly start to respect one another.

The takeaway: Struggling to get an employee or team member to understand a concept or idea? Consider using a story that’s outside of your work setting. Instead of talking about how their behavior is affecting the bottom line, try to think of using a big picture example to get your point across.

2. Help Team Members Grow as Individuals

Coaches Boone and Yost don’t just prepare the boys for the football field. They equip them for life at school and beyond.

By the time school starts and integration at T.C. Williams is in full effect, the only students who seem to be getting along are the football players. Boone’s strategies helped the students bond as a team, but also helped them form individual friendships. Boone is more focused on helping the men become better leaders themselves, as opposed to worrying about his own reputation. He’s truly focused on helping each individual player become a better person.

Boone even calls out Coach Yost for being hard on the white players, while coddling the black ones. Boone insists that behavior won’t help the young black men grow in the long run.

The takeaway: Invest in your team members for professional and personal growth. Help them to grow, learn, and become better people and leaders. It will likely benefit the organization, too, but you’ll also be making an impact on them as individuals. Think of how the things you do, say, and the tasks you give can all help your colleagues and employees grow.

3. Know When to Step Up and When to Step Back

Coach Boone gives players opportunities to lead on their own, while Coach Yost asks for help when he needs it.

One of the things we discuss in our Apollo Experience is how leaders can decide when to step up and lead the charge or when to step back and let someone else take control. This theme plays out in Remember the Titans in a few different scenes. When team captain, Gerry Bertier, realizes that his friend Ray isn’t blocking for the black players (which leads to the quarterback’s injury), he asks Boone to cut him from the team. Boone steps back and lets Bertier decide Ray’s fate and deliver the news himself.

And although Coach Yost is the defensive coordinator, he struggles to manage the defense during the championship. He steps back and asks Boone to take over the defense for the rest of the game, which leads them to victory.

The takeaway: Sometimes we have to let a subordinate have a chance to prove themselves or fail. Letting them lead on their own can help us (and them) see what they’re capable of. Sometimes we need to take control, but there are times we need to step back, so others can step up.


Check back with us again next week! We’ll be sharing leadership lessons from the 1957 classic, 12 Angry Men.

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