Hacksaw Ridge is the story of WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, played by Andrew Garfield, who served during the Battle of Okinawa. Doss refused to wield a weapon or harm another person.
For this, his commanding officer had him court-martialed and attempted to expel him from the military.
Thankfully for those he was serving with, he wasn’t dishonorably discharged. By the end of the Battle of Okinawa, Doss had pulled 75 men from Hacksaw Ridge.
Because of his heroic efforts, Doss became the first Conscientious Objector in American history to be awarded the Medal of Honor.
When I first heard the story of Doss, I couldn’t believe a man could be in the army and not pick up a weapon. This would seem like a given, even if he were to never shoot the gun.
And yet that was Doss’ story. He went to war, saved the lives of comrades, and returned home.
You can bet that there’s a lot of leadership lessons from Hacksaw Ridge.
Caution: Hacksaw Ridge spoilers ahead
Leadership Lessons And Quotes From Hacksaw Ridge
1. Desmond Doss:
You want a hand?
As a young boy, Desmond climbed rocks with his brother Hal. Hal was having trouble getting over the lip of one rock and Desmond offered him his hand.
Great leaders know that they’re there to help others get to the next level. Leaders are there to lend a helping hand.
2. We have defining moments in life:
Desmond took a red brick and hit his brother in the head. Hal almost lost his life because of this moment of anger.
Later in life, Desmond saw his dad attack his mom with a gun. Desmond ran in and stopped his dad.
These were defining moments in the life of Desmond Doss. Desmond was changed by these times and more.
I have moments in my life that are seared into my mind. You have similar moments.
These are your defining moments. You will be changed by them.
3. Bertha Doss:
He doesn’t hate us. He hates himself.
Tom Doss, played by Hugo Weaving, was Desmond’s father. Because of his actions, Desmond believed his father hated him, his brother, and his mother.
His mother, the wise woman she was, knew Tom didn’t hate his family. He despised himself. His issues were internal.
People act out because they are hurting. There’s something not right within them and they’re struggling.
I’ve seen this multiple times in youth ministry. A student acts out and you wonder why.
Then you figure out that his parents just divorced. Or their boyfriend broke up with them.
The internal struggles of people cause them to act out. Seek to understand before correcting them.
4. Great leaders take quick action:
Desmond was working in the church when he heard a commotion outside. He looked out the stain-glassed window to see a young man named Gilbert, with a car on top of.
Gilbert had been repairing the vehicle when it fell on him.
There was no hesitation in what Desmond did next. He got off the ladder, rushed outside, and began tending to his wounds.
Great leaders do the same thing. They see a problem and they begin working to resolve the problem.
5. Great leaders don’t stay behind:
While Desmond didn’t believe in killing another person, he was compelled to enlist in the army. He didn’t want to stay behind while others were sacrificing for him.
This is a great illustration to those wanting to become better leaders. Real leaders don’t sit behind a desk when there’s danger. They move from behind their desk and work side-by-side with their teams.
6. Find your way to serve:
Yes, Desmond wouldn’t pick up a weapon. He didn’t feel comfortable doing that.
Knowing he had to serve, he looked for an opportunity to do so. That’s when he decided to become a medic.
He believed he could go into the army and help take care of the wounded soldiers. All without picking up a gun.
You may not have the “right” skills but you do have skills that are useful to any organization. Hone those skills and use them to serve.
7. Desmond Doss:
I’m a Conscientious Cooperator
The military wanted to brand Doss as a Conscientious Objector. Doss believed there was a name for what he wanted to do.
He didn’t want to kill. He didn’t want to harm. He wanted to heal.
To do that, he would become a Conscientious Cooperator.
What name have you been given by others? Could you take that name and give yourself a new one?
When you do, you change the way you, and others, look at yourself.
8. Leaders will make unpopular decisions:
Because of his faith, Desmond chose not to pick up a weapon during World War 2. This did not make him popular.
His fellow soldiers bullied him. Going as far as to attack him in the middle of the night.
Still, Doss stuck to his guns (no pun intended). He wouldn’t budge on his decision.
You’re going to make unpopular decisions. People will question your sanity. They may even attack you.
But if you’ve made a sound decision, stick to it no matter how unpopular your decision makes you.
9. Desmond Doss:
I’m different. I know that
Leaders are a different kind of people. Embrace your difference.
10. Your beliefs will be challenged:
Desmond Doss was a Seventh-Day Adventist. He had staunch religious beliefs and he wouldn’t budge from those beliefs.
Those same beliefs made the other soldiers challenge him.
As a leader, you’re going to be challenged by people, especially if you’re a Christian. Your decisions and beliefs will be scrutinized.
Find a way to live above reproach and you will be able to live with yourself.
11. Smitty Ryker:
Why the hell are you still here?
Smitty Ryker, portrayed by Luke Bracey, was a bully in Hacksaw Ridge. He pushed Doss’ buttons and tried to get him to quit.
When Doss wouldn’t, Smitty had to ask Why? Why won’t you quit?
Great leaders are like Doss. They won’t give up because something is difficult. They push through.
Will you leave people wondering, in a good way, Why the hell are you still there?
12. Desmond Doss:
I’m prepared to give up my life for my men.
Doss wasn’t a captain or sergeant. He was a simple soldier.
Even then, he still saw the other soldiers as his men and someone he was willing to lay his life down for.
13. Dorothy Schutte:
I fell in love with you because you were like no one else I’d ever met
Dorothy Schutte, portrayed by Teresa Palmer, was Doss’ love interest in Hacksaw Ridge.
She was a stunning beauty who was out of Doss’ league. Yet she still fell for him.
He wondered how someone like her could love him. She gave the answer every man would love to hear: Because you’re like no one else I’d ever met.
The same principle can apply to leaders.
People are crying out for a leader like they’ve never met before. With so many bad leaders out there, they want a good leader.
Someone who cares. Someone who’s willing to do what others won’t. And someone who loves them.
Be that leader. Be a leader like no one else.
14. Release your title:
As Desmond approached the battlefield, another medic encouraged him to lose the markings that designated him as a medic. That other medic told him to do so because the Japanese on Okinawa were specifically targeting medics.
With that sage advice, Desmond took off the white fabric stating he was a medic. He also picked up a different helmet so the enemy wouldn’t know what he was.
How many times do we struggle and fight for a title? We want to be recognized as a leader.
However, we might better serve those we’re leading by stripping away our title and serving with them. Side by side, working.
15. Sergeant Howell:
We’re not in Kansas anymore Dorothy. Keep climbing
Vince Vaughan played Sergeant Howell, Desmond’s commanding officer in Hacksaw Ridge. As they climbed Hacksaw Ridge, Sergeant Howell encouraged Desmond to keep climbing. He couldn’t stop.
Great leaders do that. They push their team to their potential.
16. Great leaders don’t leave the wounded:
Desmond Doss had the opportunity to descend Hacksaw Ridge. But he couldn’t do that. He knew there were men wounded from the Battle of Okinawa.
There were soldiers who needed his help. So he rushed back onto the battlefield and began gathering the wounded.
One by one, he would bring them to the edge of Hacksaw Ridge. From there, he would lower them to the soldiers at the bottom of Hacksaw Ridge.
Desmond wouldn’t leave a wounded soldier behind. You can’t either.
When one of your team members is wounded, don’t leave them behind. Don’t push them out.
Help them. Heal them. Restore them.
You want to stop spouting that crap? It’s not helping no one
Another soldier was being negative in his speech. He was giving a negative report. Then a soldier spoke up.
He was tired of hearing the negativity.
Yes, things were bad. This didn’t mean things couldn’t get better.
Are you someone who’s spouting crap? Are you negative?
Check yourself and change the way you’re speaking. Instead of speaking death, begin to speak life.
18. Great leaders sacrifice:
One gut-wrenching scene in Hacksaw Ridge saw a wounded medic from the 96th Infantry Division tell Desmond to give the plasma to another soldier.
We later learn this medic passed away because he didn’t receive the plasma. He sacrificed so another man could live.
What have you sacrificed for your team?
19. Desmond Doss:
What is it that you want of me?
Desmond asked God what did He want from him? He waited and listened to hear a response.
The answer wasn’t the audible voice of God. Yet he heard a voice. That of a fellow soldier.
That’s when Desmond rushed back onto the ridge and began saving his fellow soldiers.
Have you asked God what He wants of you? If not, try it. See what He says. You will get the direction you need.
20. Great leaders cover their men:
If you’ve watched the previews for Hacksaw Ridge, you probably saw the scene where Desmond covered a fellow soldier with dirt to hide him from the Japanese soldiers.
There’s also another scene where Desmond uses his own body to shield another soldier.
This is a great metaphor for a Christian leader.
Great leaders are willing to cover and shield those they lead. Whether that’s in prayer, physically, or in another way.
21. Great leaders engender trust:
When we first saw Desmond enter the army, his fellow soldiers didn’t trust him to have their backs. They thought he’d turn tail and run or be killed.
By the end of Hacksaw Ridge, the soldiers trusted him with their lives.
What are you doing to engender trust? Build trust and become a great leader.
22. Desmond Doss:
Please Lord, help me to get one more
With danger all around him, Desmond didn’t pray for safety. He asked God to help him save one more person.
Wow! Are you asking for safety or to reach one more person?
23. Prayer is powerful:
Not only did Desmond’s prayer help him rescue 75 men, it also changed the views of the soldiers he was serving with. They asked him to pray for them before they made another attempt to overtake Hacksaw Ridge.
Don’t ignore the power of prayer. Prayer is powerful and will move mountains.
24. Great leaders ask for forgiveness:
After all that Desmond did, Smitty came to a realization. He was wrong.
He was wrong to persecute Desmond. And he was wrong in his thoughts about him.
At the end of the movie, Smitty asked Desmond for his forgiveness.
When leaders make a mistake, they need to own up to it and ask for forgiveness. Don’t be ashamed. Be a leader and ask those you’ve wrong to forgive you.
25. Great leaders will break the rules when needed:
Desmond believed it was wrong to work on the Sabbath. He held firm to that belief.
Yet he broke the rule of not working on the Sabbath when his team needed him.
Rules are there for a reason. Rules are there for our protection and guidance.
And yet there are times we will need to break the rules that have been set.
Desmond broke the rule he believed in because he knew he would be helping his fellow soldiers.
You will have a time when the rules will have to be broken. Be willing to be flexible and break the rules.
Question: Have you watched the moving and gripping tale of Desmond Doss in Hacksaw Ridge? If so, did you see any leadership lessons in Hacksaw Ridge? If not, what leadership lessons from Hacksaw Ridge that I shared resonated with you? Share them in the comment section below.
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