After watching Wind River, I’m in shock. The movie starring Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye in the Avengers) and Elizabeth Olsen (Scarlett Witch in Captain America: Civil War) has to be one of the best movies of 2017.
Wind River tells the story of Renner’s character Cory Lambert as he helps track the murderer of a young Indian girl on the reservation. The story takes twists and turns you may not see coming. In the end, Wind River left me breathless.
With all of that, I wanted to take a look at the leadership lessons found in Wind River.
Caution: Wind River spoilers below
Leadership Lessons And Quotes From Wind River
1. Lead with excellence:
Cory Lambert’s job was to hunt predators. Wind River opens with Cory hunting a pack of wolves that were stalking the local’s sheep. He took a couple of shots with his hunting rifle and cleared the threat.
All of this was done with excellence. He didn’t allow the sheep to be harmed. He didn’t allow the wolves to suffer. Cory did his job with excellence.
Leaders need to lead with excellence. They need to make sure they’re doing their job and helping their team do theirs.
Be a leader who leads with excellence.
2. Cory Lambert:
You’ve got to earn his respect.
Cory had brought his son to the Indian reservation Wind River. There, his son, Casey (Teo Briones), was startled by a horse.
Casey wanted to try to ride the horse but was unsure of how to get the horse to allow him to let him ride. Cory tells him he needs to earn the respect of the horse.
Before leaders can lead their teams well, they need to follow Cory’s advice. Leaders need to earn the respect of their team.
When leaders earn respect, rather than demand respect, team members attitudes change. They become willing players rather than forced members.
Earn the respect of the team you’re leading.
3. Some training is dangerous:
The Indian reservation had called Cory there to investigate a lion attack. A lion had attacked and killed the livestock of one of the tribe members. Cory was a hunter and his job was to track and kill the lion. When
When Cory arrived on the scene, he discovered the attack wasn’t committed by a single lion. No… The lion was attacking livestock with her cubs. She was training the lion cubs to kill.
Her training of the lions resulted in their being hunted. Cory’s job as a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent was to dispatch the lion and her cubs. Their training turned dangerous.
While you’ll probably never be hunted because of a training you’ve taken or enrolled your team members in, you have to be cautious of the training you receive.
There are training programs out there that will teach you the wrong way to lead. Or to sell. Or to do business.
Be cautious of the training you take.
4. You may find the unexpected in your everyday work:
As Cory was hunting the lion and her cubs, he made an unexpected discovery. He saw footprints. He saw blood. And then he found something unexpected.
There, in the middle of the snow-covered wilderness, he found the body of Natalie Hanson (Kelsey Asbille). She was covered in bruises and in blood. Her body was an unexpected sight for Cory.
Your daily work may uncover unexpected insights. Be watching the signs of unexpected insights or dangers. When you see glimmers, track them down and explore them.
5. Find a mentor/guide:
FBI agent Jane Banner pulls into the Indian reservation but has a hard time finding her way as a snowstorm was happening. Cory saw her having trouble. He went and knocked on her windshield.
Once she rolled down her window, he told her to follow him. He knew the way.
Young leaders can get stuck, much like Jane did. Leadership isn’t a clear path. There are unknowns and dangers you won’t always be able to see.
Yet there are leaders who have gone before you. They have experienced leadership pitfalls and dangers. They know what you need to be looking out for.
Find a leadership mentor or guide. Get someone to help you as you journey throughout leadership.
6. Cory Lambert:
How do you gauge someone’s will to live?
Examining Natalie’s body and the tracks she left, Cory and Jane discovered she had run quite some distance in the snow and frigid cold. She’d also done all of the running barefoot.
Her will to live had to have been extreme.
You may think you have a gauge on someone’s ability to led or perform a task well. Yet you never know the grit and determination within someone else.
Be willing to let others prove you wrong. Give people a chance to prove themselves.
7. Leaders can choose the wrong option:
Natalie’s dad Martin Hanson (Gil Birmingham) reveals he made a bad decision. He’d let his 18-year-old daughter go live with her boyfriend. This decision probably cost Natalie her life.
Leaders have to make hundreds of decisions every day. There are decisions to be made for everything.
You’re going to choose the wrong option some of the time.
When you do, don’t give up. Don’t feel bad. Rather, choose to make things right.
8. It’s okay to cry:
Jane and tribal police officer Ben (Graham Greene) went to visit Martin about his daughter. As they were there, Cory knocked on the door.
Martin answered and stepped outside. That’s when Martin broke down. He began to weep for his daughter.
There are leaders out there who think crying is for the weak. Crying is not for the weak. Rather, strong leaders know they can cry.
Know that it’s okay to cry. When times are tough, you may have to let your emotions flow. Be okay with it.
9. Cory Lambert:
You can’t steer yourself from the pain.
Cory tells this to Martin as they’re sitting outside of Martin’s house. Martin had just let the tears flow and was wondering how he was ever going to get through the pain he was feeling.
Cory shared his pain with Martin. He told Martin that you can’t steer yourself from the pain. You have to face the pain of the situation before you can move on.
Can I be honest with you, I’ve tried to steer myself from the pain I’ve felt before. I did this when I lost Zane and Leviticus. The pain I felt was almost unbearable. Losing your best friends is hard.
I didn’t want to feel the pain. I wanted to push the pain away and not have to deal with it.
You have tried to steer yourself away from the pain of a difficult situation as well. It’s time to stop steering from the pain and face it head-on. Deal with it. Then move on.
10. Cory Lambert:
I know you’re looking for clues but you’re missing all the signs.
The investigation led Cory and Jane to the house of Natalie’s brother, Chip (Martin Sensmeier). There, Cory notices snowmobile tracks going uphill but no tracks going downhill.
Jane missed the sign of the tracks and failed to investigate. She was too focused on the clues.
Leaders will get sidetracked much like Jane. They’ll see something obscure and begin following the clues. While following the clues, they’ll miss the signs that are right in front of them.
Be willing to become focused on the signs that matter and not the shiny objects. The shiny objects will lead you away from what you need to be doing.
11. You’ve got to fight your feelings:
Cory approached Chip while he was seated in a police car. He began to talk to Chip and Chip began to open up to Cory.
Chip said he felt like fighting the world. He then makes a mistake and mentions the death of Cory’s daughter and how Cory doesn’t know how it feels.
Cory let Chip know he knows exactly how Chip feels. But he chose a different path. Rather than fighting the world, Cory began fighting his feelings. Those were the things he could fight and win.
As a leader, you have to fight your feelings. Your feelings will lead you astray. They will tell you that you’re not good enough or that you’re going to screw up.
Take captive your feelings. Fight them. And then face reality.
12. Cory Lambert:
There’s a lot I don’t know.
This is a line every leader needs to memorize or remember. Regardless of how much you know, there’s plenty you don’t know.
This is a fact of life and something you have to find ways to work around. The best way to work around not knowing everything is to surround yourself with wise counsel.
These men and women will help you make wise choices when you don’t know what to do.
13. Great leaders diffuse tense situations:
Jane, Ben, and other law enforcement officers went to an oil dig site where they believe there may be clues to Natalie’s death. There, they meet many of the oil workers who seem a bit shady.
One of the law enforcement officers pulled his gun as he felt something was going down. The other men drew their guns. They were now caught in a stand-off.
Jane spoke up. She chose to help diffuse the tense situation. She asked for calmness and rational thought. And she began to diffuse the situation by putting away her gun.
Eventually, everyone put their weapons away. At least for the moment.
Great leaders know tense situations lead to bad outcomes. They work towards diffusing the tense situations before they get out of hand.
When you see a tense situation, help diffuse it.
14. There are times to break the rules:
After Jane diffused the situation, things took a crazy turn. You discover the oil dig workers were the ones who raped Natalie and killed her boyfriend Matt (Jon Bernthal of The Walking Dead fame).
The law enforcement officers and Ben are gunned down by the crew. Jane is shot but protected by her bullet-proof vest. Cory begins to take action and shoot the bad guys.
But Cory misses one. And so does Jane.
Yet Jane knows the man who got away can’t live. She tells Cory to go after him. Even though this breaks many laws.
The rules had to be broken.
Are there rules your organization has that need to be broken? Be willing to break the rules.
15. Jane Banner:
I got lucky.
Jane realized luck played a part in her survival. Sure, she had a bullet-proof vest on but she could have just as easily wound up dead.
She was lucky.
Many leaders don’t want to admit to the role luck plays in leading successfully. Yet luck is a part of leadership. You have to make the best choices you can but then you have to let life play out. That’s where luck comes in, in my opinion.
16. Sit with those who are hurting:
As Wind River winds down, Cory goes and visits Martin. He sees Martin sitting outside of his house with his death face paint.
Cory knows Martin is grieving. He’s hurting. So Cory sits next to Martin and begins to sit silently with Martin.
Sometimes you will have team members who are hurting. Words may be ineffective. But you have something valuable.
You have your presence. Just sitting next to someone who is hurting can help.
Be willing to sit with those who are hurting and grieving.
Closing Thoughts On Wind River
Wind River is a winding story that brings you to an unexpected conclusion. The justice meted out in the end is brutal but poetic.
If you haven’t seen Wind River yet, you need to. It will be one of your favorite movies of 2017.