Quotes And Leadership Lessons From 1917

A Reel Leadership Article

It seems I am wanting to say this more and more but quite a few recent movie releases have been absolutely fantastic. 1917 stands above so many movies I’ve seen I may claim it is the best movie I have seen in my lifetime. That’s saying a lot as Pam and I have seen a lot of movies.

1917 tells the story of Lance Corporal Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Corporal Will Schofield (George MacKay). Blake has been given a mission to get a message to Colonel MacKenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) regarding an impending German ambush. Not only does Blake need to get this message to Colonel MacKenzie to save 1,600 men. Blake needs to deliver this message to save his brother, Lieutenant Joseph Blake (Richard Madden).

George MacKay as Lance Corporal Schofield in 1917

1917 is a frenzied, perfectly balanced tale of Blake and Schofield’s attempt to reach MacKenzie in time. Everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING, flowed in a way that draws the viewer into the movie. Before I knew it, the 2-hour movie was done and I was sitting in awe along with the rest of the theater.

1917 will be a highly recommended movie of mine. I will tell others they must go see it. I will tell you to go see it. The movie is that good.

1917 does more than entertain, though. 1917 will help you become a better leader. Today, we’re going to look at the leadership lessons in 1917.

Quotes And Leadership Lessons From 1917

1. Give your team members a choice:

Sergeant Sanders (Daniel Mays) tells Blake to pick a man. He has a mission for him and he needs to take someone with him. Blake chooses Schofield to accompany him on the mission.

Sanders could have told Blake who was going to go with him. Instead, Sanders empowered his Lance Corporal. He gave Blake a choice.

Great leaders look at their team. They understand there’s power in giving someone a choice. By giving others a choice in who they choose for their team or how they accomplish a task, the leader can empower their team members. Not only does choice empower a team member, giving your team members the ability to choose gives them confidence in their decisions.

Help your team members become empowered. Give them a choice in their teams and how they get things done.

2. Lance Corporal Tom Blake:

Must be something big if the General is here.

Blake and Schofield were brought to General Erinmore (Colin Firth) was the general for a special mission. When Blake discovered who they were seeing, he began to understand the gravity of the situation.

The General was there. He was the one giving the orders. He was important and this meant their mission was important.

It can be easy to delegate or push off letting your team know what is going on or what needs to be done. This is a huge mistake. As seen in this example, when the leader shows up, people understand something big is happening.

Be the leader who shows up. Be the leader who communicates. Be the leader who lets their team know how important the mission is.

3. Make the mission personal:

General Erinmore told Blake what the mission was. Blake was to deliver a message to MacKenzie that the attack was to be called off. There was an impending ambush and lives would be lost.

The mission was clear. The mission wasn’t personal.

Erinmore made the mission personal. He told Blake that his brother would be there. If Blake failed, his brother would die.

Wow! That’s making things personal.

Throwing out a mission or a task is easy. You can communicate it because you can understand it. But can you get your team to grasp the mission?

You can if you learn how to make the mission personal. Show your team what is in it for them (and it’s more than a paycheck). Help your team to understand their mission and the organization’s mission is personal.

4. Lance Corporal Will Schofield:

Age before beauty.

Schofield and Blake were climbing out of a trench and into a hostile environment. Schofield stepped in front of Blake and told him “Age before beauty.”

This brought a bit of levity to a very heavy movie. However, it displayed what a true leader does.

Schofield didn’t go before Blake because he wanted to be the first out. He didn’t go first because he wanted the glory. He went first because he wanted to take the risk before Blake would.

Great leaders go first not because of glory or honor. Great leaders go first because they know they can handle the weight of leadership and things to come better than their teams. They know the responsibility falls on their shoulders.

5. Leadership is more than accolades:

Schofield had received a medal for his service. He told Blake that he no longer had it. Blake was shocked.

How could Schofield give up his medal? How could he not treasure the recognition?

Schofield knew something great leaders understand. Leadership is more than accolades. Leadership is more than recognition.

Sure, you may get accolades and recognition because you’re a leader. However, these are not the things leaders should strive to obtain.

Be wary if you’re leading to become recognized. Leadership is more than recognition.

6. Bad things happen that are not your fault:

As Blake and Schofield were searching for a way out of an abandoned German bunker, they came across their sleeping quarters. There, Blake notices a giant rat and wondered what the rat was eating. Schofield noticed something else. He noticed a tripwire.

The rat scurried along the rafters. He then fell to the floor and ran towards the tripwire. The rat ran straight into the tripwire and blew up the bunker with Schofield and Blake in it.

The pair did nothing to cause the explosion yet they were caught up in a bad thing. They were caught in the explosion.

You can be the best leader out there. You can do everything right. And there will still be problems. Bad things will happen to the best leaders.

Don’t think doing everything perfectly will allow you to escape leadership unharmed. This is a dangerous mindset.

Know bad things will happen. These bad things won’t be caused by what you do. Rather, they will be caused by the fallen world around us. What you have to do after the bad things happen is to pick up and carry on.

7. You can misread a situation:

Blake thought he had picked Schofield to go on an easy mission. That’s why he picked his friend.

Blake’s initial assessment of what was to happen was wrong. Blake had misread the situation and gotten Schofield into a much bigger picture than either could have imagined.

You can look at a situation. You can read a situation. And you can be dead wrong.

What appears to be easy is often complicated.

Looking at the situations in front of you, you have to realize they’re not as they seem. What appears easy may be extremely difficult. What appears hard may be extremely easy.

It is easy to misread a situation.

8. Some leaders never accomplish their mission:

Blake’s mission was to deliver a message to MacKenzie. Sadly, he never accomplished his mission.

Blake and Schofield watched as two British planes dogfighting with a German plane. The British took down the German plane and it crashlanded by the two men.

Schofield wanted to finish off the German soldier. Blake had a soft heart and wanted to help the injured soldier. In helping the soldier, Blake was stabbed and killed.

Blake never finished his mission.

Many missions are grand. They are to change the world and everyone in it. Others are simple, such as to change the life of a single child.

Whatever the mission, the leader of the mission may never accomplish their mission. They may give up or die before they can say “Mission accomplished.”

That’s not to say their leadership was poor. Sometimes leaders leave or pass away before they can accomplish their mission. Blake did a lot in his time leading Schofield on their mission.

It’s just the way the cards play out. Be willing to accept a “Mission not complete.” There’s no shame in not completing the mission if you did all you could.

9. Captain Smith (Mark Strong):

It doesn’t do you well to dwell on it.

Captain Smith was with another British troop unit. His unit picked up Schofield after Blake’s death.

While talking, Smith tells Schofield the wise words above. He tells Schofield “it doesn’t do you well to dwell on it.”

Those words are true.

You can’t dwell on what happened in the past. You can’t keep looking back at the failures and the losses. What you can do is look forward to the future.

Look to see what can be accomplished. Look to see what is waiting to be done.

By looking to the future, you can see hope. By looking to the past, you can focus on all the negative that has happened.

10. Leaders are constantly wounded:

Schofield took a lot of damage during the movie. He was injured multiple times. Yet he kept going.

Schofield caught his hand on barbed wire. He put his bleeding hand through a dead German soldier’s body. He was caught in the bunker explosion and couldn’t see for a period of time. And he was shot.

That’s a lot of stuff for a man to go through. That’s a lot of woundedness…

Leaders are wounded too. They are wounded by the people they lead. They’re wounded by their customers. They’re wounded by bad business deals.

Know that going into a leadership position won’t protect you from being hurt. Rather, you’re stepping into a minefield. One where you will face constant wounds.

11. Wanting to help and truly helping are two different things:

Schofield ran into a young woman. There, he discovered she had “adopted” an orphaned baby girl. The baby girl was hungry.

Schofield had rations. He had food. He wanted to give the food to the baby. Yet, what he wanted to offer wouldn’t help the baby. The food he offered was good. However, the baby couldn’t eat what he offered. The baby needed milk.

Thankfully, Schofield had milk he could offer.

We can make the same mistake Schofield made. We can see a need and try to fill it incorrectly.

We don’t know the needs of those we’re trying to help… unless we do something. We need to ask what is needed. We can’t give what we think they need.

Get into the habit of asking what is needed before offering something. You will discover you don’t know what is needed.

12. Leaders have to deliver bad news:

Schofield made it to MacKenzie. He was able to deliver the message to hold off the attack. Schofield also had to deliver another message. This message was bad news. He had to tell Joseph Blake his brother was dead.

This couldn’t have been easy for Schofield. To let a brother know he’d never see his sibling again has to be heartwrenching.

Great leaders know they can’t shy away from the bad news. They have to have the strength and the courage to say what needs to be said.

Be a leader who won’t hide from telling the bad news. Be willing to stand up to your team and share the good and the bad. That’s what great leaders do.

13. Leadership isn’t about who you think it is:

Going into 1917, you will think the movie is about Blake. The previews for 1917 sure make it seem that way.

Then there’s the twist. 1917 isn’t about Blake. 1917 is about Schofield.

We often step into leadership thinking leadership is about the leader. Leadership isn’t about the leader. Leadership is about those the leader serves.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’s about you. It’s not.

Question: If you’ve watched 1917, what leadership lessons did you take away from the movie? If you haven’t seen the movie, what Reel Leadership lessons from 1917 that I shared resonated with you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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