Quotes And Leadership Lessons From Kandahar

A Reel Leadership Article

My latest book, Reel Leadership, is now available on Amazon. If you love movies and leadership, you will love this book.

Kandahar is an intense film involving CIA agent Tom Harris (Gerard Butler) and his translator Mo (Navid Negahban) as they flee hostile territory after their secret cover is blown. Their journey exposes hidden truths, dangerous allies, and former friends.

I was glued to my seat as I watched Kandahar. Maybe it’s how Gerard Butler plays military roles or the intrigue of a spy mission gone wrong. Perhaps it’s that the movie was loosely based on the Snowden leaks in 2013. Either way, the story was enjoyable, relevant, and entertaining.

As always, there’s more to the story than what’s on the surface. Every movie has Reel Leadership lessons hidden within.

In the latest Reel Leadership article, we dig into the leadership lessons in Kandahar.

Gerard Butler and Navid Negahban in the movie Kandahar

Quotes And Leadership Lessons From Kandahar

1. There’s always more beneath the surface:

Tom and Corey (Tom Rhys Harries) were CIA operatives working to hack the network in Iran. They knew there was something beneath the surface. What they didn’t realize was how much was going on below.

By hacking into the network of cables, they could map out the city. The network hack showed an extensive nuclear facility below the surface. Nothing of the facility was viewable above ground.

It was a scary thing for the CIA to discover.

In our organizations, things are happening beneath the surface. Something we will never see or know is going on.

Try to be more aware of what’s happening below the surface. Work to figure out why things are happening that you don’t know about.

The more you know, the more you can work with others to resolve the underlying issues.

2. Exposing the truth can have damaging implications:

The CIA used the information obtained through the network hack to implode the hidden nuclear facility. They sent a hack into the systems of the nuclear facility that caused a nuclear meltdown. 

A reporter, Luna Cujai (Nina Toussaint-White), was contacted by an informant. He had information about the nuclear incident. He wanted to expose the truth.

Being a reporter, so did Luna. She had the information and was ready to release it. That’s when all hell came crashing down.

Luna is kidnapped and tortured. Half of Iran is sent after Tom. And the government has a significant issue on its hands.

We believe that the truth should be aired. You can’t lead in deception. However, truth can cause an eruption in your organization.

Learning how and when to release the information is critical in dealing with the truth. 

You have to be gentle in the exposure. You have to be willing to confront and still comfort.

Don’t be a hammer when a gentle touch is needed to expose the truth. The truth will bring more damage than good if you’re not careful.

3. Tom Harris:

This job is making you paranoid.

Tom had a handler overseas. His name was Roman Chalmer (Travis Fimmel). 

Roman wanted Tom to stick around for another mission. He began to bribe Tom to stay. Then he began to do something scary.

Roman began to talk about Tom’s phone conversations. He had been monitoring Tom’s interactions.

Paranoia alert!

I’ve seen many leaders become paranoid about the people they lead. Whether it’s monitoring their work while working remotely, checking their email inboxes, or requiring employees to record detailed records of their interactions, paranoid leaders are damaging to their teams.

While some leaders have a reason to be paranoid (former employees or relationships gone bad), most don’t. They just behave how their past leaders lead.

Be cautious in being paranoid. Your people will notice, and you will lose their trust.

4. Tom Harris:

Same as the old.

Mo, Tom’s translator, was driving Tom to Kandahar. Along the way, they passed multiple bodies hanging from a construction crane.

Mo says, “Welcome to the New Afghanistan.” Tom understands what he means when he responds, “Same as the old.”

There hadn’t been a change in Afghanistan. The new regime was the same as the old, just a new name.

This happens a lot in organizations. 

Organizations demand a change. They bring in new leadership. The leadership they bring in is just as bad as the old leadership.

Why does this happen? I believe it’s because of two things. 

The first is culture. There’s a culture that doesn’t want to be disrupted. The culture has to be infiltrated by the new leadership to make inroads. Yet, a segment doesn’t want the change to stick.

The second is the organization doesn’t realize they brought in the same type of leaders as they ousted. Organizations like to stay the same. The leaders in charge pick people that are like them. This can be good; this can also keep an organization stagnant. 

Beware of these two issues when trying to implement change.

5. The biggest issues will be what’s between your mission and the starting point:

Tom and Mo had to travel 400 miles once their cover was blown. Their destination wasn’t the issue. Their starting point wasn’t the issue.

The issue was what lay between those two points. For them, it was mercenaries looking to collect on a bounty or to take out the duo.

The biggest issues in leadership aren’t the start or the finish. The biggest issue is what lies between.

When we start new projects, there’s a lot of excitement. Things are changing, people are moving, and growth will happen. When we finish projects, there’s a lot of excitement too. A job is well done, change has been implemented, and the company can progress.

It’s that tricky middle that’s dangerous. 

Complacency sneaks up on leaders and their organizations. Detours reroute what should have been a simple task. People begin to murmur and complain.

Watch out for the middle. It’s where most projects get stuck.

6. Beware of misdirection:

Kandahar was an intrigue and action movie. One of the scenes in Kandahar had you doubting Roman.

Roman was supposed to be looking out for Tom. He was supposed to report back to the CIA to update them on Tom’s status regularly.

When this didn’t happen, the CIA agents began to worry. Then another scene shows Roman calling a friend and joining what appears to be a Taliban organization.

This was all misdirection. 

Roman hadn’t turned. He was a good guy that stuck with Mo and Tom until the end. Even giving up his life to save the pair.

There’s a lot of misdirection in leadership. Whether this comes from those you lead or do business with.

We have to watch out for misdirection. Don’t let what you see cloud what you know.

7. Leaders need to be more appreciative of those they lead:

Tom shares with Mo the story of his last translator. The field agent relies on their translator with their life. Without their translator, the agent would be lost.

But what happens to the translator? The person they rely on everything for?

Most often, nothing…

There are no thanks. There’s no appreciation. 

They do what’s expected and then get released.

Leaders, how often is this the way we treat our employees?

We think of them as disposable or someone paid to do the work, and that’s enough. I’m here to challenge you. It’s not enough.

Your people are giving up their lives for you. Sure, there’s pay involved, but they’re missing out on life.

Go above and beyond what the business world tells you to do. Go beyond what your college tells you to do.

Appreciate those you lead. Reward them often and well.

8. Leaders offer forgiveness:

Tom had a friend that he needed to see. He figured this friend would be able to get them to the extraction point.

That man was Ismail Rabbani (Ray Haratian).

Ismail was not a nice guy. He was a warlord. More than that, Ismail was the man who had killed Mo’s son.

Mo had a choice. He could kill Ismail. 

Or he could forgive Ismail.

Mo chose to do the thing leaders need to do. He chose to forgive.

You have to be the bigger person in your organization and business. You have to be willing to extend the olive branch of forgiveness.

This is for more than the person receiving forgiveness. Forgiveness is a balm to you

When you forgive others, you release the bitterness, resentment, and anger that has held you back. Be willing to forgive.

9. Leaders know when to override the authority of others:

Two CIA agents were watching what was happening to Tom and Mo. One of the agents wanted to act. He wanted to fire on the Afghan troops approaching the prone position of Tom and Mo.

The other CIA agent told them they couldn’t. They had to stand down.

The first CIA agent used powerful language. His words were basically, “screw the authority,” but much harsher. He knew people were in danger and was tired of seeing good people hurt because he hadn’t been given the authority to act.

Even as the leader in an organization, you will have other leaders over you. They will have an idea of what you should do. 

But they’re not in your position. They’re not seeing what you’re seeing. They’re not making the decision that hurts others.

You are.

There are times when you have to override the authority of those above you and take action. 

10. Leaders help their people:

After everything was said and done in Kandahar, Mo felt he would never return to his homeland. He was blacklisted there. 

Yet he wanted to return. He loved his country. He also loved his sister, who had been abducted.

This grieved Mo. 

Tom saw Mo’s grief. He encouraged him. 

Tom told Mo he would see his homeland again. When? When Mo and Tom returned to get Mo’s sister.

Tom was willing to help his translator with his need.

That was an above-and-beyond moment. Tom didn’t have to choose to go back to help Mo. But he did.

You have a choice to make. Do you help the people you lead? Or do you let them linger in their pain and sorrow?

You have the ability to change the lives of the people you lead. Choose to help them.

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