Quotes And Leadership Lessons From One Life

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.

Take a step back in time with the new movie One Life. One Life tells the story of Nicholas “Nicky” Winton (old – Anthony Hopkins, young – Johnny Flynn). Nicky was a young London broker who saw the horrors of the coming war. Nicky became a savior to hundreds of Jewish children. He helped shuttle them by train from Prague, Czechoslovakia to the United Kingdom where foster families were waiting for them and avoid the coming Jewish Holocaust.

It is a harrowing story brought to the public’s knowledge when the BBC show That’s Life had Nicky attend an airing. During the airing, he discovered the woman sitting next to him was one of the women he helped save. They brought him back for another show. This time… every audience member was a child he’d helped rescue.

Grey-haired man sitting in an audience of people. Clapping hands.

Anthony Hopkins in the movie One Life

One Life tells the story of Nicky and his quest to save children. It’s a heartwarming tale that needed to be told. After watching, you may wonder who had been chopping onions in the theater or at your home. 

More than that, you’ll walk away inspired to lead better. You’ll discover many leadership lessons in One Life. Today, we’ll take a look at those.

Quotes And Leadership Lessons From One Life

1. Grete Winton (Lena Olin):

You have to let go.

The movie takes us through Nicky’s home. It’s filled with remnants from his time rescuing children. Documents are everywhere. Every nook and cranny has been filled with these documents.

I feel Nicky. I can be a hoarder, too. 

Then his wife, Grete, tells him he must let go…

They don’t dive into details of why he has to let go at the movie’s start, but it becomes clear later on. Nicky had saved hundreds of children, 669 to be exact. However, he lost over 200 when the Nazis stopped train number nine from leaving Prague. 

He’s held onto this guilt ever since.

Nicky had a right to feel guilty. To wonder what happened to those final children. However, he held onto the guilt and shame of losing them.

We do this when we make a mistake in leadership. We choose to hold onto what went wrong.

That slipped word. The poorly executed business plan. Or the decision that didn’t work.

You can’t focus on those moments. You can’t keep bringing yourself back to your mistakes. 

You have to let go.

2. People will do what you teach them:

Nicky talks with his mother, Babi Winton (Helena Bonham Carter). He tells her he’s going to Prague. He has to. 

Babi tries to talk Nicky out of going. It’s dangerous. A war is coming.

But Nicky protests. He says he has to go. He has to help.


Because she taught him that people who have the means must help others. So, while others are headed out, he’s headed in.

You have a team around you that looks up to you and respects you. You have people outside of that team that does the same.

They’re watching your actions. And your actions are teaching them the actions to take.

Make sure your actions are worth emulating. 

3. When leaders see the need, they fill the void:

Nicky arrives in Prague. He walks the streets and refugee camps. What he sees changes his life.

He sees families that could die. More importantly, he sees children who need saving. 

Nicky springs into action. He begins to formulate a plan that could save people.

Great leaders know there are voids in every organization. They actively seek these voids out to see what can be done to fill them.

What voids are in your organization? What can be done to fill them?

Begin looking for the voids and what could fill them. It could be a new program, more employees, or something else. 

See the need, fill the void.

4. People will resist new leadership at first:

Nicky had been in Prague less than a day when he first formulated his plan to rescue the children. He’d been shown around Prague by Doreen Warriner (Romola Garai). 

He begins to spout off how they need to help get the children out of there. They need to move the children.

She pushes back. She tells Nicky that he arrived only yesterday. Now, he’s trying to tell people who had been there helping a lot longer what to do. The worst part is that he will be leaving them soon.

Doreen resisted Nicky’s ideas at first. He was seen as an outsider. Someone who wanted to come in, make changes, and then leave.

It’s hard to follow leaders who come in guns blazing. 

They don’t take the time to get to know the people or the culture. They fail to engage the people. They just want to make changes.

Beware of being one of those leaders. As you start to make the needed changes, you must make sure you’ve won the people’s hearts.

5. Trevor Chadwick (Alex Sharp):

Just what we need. An army of ordinary.

Doreen, Nicky, Nina (Matilda Thorpe), and Trevor are gathered around a table. They’re discussing the plan to get the children out of Prague.

Nicky goes over the plan. To save the children, they would have to appeal to the citizens of the UK. 

Doreen says it could be difficult to appeal to ordinary people. Trevor then states that is exactly what they need: an army of ordinary people.

And the table they were at was full of ordinary people.

You don’t need extraordinary people to do great things. You need an army of ordinary people.

People who are willing to do the hard work. People who are eager to fill a need. People who are willing to change the world.

Ask them to step into the mission and vision you have. You’ll be surprised how they will step in and step up.

Those ordinary people will become extraordinary people in the process.

6. Appeal to people by using what matters to them:

Nicky and Babi meet with Leadbetter (Michael Gould). They’re there to discuss getting the children from Prague to London. 

Leadbetter tells the pair that there’s a process. 

Babi wasn’t going to stand for this. She looked at Leadbetter’s desk. There is a photo of his children.

Then she goes in for the kill. She talks about his children and what he would want for them. 

She appealed to him using what was important to him.

You have to learn what’s important to your people. What drives them. What makes them come to work every day.

This is their why. 

You can appeal to your people using their why. Their why keeps them coming back. It’ll make them push beyond what they believe is possible. 

Appeal to people using what matters to them.

7. You don’t have to give an answer:

Nazis stopped one of the trains Nicky used. The Nazis ask Trevor why England wants all of these Jews.

Trevor could have responded in a myriad of ways. Instead, he chose to remain silent. He didn’t answer.

You will be questioned many times throughout your leadership journey. People will press you for an answer.

The truth is, you’re not required to answer. You can let your silence be your response.

8. It’s okay to go to silly things:

Nicky met with Betty Maxwell (Marthe Keller) to show her the scrapbook he’d kept in Trevor’s old briefcase. It was a fascinating history of the children he’d saved.

Betty kept the scrapbook to show her husband, Robert Maxwell. Robert eventually invites Nicky to come on the show That’s Life.

Grete tells Nicky that it’s a silly show. Maybe he shouldn’t go. Nicky goes anyway. At the show, he is reunited with one of the children he’d rescued.

By going to the silly show, Nicky’s life is once more changed. He understands the impact his actions have had.

We may want to avoid the silly things in our lives, thinking they are too childish or silly. However, these silly things can change our lives.

Be willing to step out and do something fun or silly. Experience a different side of life. 

Who knows, it could change yours.

9. The people you impact want to meet you:

After the first person meets with Nicky on That’s Life, Nicky gets a call that two more of the children he’d rescued want to meet him. He agrees to meet them.

However, at the show, Nicky discovers that there are more than two children. There’s an audience full of the children he’d rescued.

These people wanted to meet Nicky because he made an impact on them. He’d rescued them. They’re alive because of him.

You will never know the true impact you have on those you interact with. Yet, you will impact hundreds, thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people throughout the course of your life.

These people want to meet you. They want to have a connection with you.

Because of the impact you left on them.

Know that your actions have changed the lives of the people around you. Your actions are important. And so are you.

10. One person can change the world:

One Life is all about the life of Nicky Winton. He was one man who changed the world. He’s been called the British Schindler (remember Schindler’s List?). 

His selfless actions changed 669 children’s lives. 

Think about that… How many children did they have? How many children did their children’s children have? And so on…

Nicky’s actions truly changed the world.

And so can you. 

You are interacting with thousands of people throughout your life. Each one is an important life that needs to be tended to.

Your interactions with the people you come into contact with can change the world. Be the world changer.

If you enjoyed this Reel Leadership article, you may enjoy our collection of Reel Leadership articles eBook. You can get this eBook for free by signing up for updates by clicking here.
Follow Me