Leadership Lessons from Oliver Stone’s Platoon | Thomas Fox – Compliance Evangelist


What are the Leadership Lessons from the Oscar-winning Best Picture Section? It was a very personal film for Stone, having served in Vietnam, he wrote the screenplay in response to what he saw as John Wayne’s inaccurate film propaganda. The green berets. This is the story of an idealistic volunteer, Taylor, who wanted to see what war was like. There is an ROTC-trained second lieutenant, Wolfe, but the platoon is led by two lifers, Sergeants Barnes (the bad one) and Elias (the good one). Stone also won Best Director, and the film won two additional Oscars for Best Editing and Best Sound Mixing.

A commenter, on the Platoonics site in a blog post titled Platoon analysis of the film and comparison with Business World Todathere cited Barnes as a pure transactional leader, unlike Elias who he called a transformational leader. He wrote about Barnes, such a track guide[s] or motivate[s] their supporters in the direction of the established objectives by clarifying the requirements of the role and the task. The followers of these leaders simply obey orders. Such leadership is needed within the military because failure means loss of life. He goes on to note that Barnes demonstrates his leadership style the afternoon before the ambush, when he gives orders of who will be on duty that night. However, the failure of this style is demonstrated, with the death of the new recruit, Gardner. Still, Barnes is able to give the orders and lead the pack effectively, due to his reliance on deterrence-based confidence. Trust based on deterrence will only work to the extent that the punishment is possible, the consequences are clear, and the punishment is actually imposed.

Elias contrasts with a charismatic-type leadership style that offers[s] meaningful followers by constructing and communicating a vision, or image, that articulates followers’ values ​​while allowing them to express their identity through a shared collective vision. He writes that Elias displays two key attributes of a charismatic leader, extraordinary behavior and acts as an agent of change. As an agent of change, it is Sgt. Elias’ challenge to Sgt. Barnes in the village scene with the little girl and the report to the captain. His extraordinary behavior is manifested in his prescience of knowing where the enemy will come from, how to outflank them, and his superhuman effort to single-handedly take on a seemingly entire army of Viet Cong.

Both of these types of leadership styles can work, but they both have consequences and may not work all the time. Barnes’ consequences painfully show that transactional leadership may not be the most effective type of leadership. In order to maintain his leadership position, Barnes eliminates his conflict, his enemy, his fellow soldier and American, quite ruthlessly, without thinking too much about the consequences or the big picture. His ability to issue orders also caused him to not objectively consider objections raised by Sgt. Elias and could have prevented Gardner’s death. Barnes just wants to make it out alive, sadly killing or letting everyone in his way die.

As for Elias, his unwavering belief in his vision ultimately leads to his death at the hands of Sgt. Barnes. While his values ​​and parts of his vision are cherished by the rest of the Grunts, Sgt. Elias embodies the vision. When he died, in essence, there was no one to stand up and support what he believed was no new standard bearer. In other words, Elias had neither trained any other soldier for the succession nor prepared anyone else to assume the leadership role when it was necessary to follow through on his vision.

Platoon is still a powerful movie. The shooting scenes are some of the most realistic ever filmed. One innovation Stone used was to subject the actors to a grueling 30-day boot camp, led by Vietnam War veteran Dale Dye. In boot camp, actors were limited to the amount of food and water they could eat and drink. When they slept, Dye and his crew fired blanks to keep the tired actors awake. Stone said he was trying to break them, “playing with their heads so we can tire this dog out, don’t care about the attitude, the anger, the irritation… the casual approach to death “. Willem Dafoe said of the full immersion experience “the training was very important to the making of the film”, adding to its authenticity and reinforcing the camaraderie developed between the actors: “By the time you complete the training and the movie, you had a connection with the gun. It wasn’t going to kill people, but you felt comfortable with it.

There are several leadership lessons to be learned from the film. Barnes and Elias’ stereotypes demonstrate that both styles have merit, but when not paired with additional leadership factors, they can lead to catastrophic failure. The final word may come from Stone himself who gave an interview to ANZ Chartered Accountants Managing Director Lee White about the film. But at least one thing remains essential, whether your business is in the arts, manufacturing or services. Leadership must be authentic. Stone went on to note that “You try to get different groups to work together by bringing them together without fighting. Making a movie is like running a business with multiple divisions and multiple goals. The challenge is to galvanize all stakeholders into a cohesive operation working towards a shared vision.

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