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Photo by Hattie Kingsley Photography. Editor’s Note: This blog post has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness on May 29, 2020. 

Most of us can point to leadership moments from movies and TV shows that have inspired us. One of my personal favorites is from Hoosiers. In this movie, Gene Hackman’s character, a basketball coach named Norman Dale, benches a kid during a game for not being a team player.  When another player fouls out, Coach Dale is left with only four kids available.  As the kid that was benched gets up to return to the game, Coach Dale lets him know he should stay put and tells the ref, “my team is on the floor.”

On screen, the crowd boos but most of us watching in the theatre or at home applauded that moment. Coach Dale knew it was more important to teach the kid a life-long lesson of playing as part of the team rather than winning one basketball game.

These types of leadership moments from TV and film really stick with us because they tap into the inspiration we feel when we see great leaders in action. Whether it’s the army captain that drives his troops forward during a difficult battle, or the teacher the motivates students to work harder in the classroom, it’s moving to see a person who can help others elevate their potential and achieve things they didn’t know they could do.

Pop culture contains some great leadership lessons, but which ones are really fact and which ones are just fiction?

At Ecsell Institute, we are constantly studying what makes leaders more effective. So we thought it would be interesting to turn our attention to some of the popular tropes about leadership you see on TV and in movies. Do these common styles of leadership actually work? Do real-world facts actually line up with on-screen fiction? Over the weeks to come, we will begin looking at some different leadership tropes in popular culture to compare them to real data on coaching techniques that produce results.

THE MOTIVATIONAL MANAGER

The first trope we are analyzing is that of the motivational manager. Often in movies, there is a climactic scene where a group has faced a setback and so the leader must give a big speech to inspire those they are leading. The leader shares stirring words, often with soaring music that rises in the background, and then the team is inspired to go forth and win. This scene in Braveheart is a good example of this type of motivational moment. But does a leader’s ability to motivate really improve results?

To answer that questions, we considered results from over 1,000 Coaching Effect surveys in which team members provide feedback on different aspects of their manager’s leadership and coaching abilities. In those surveys, we asked team members whether they consider their manager to be effective at motivating them to greater performance.

Our research found that leaders whose team members agree their manager motivates them to better sales performance lead teams that produce an average of $449,000 more annually. So in this case, it seems that reality matches fiction – sales leaders who are more motivational lead teams that produce better sales results.

If you want to improve your ability to motivate your team, consider personalizing your approach to your team. You can do this by figuring out what motivates them, as well as tapping into their emotions. In the Braveheart scene we linked above, we see that Mel Gibson’s character, William Wallace, motivates his countrymen by knowing that pride in their country is what is most meaningful to them. Further, his challenging words fill them with fear of what will happen if they do not act. He effectively personalizes his motivation and moves them to action.

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