One of my all-time favorite movies is the Disney classic, Remember the Titans, which came out in 2000.  Sure, I am a huge sports fan, and I played a little football in high school, so it doesn’t hurt that this movie takes place in my generation, and is based on a high school football team that is dealing with racial issues and prejudice.   At my high school in the late 70’s and early 80’s (when I played), we had a predominantly white team, with a few minorities.  The big difference between the Titans of T. C. Williams High School in Alexandria, VA, and Indians of Fullerton High School here in Southern California, was that we were mostly unified from the beginning.  Another difference is that we weren’t that good, at least not in the two years that I played.

Remember the Titans is centered on the theme of integration.  T.C. Williams High School, like so many schools in the early 70’s, faced tension and violence, as two cultures were combined into one school.

On the football field, the integration eventually worked, as the Titans went a perfect 13-0, and won the Virginia state championship.  The Titans held their opponents scoreless in 9 of those 13 victories.

While there are so many more details to this story, the real reason I love this movie is because of the roles of various leaders throughout the movie.

Prior to integration, the head football coach was Bill Yoast.  He was a legendary high school coach in Virginia in the 1960’s.  As the movie accurately depicts, the Titans were led in 1971 by Coach Herman Boone, portrayed in the movie by Hollywood legend Denzel Washington.  The tension and prejudice between Coaches Yoast and Boone was real, and was a microcosm of the issues between the players, and on the school campus.

I teach a Sports Management and Leadership course at UC Riverside, and this month will begin my 5th year doing so.  I have students from all over the world each year.  On the first night of class, I ask my students to define, in their opinion, the difference between a group, and a team.  I also ask them to discuss the difference between managing and leading.   It is always fascinating to me to hear their opinions and definitions, and then I ask them for examples of great managers and leaders from their own lives.

Regardless of their culture (I have had students from all over Europe, Asia, South America, North America, and even Russia), their understanding and examples of leadership are usually very similar.

In week two, I show them the movie Remember the Titans.  Sure, it is a sports leadership class, so it makes sense to show a classic sports movie, but sports is simply the backdrop for this great movie.  It is really about so much more.

I ask the class to identify the various leadership styles, methods, strengths, and weaknesses of each leader.  I also ask them to identify at least 10 different leaders in the movie.  This is tough, as there are two obvious leaders in the movie, the two coaches.  However, as they watch the movie, they invariably identify several of the players taking on leadership roles, as well as Coach Yoast’s 10 year old daughter Sheryl, played by actress Hayden Panettiere.  It is inspiring to see the players and this outspoken little girl step into leadership roles, and it teaches a profound lesson to the students…that leadership is not a title, but a responsibility of everyone, at different times, throughout the organization.

I also ask the class to identify the point when they believe the group of players, and the group of coaches, eventually become a team.

Our textbook identifies three types of leaders:  Autocratic (one decision maker, his or her way or the highway), Democratic (one leader makes the decision after input is received from his or her people), and Laissez faire (what will be, will be…letting things take their own course, without interfering).  There are several examples of each style throughout the movie.  In our own lives, there is a time and a place for each style.  For example, many of us might not respond very well to an autocratic leader, but if I am in a burning building, I don’t want the leader in our office to be democratic or laissez faire.  He or she needs to step up and take charge…now!

Any business leader, HR department, or recruiter, can assemble a group of people, but only a great leader can transform that group into a team.

As you watch this classic movie again, pay close attention to the leadership roles (I’ll bet you will come up with a lot more than 10 leaders) throughout, and also notice when the group of individuals eventually becomes a team.   Can you pinpoint moments in the film when this happens?  How about in your own company, family, or team?

I would love to hear from you about the various leaders in your business, and moments when you saw groups of people evolve into unified teams.

Share your stories with me, and let’s have some fun with this by sharing one another’s stories with everyone else.  Sometimes the greatest lessons we can learn come through the experiences of others.