5 leadership skills from the movie: Fury

One of my favorite movies of the past couple of years is Fury. It is based on true events in World War 2. For those who have not seen it or do not know it, it’s a movie about a tank crew lead by Don “wardaddy” Collier (played by Brad Pitt). They operate in the final stages of the war, supporting the allies in clearing a way towards Berlin. Although it is a war movie, there are valuable management and leadership skills one can learn from it. We are lucky that we live in a relatively peaceful era. Thanks to people such as Don Collier and his crew.

I am not glorifying war or violence in this article. For me it’s the awareness that the basic principles of leadership apply to both wartime and peacetime tasks. There are many expectations of you. You are the link between big picture goals and the tactical execution to achieve them. This can be a heavy burden, but it is your role/position and responsibility. There is a reason you made it so far. You should be able to handle it.  Accept your situation and focus on what needs to be done.

In the movie, the character Don “Wardaddy” Collier, goes through many issues and dilemmas. And especially in wartime, having to make decisions can be a deadly business. However, the big picture was the liberation of Europe, the defeat of Fascist Germany.  This would not have been achieved without taking big risks and paying heavy tolls.

Now I live and work in peacetime (I never served in the military), and also have a leadership position. Sometimes it feels very lonely. Determining what to do, and how to lead my team the best way possible. This, in order to achieve what we have been set out to do. What I quickly realized was that without the team, I lack capacity and force. And without me the team can lack focus and direction. Together we can be a strong and effective “machine”. To me, learning from people who have led under difficult circumstances, such as war and battle is very educational. How did they perform under such tremendous pressure, stress and rapid developments? They had to make quick decisions which, compared to us,  had long lasting outcomes.

The 5 lessons in leadership I take away from this wartime movie are:

  1. Keeping a diverse team together. Getting the best out of each of them in order to be an effective unit and get things done. Right at the beginning of the movie, you get introduced to the 4 men operating the tank called “FURY”. They all come from different backgrounds and have different ways of expressing themselves. The fifth member, the new guy, joins a bit later on. It is the task of the leader to make things work within the group. In life you do not always get to pick and choose your team. What you can do, is find out what their best assets are and try to balance them out. You have a job to do, and so do they. You have to accept that as the leader you will, from time to time, need to assume certain roles that might not be your usual way of being. Such as being an asshole, roughing them up and showing no compassion. On the other hand, you need to know when to reverse and actually show them some respect and compassion. It is that balancing act that can help you keep the team moving into the right direction effectively.
  2. It’s OK to be scared. It’s OK to to not feel strong all the time. At about 11 and a half minutes into the movie you see Don (Brad Pitt) leave the team and have a mini meltdown away from them. This is normal. Remember, you are a human being and even though you have a leadership position, you are also affected by situations that cause fear, stress & anxiety. But do not let these feelings take over. At some point you need to be back in charge. There are others, who are also afraid, waiting for you. Depending on you and looking to you for guidance. If you break down, they break down. It may seem lonely at first, but by showing courage, honesty and consistency, your team will not let you feel alone. Make sure you allow yourself to decompress from time to time. It is wise, to seek out support or help outside of your regular surroundings. You need to re-charge in order to be able to lead again.
  3. You will not always get everything you need to achieve a goal. At 27 minutes into the movie there is a conversation between Don and another army commander. They need to rescue a pinned down unit, with less tanks than they asked for. Some of the tank commanders do not understand why waste the efforts to rescue some small unit. Why not go right after the big kill. Things are not always that black and white, and expectations are not always aligned. Nevertheless, you are the leader of your team, and people (above and below you) expect you to figure it out. Therefore you need to be resourceful and, very important, keep the bigger picture in mind. Even though you know you might be at a disadvantage, you have to keep up the appearance of confidence and hope. That despite of the situation, there is still the opportunity you will be able to carry out your task successfully.
  4. You are the guardian of principles and values. No matter how dire, unfair or forsaken the situation, as a leader you are expected to make sure values, principles and good practice are upheld. 50 minutes into the movie we see Don and Norman Ellis (Played by Logan Lerman) entering a German home and find 2 women there. Later on the rest of the team join them, and what follows is a tense scene in which morals and values clash with anger and trauma. Don Collier needs to manage the situation balancing the anger and trauma expressed by his crew and the morals and values they should represent and are actually fighting for. The way Don handled the situation, in my opinion generated respect, discipline and to a certain extent a positive morale. He managed to take all elements into consideration while making sure that he drove the point of values and morals through. What he achieved resonated within each person concerned. It is easy to ignore and avoid the difficulty of the situation. Succumbing to the “will” of  others. Importantly, doing the right thing will leave you and possibly others, with a clean conscience. And the satisfaction to know, that you were and still are a man/woman of virtue.
  5. Never force your team to do anything. If you have led well, they will follow you, no matter what, voluntarily. At the end of the movie, the tank called “FURY” is hit by a landmine, and can’t drive further. Just as an SS battalion of approx 200 – 300 men come marching their way. The crew’s first reaction is to flee, while they still can. Don however, being the leader he is, knows they still have a mission to fulfill. The bigger picture we were talking about earlier. So he decides to stay with the tank and do the best he can to defend their position and hope their mission might help the bigger cause. His crew is hesitant. They can’t believe he does not want to flee. They know it will not end well. With tears in their eyes they try to convince him to leave with them. Don tells them that it’s OK, they can leave. He will not judge them and even says to them: “take care of yourselves, it’s alright”.  They know what will happen if they stay. But they won’t leave Don behind, on his own. The rest….well, watch the final battle of the movie. It had a tremendous effect on me. You can judge for yourself and let me know what you think in the comment section.

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