Term Paper: Deconstruction of Leadership in Film

Pages: 5 (1525 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 6  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Leadership  ·  Buy This Paper

Deconstruction of Leadership in Film: A Study of Leadership Themes in 12 Angry Men and Dead Poets Society.

This paper analyzes and deconstructs several leadership styles and approaches through an examination of the films 12 Angry Men (1957) and Dead Poets Society (1997).

Trait Leadership Approach

The trait approaches emphasizes that research proves that there are specific traits that clearly differentiates leaders from followers (Northouse, 2010, p.15). However, Northouse cites the second Stogdill study (1974) that both situational factors and personality were determining factors of leadership (Northouse, 2010, p. 16). In other words, while specific traits are important to the type of leadership a person exhibits, situational factors also need to be considered.

In both 12 Angry Men and Dead Poets Society, the trait approach to leadership is demonstrated. In 12 Angry Men, the emerging leader of the twelve jurors, played by Henry Fonda, uses his personal traits to deal with the tense situational factors at hand. All the jurors appear mentally and physically exhausted after listening to a lengthy murder trial and do not seem to want to prolong their civic obligation anymore. An initial vote taken shows that 11 believe the accused man is guilty, while 1 dissents. That one person, Fonda's, must overcome his own fatigue, the exhaustion of the group, and somehow persuasively explain his reasoning why he believes the accused is not guilty.

From the beginning, it is apparent Fonda posses a more "democratic" style of leadership. He first expresses no opinion either way when initially voting "not guilty," but instead encourages the other jurors to discuss the case with open-minds. Given the tense situation at hand (tired jurors wanting to go home after a long trial), Fonda's use of his trait leadership style appears to be exactly what is needed to develop momentum for the jurors to carefully think through the facts and the reasoning the verdict.

In Dead Poets Society, the trait approach to leadership is also demonstrated. John Keating is a newly arrived English teacher at strict, New England boarding school for young men. From the outset, it is clear that his personality and character traits make him fit to be the person to lead the students in learning to be passionate about poetry and discovering their self-identity also. The first time Keating teaches, he enters whistling, and then suddenly exits. He reappears a second later and tells the students to follow him. In the hallway, Keating teaches the students of carpe diem, and instructs them to seize the day while they are able to. The students have never had a teacher like this before, as they appear to be stunned and puzzled after Keating's first lesson. Keating combines his personal traits of passion for life and learning with the situation he faces (young men who have been instructed in a mechanical, lifeless method for years) to emerge as the leader of his students.

Style Leadership Approach

The style approach focuses specifically on how leaders act and what they do (Northouse, 2001, p. 69). The style approach has been divided into two general types of behaviors: task behaviors (which aid goal accomplishment) and relationship behaviors (which help subordinates feel more comfortable on multiple levels) (Northouse, 2010, p. 69). "The central purpose of the style approach is to explain how leaders combine these two kinds of behaviors to influence subordinates in their efforts to reach a goal" (Northouse, 2001, p. 69).

In 12 Angry Men, Fonda's character uses the style leadership approach. Fonda combines his goal (task behavior) of having a fair deliberation concerning the man accused of murder with helping the other eleven jurors to feel more comfortable (relationship behavior) with thinking critically and closely examining the facts, even if they are tired and don't want to deal with the situation anymore. Fonda has a clear goal in mind and never relents from questioning each juror to explain his reasoning. At times this unrelenting prodding results in personal attacks on Fonda, but he never gives up. Ultimately, this style leadership approach helps the 12 jurors deal with the questionable facts from the case and reconsider the accused man's guilt.

In Dead Poets Society, Keating's leadership style needs to be different because his young students have been trained to be obedient, even submissive, for all of their academic careers at the boarding school. Early in the film, Keating criticizes the dull introduction to the students' poetry textbook. He explains how there can be no exact calculation to measure a poem's "greatness" as the introduction's author suggests. Keating then has the students rip out the pages of the introduction. The students don't know how to react at first. Slowly the students begin to rip out the pages, and they grow excited and motivated by the exercise. This example of a "non-traditional" teaching method demonstrates Keating's leadership style that instructs his students what to do without being authoritarian about it. The youthful and unique style leadership approach Keating takes toward working with the students is inspiring, and is no doubt effective on their growing adolescent self-discovery.

Leadership Approach of Taking Charge Without Taking Control

Bennis describes the importance of taking charge without taking control to be an effective leader (Bennis, 2003, p. 151). In other words, a leader must inspire those he is working with instead of ordering them to comport a certain way or believe a certain idea.

In 12 Angry Men, Fonda never orders the other jurors to change their votes to not guilty. He simply pleads with them to closely examine the facts and to do so with open minds, as they may have not done before. Fonda at the beginning of the film states "I don't know if I believe [the accused man's story] or not, maybe I don't." As a result of Fonda's open-mind, the other jurors begin, albeit slowly, to become more receptive to closely re-examining the facts and testimony of the case. By presenting the possibility that the verdict could still go either way and demonstrating that he was not trying to force the other jurors, Fonda effectively exhibits the "taking charge without taking control" leadership method.

In Dead Poets Society, there is no doubt that Keating inspires his students without ordering them to develop a love for poetry and life. Keating instead lets his own passions speak for themselves, and influences his students by exposing them to the very poems and theories and ideas that he loves and allowing the young men to make their own choices. The effect of Keating's "taking charge without taking control" leadership style is that the students come to treasure the time they have with him and develop a new love and acceptance for their own individuality and interests.

Aristotle's Rhetoric Leadership Approach

In Aristotle's Rhetoric, the philosopher posits that "Rhetoric falls into three divisions….[o]f oratory: 1) political, 2) forensic, and 3) the ceremonial of oratory display" (Aristotle, Book I, Part III). The two most applicable divisions of rhetoric to 12 Angry Men and Dead Poets Society are the forensic approach and the oratory display approach. Aristotle writes that "[f]orensic speaking either attacks or defends somebody: one or other of these two things must always be done by the parties in a case" (Aristotle, Book I, Part III). Aristotle also proposes that "[t]he ceremonial oratory of display either praises or censures somebody" (Aristotle, Book I, Part III).

In 12 Angry Men, the use of Aristotle's second rhetoric (forensic) is the most obvious. Aristotle writes that "Parties in a law-case aim at establishing the justice or injustice of some action, and they too bring in all other points as subsidiary and relative to this one. Those who praise or attack a man aim at proving him worthy of honor or the reverse, and they too treat all other considerations with reference to this… [END OF PREVIEW]

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