Leadership Skills from ‘Dangerous Minds’

One of my favourite films is Dangerous Minds; it is not only incredibly entertaining but also teaches some excellent leadership skills. It shows us the power of courage, generosity, inspiration, innovation, and determination, and also that women can be tremendous leaders, even in the most difficult of circumstances.

If you have never seen the movie, I suggest you check it out. Michelle Pfeiffer gives a masterclass on what leadership is all about. The film is about an English teacher who has to teach a tough class in a Los Angeles Inner City school.


The teacher shows great courage by stepping in to stop fights and visiting a rough, tough neighbourhood, and she does all this to show her students that she cares and that she has their best interests at heart. She stands up to the school principal for them and even puts her new job in jeopardy.

This helps her to build a connection with her students, breaking down the barriers by being vulnerable.


She is generous with her time, her praise, and her money, taking the students out to a theme park, all at her own expense.

Now that she has built the connection through her courage, she wants to nurture the relationship and help it grow to increase the trust that they have in her. She shows that she is not in the job for the money but genuinely wants to help them become better.


She inspires her students by telling them that they can all be A students. Which they don’t believe. But she tells them that at the start of the year, she is going to give them all an A, and all they have to do is keep doing the assignments to keep their A.

She has changed the dynamic through a paradigm shift. You don’t have to achieve an A; you already have one, and now you just need to maintain it. With this approach, her students are now at least prepared to try and keep their A, working harder than they would have under the old paradigm, as they didn’t have the belief they could get an A.


By using Bob Dylan song lyrics as an introduction to poetry, she encourages a class of inner-city school kids to go on and read Dylan Thomas. It’s innovative because it looks to get people to do one thing to get them to do something that they wouldn’t normally do. Had she started with Dylan Thomas, she would have met tough resistance, and they wouldn’t have read any poetry.

As leaders, this is a technique that we should all look to learn because if we can get our teams started on something they like, which we can transition to something they might not like but that they need to do, it can help us.

I remember my wife trying to get the children to eat each vegetable by mixing it with mashed potatoes, slowly increasing the amount until it was more vegetables than mashed potatoes.


Faced with many setbacks, it would have been so much easier to give up and to leave her students to the destiny of poor education that many believed they would achieve, including their parents and even some of the other teachers.

But Michelle Pfeiffer’s character was not willing to give up; for every setback, she got up to try again, trying different approaches and overcoming the obstacles one by one until she was ultimately successful.  She has a class of supposed deadbeats studying poetry willingly.

All of these are excellent leadership qualities, and it’s great to see a movie that shows a woman displaying them and succeeding in such difficult circumstances.

These qualities and characteristics are not gender-specific, and I have worked with many excellent women leaders who all exhibited them and many more.

This movie shows that leadership is about strength of character, not physical strength, and in that area, women are just as strong as men, if not stronger.

If you haven’t seen the film, check it out; if you have, I’d love to hear what you think about it.

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