Unveiling Leadership Lessons from the Film Gladiator

The film Gladiator contains many important life lessons, including some that pertain to leadership.

Commodus, who is the emperor in the film, and Maximus, a former Roman general who is now a slave and gladiator, are the two primary characters that drive the plot forward.

One is the supreme leader of all Rome, with immense power, who uses his position to command and lead. People follow him just because of his position, the benefits he can bestow or the fear of retribution which he may deal to them. Most people follow him out of fear rather than loyalty.

Without his position, they would never follow him.

Maximus on the other hand has no formal position he is just a gladiator. Yet even amongst the other gladiators he clearly is the leader, the others follow him from their respect of his capabilities, his honour, his authenticity. He is trusted and respected.

In the scene where they must fight as a group against the charioteers he immediately assumes command, giving clear direction and the other gladiators immediately follow his instruction, they trust his ability to see them through this and give them the best chance of success. In this life-or-death situation, they put themselves into his hands and follow him.

This builds the trust and respect they have for him, not only does it help save their lives, but later in the film we see that it has also created a loyal bond between them. When they do not need to support or follow him, they choose to stand with him, even though it puts their life at risk. They follow him even though there is nothing in it for them.

This is the essence of leadership.

Command and control structures which use fear as a basis can work, but they do not breed loyalty, people follow because they have no choice, and as soon as choice presents itself they will choose not to follow.

Again this is demonstrated at the end of the film when the Commodus has no weapon and he calls out to his trusted guards. Now they have the choice of whether to help him when he truly needs it and yet they choose not to help.

If you want to be a leader then you need to have followers, and it is only sustainable if the relationship is based on trust and respect. Anything else is purely temporary and is based on position, and when the followers have the choice, they will choose not to follow and will leave the leader stranded.

So if you want to be a leader I suggest that you watch this movie again and learn from Maximus, it’s a great lesson in leadership, as well as a great movie.

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