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10 Leadership Lessons from the Movie: Greyhound

In 2020, the Movie Greyhound was released on AppleTv in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was a groundbreaking movie for several reasons, but mostly for its use of CGI. It has quickly become a favorite movie of mine, and I re-watch it often. The move is based on C.S. Forester’s novel, The Good Shepherd.   

  • I’ve thought about why I keep coming back to the movie, and I think it's because it's such a good study in leadership and command. Ernie Krause, the movie’s main character portrayed by Tom Hanks, is the Captain of a U.S. Navy Fletcher Class Destroyer leading a convoy across the Atlantic in the midst of WWII. 

  • These were incredibly dangerous missions, mostly because these convoys were without the protection of aircover for a number of days as they passed over what was called “the pit” — the vast expanse of ocean beyond where airplanes could guard the ships. And it was in “the pit” that the murderously effective German U-boats hunted. Estimates indicate that these U-boats claimed some 3,000 allied ships throughout the war. 

The movie is about Naval Captain and his crew shepherding souls through dangerous waters. 

10 Leadership Lesson from Greyhound 

1 - Good Leadership Demands Moral Uprightness. 

The movie opens with Krause in his cabin. He’s just getting out of bed, and the first thing he does is to kneel at the bedside to begin his morning by faith. He reads from a prayer book and offers a prayer to God, entrusting himself to God’s good care, and then sets himself about his duties. Good leaders can only give out what they receive.

  • Krause’s moral fortitude is quickly put to the test as he is in charge of maintaining the safety of his crew and the entire convoy, combating the enemy, handling internal strife among his own crew, respecting others of lesser stations, and more. Good leadership demands personal moral fortitude. 

2 - Good Leadership Handles Conflict Effectively.  

Leadership means being confronted with conflict. Any arena of leadership encounters conflict. Captain Krause handles conflict at every level, from the personal inner conflict of a rejected marriage proposal to to chaos of enemy submarines sinking the ships he’s been ordered to protect. At each moment, when faced with conflict, Krause assesses the situation and responds appropriately. Sometimes, that means making the decisive call himself, and other times it means handing the situation off to someone else. Krause understands that the burden of leadership demands measured action. 

3 - Good Leadership Prioritizes Issues and Acts Accordingly.  

During one scene, a crewman asks Krause for directions on managing the ships supplies. Krause focuses on the crewman so that he can assess the request, realizes that the question is not pressing and can be handled by one of his subordinate officers, and instructs the crewman to seek guidance from them. He assessed and prioritized. 

At a different point in the movie, the submarine attacks seem to have subsided, so Krause hands off control of the ship to his assistant and attempts to retire to his cabin. But, as soon as he leaves the bridge someone shouts, “Torpedo, torpedo!” Krause immediately returns to the bridge, assesses the situation, and determines that he is needed. And so he says, “I have the con” (code for Captain has control). He assessed the situation and recognized that his leadership was needed, so rest would have to wait. 

4 - Good Leadership Is Calm and Kind, Even Under Pressure. 

Sometimes we mistakenly think that effective leaders are hard, rough, and gruff. But Captain Ernie Krause demonstrates that leadership, while firm and decisive can at the same be kind and compassionate. Numerous times throughout the movie, Krause goes out of his way to use intentional kindness, even in the heat of battle.

In a poignant scene, Captain Krause’s compassion is clearly seen as a kitchen mate who had served him so well is laid to rest at sea. Krause is a wonderful example of kind leadership under pressure. 

5 - Good Leadership Accepts Reality. 

Leaders are constantly faced with things they cannot change; in fact, much of leadership is responding to what someone has done. Throughout the film, Krause is faced with tough decision after tough decision. At times, he’s deciding whether to save sailors adrift in the water or hurry to help another ship under attack. During one scene, Krause is directing an assault against a German U-boat when his own ship takes a hit, and some of his men are trapped in a burning gun turret. He momentarily grieves the situation before refocusing himself on the priority of continuing the attack. Good leaders accept reality and move forward. 

6 - Good Leaders Treat those Under them with Respect. 

At the beginning of Krause’s morning, the mess mate, Cleveland, takes great pride and care in making sure Krause has a hearty morning meal. And throughout the ensuing battle scenes, as Krause is neglecting his own needs for the sake of others, Cleveland is faithfully bringing the Captain food and coffee.  In the system of naval hierarchy, Krause far outranks Cleveland, but the movie makes clear that the Captain truly values Cleveland. Krause treats him with respect, thanks him for his service, and mourns his death in the line of duty. Good leaders treat all with respect. 

7 - Leadership is Dangerous. 

Throughout the film, Krause is actively fighting the enemy, which brings its own level of danger. But during one night scene in particular, Krause’s ship is attacking an enemy submarine, its night time and the ship's guns are all firing. Its a loud, chaotic, and disorienting moment, and then someone cries out, “Merchant ship, dead ahead!” In the chaos of the action, Krause’s ship is about to collide with one of their own ships! Krause quickly demands a ceasefire, orders a left hard turn, and narrowly avoids catastrophe. 

  • Leadership is dangerous, and sometimes, leaders can lose track of the situation, forgetting the bigger picture becoming totally absorbed in the a pressing situation. 

8 - Good Leaders Need Other Leaders Around Them. 

Point 7 leads to this one: Good leaders need other leaders. Sometimes, a leader can become so focused on an issue—understandably—that they lose sight of other important things. Good, effective leadership demands a team. 

9 - Good Leadership is Hard. 

 Numerous times throughout the movie, Krause is forced to make difficult, and sometimes heart-wrenching decisions. But this is often the burden of leadership. There are seasons, such as when Krause is in the heat of battle, when leadership decisions come hot and heavy, all at once. And there are other times when the pressure isn’t as heavy, but the decisions must still be made. By the end of the movie, Krause heads to his cabin and collapses into his bed while the sunlight streams in through his windows. Leadership is hard. 

10 - Good Leaders Stay the Course Until the Job is Done. 

The movie comes to a close as Krause faithfully guides the convoy into safe waters, and allied airplanes take over as the primary defense. With the ships safe and his job complete, Krause retires to his cabin for rest. His feet are bleeding and he hasn’t slept in days, but the safety and wellbeing of those under his care, and his responsibility to the mission drove him on. Good leaders know they must stay the course until the job is done. 

Lots more could be said, but I would encourage you to watch the movie yourself!


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