Today, I wanted to consider some of the recent leadership lessons I have explored on my podcast, 12 O’Clock High, a podcast on business leadership. In the series, host Richard Lummis and myself, mined some of our favorite Oscar-winning movies for modern day lessons which might be garnered for the business leader. Of course they also resonate for the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO).

Episode 31-Mutiny on the Bounty

In our first offering, we considered the 1935 version of Mutiny on the Bounty. Patrick J. Murphy, writing in a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article entitled “Is it Time for Mutiny?, looked at the events from a different perspective of a question, “When do mutinies succeed?” Murphy found four conditions were present in the documented mutinies:

  1. Leadership is destructive. Murphy found “that mutinies go differently for different kinds of bad leaders. When leaders are technically weak, for example, but well-liked, members depose them via fast, tactical mutinies. The case of Henry Hudson, set adrift on today’s Hudson Bay, is a prime example. Members depose technically brilliant but not well-liked leaders with careful, strategic mutinies. Here, a mutiny against Ferdinand Magellan on the South American coast comes to mind.”
  2. Values have been flouted. Murphy found that “when leader actions threaten the values that members share, an organization becomes a social powder keg. In the Age of Discovery, those shared values were centered on basic needs like the supply and quality of food, and the safety of the crew. In a modern organization, an assault on a work group’s shared values more likely threatens higher-order needs for meaning and esteem.”
  3. Ringleaders are strong. It turns out that mutineers are not weak but are usually quite strong-willed individuals. Murphy wrote, “a mutiny requires coordinated, energized action, the role of the ringleader is essential. Credible, inspiring ringleaders are as vital to mutinies as founders are to entrepreneurial ventures.”
  4. The external environment is uncertain and features novel threats. Murphy said the historical record revealed “bad leaders are especially prone to poor management decisions when the environment is uncertain and not programmed actions are necessary.” [Maybe like the Atlanta coaching staff in the fourth quarter of the recent Super Bowl LI.] However, and “at the same time, threats and opportunities to an organization are opportunities and threats (i.e., transposed) for a mutiny inside that organization. They are important to mutiny planning and execution.”

Murphy tied these long ago events to modern day business situations. He pointed to “the current entrepreneurial age, launched in mid-twentieth century Silicon Valley, is itself the product of a mutiny. The brief history is that it all began when the team at Shockley Semiconductor rose up against its founder William Shockley. The “traitorous eight” as Shockley would call them ever after, went on to found the set of firms (including Intel and AMD) that made Palo Alto the center of technology innovation. It was a culture defining event that embedded assumptions still present in the Valley about the value of trained specialists, delegated power, autonomy, flat and adaptable organizational structures, and questioning flawed authority.”

It turns out there are multiple lessons to be learnt from 18th Century British naval voyages. As a leader, you do not want to engage in the behavior of a Captain Bligh and lead your top subordinates to feel they have nothing to lose by overthrowing your captainship. As a follower, it turns out that a successful mutiny requires many unique, business-related skills. Before you make any move you need to check to see that you have the requisite technical and inter-personal skills to pull it off.

Episode 31-All the King’s Men

In our second offering, we considered the 1949 version of All The King’s Men, which won for Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actress. The movie was based on the book of the same name by Robert Penn Warren and is a thinly veiled autobiography of Huey Long. The film traces the rise (and fall) of politician Willie Stark from a rural county seat to the governor’s mansion is depicted in the film. He goes into politics, railing against the corruptly run county government, but loses his race for county treasurer, in the face of unfair obstacles placed by the local machine. Stark teaches himself law, and as a lawyer, continues to fight the local establishment, championing the local people and gaining popularity. He eventually rises to become a candidate for governor, narrowly losing his first race, then winning on his second attempt. Along the way he loses his innocence and becomes as corrupt as the politicians he once fought against. When his son becomes paralyzed following a drunk driving accident that kills a female passenger, Stark’s world starts to unravel and he discovers that not everyone can be bought off.

The leadership lessons are largely political but also demonstrate the power of personal relationships as the narrator Jack Burden, who admires Stark and even when disillusioned still sticks by him. Stark’s campaign assistant, Sadie is clearly in love with Stark and wants him to leave his wife, Lucy. Meanwhile, Stark philanders and gets involved with many women, taking Jack’s own girlfriend, Anne Stanton, as his mistress.

It is a fascinating study of a mid-20th century politician from a largely rural state yet demonstrating that many of the issues relevant to the 1930s are still relevant today.

Episode 32-Patton

In the third and final offering, we considered Patton’s leadership style, which is also relevant for today’s business leader. In his portrayal of the General, George C. Scott brought to life one of the highest profile Allied generals of World War II. The movie was almost as controversial as Patton’s tenure in Europe, yet no one can deny his grasp of both strategic goals and tactical genius. Yet, what leadership lessons can be drawn from the movie and Patton’s life?

For the movie it all starts with his opening speech, which is compilation of multiple speeches given by Patton over his career. Many leaders miss a very good opportunity to set a tone and expectations when they initially take leadership of an organization. When you are called on to lead a company, you face a dilemma: How do you start, do you send a memo? How about a meeting and if so with whom? The decision you make can set the tone for not only how middle management will relate to you but how they may relate to others who work for them.

Rhett Power, writing in Inc. in a piece entitled, “The General Patton Approach to Leadership and Success” noted that Patton’s leadership style still resonates today because it was so powerful. Yet many of Patton’s techniques translate to the modern day. He cited several examples regarding Patton’s principles of command and management:Say what you mean and mean what you say.

  • Always be alert to the source of trouble.
  • Select leaders for accomplishment and not for affection.
  • Every leader must have the authority to match his responsibility.

In an interesting take on Patton’s principles for making decisions, Power noted:

  • In the long run, it is what we do not say that will destroy us.
  • Talk with the troops.
  • Know what you know and know what you do not know.
  • Never make a decision too early or too late.

Power also wrote about Porter Williamson, who served with Patton in noting that even though Patton was a volatile and scary leader, he had a special knack of imprinting his leadership aura on others. He cited to Williamson for the following “I served with General George S. Patton Jr. No man served under Gen. Patton; he was always serving with us. In truth, I still serve with Gen. Patton, and he continues to serve with me. He makes me take cold showers, he makes me take deep breaths, and he makes me pull in my bushel of blubber.”

How many of your employee base would say they work with you rather than the work for you. This statement encapsulates a leader who talks and listens to his subordinates. There is no better style of leadership to emulate.

There are many different ways to garner an understanding of what makes a business leader successful. Through watching movies with a critical eye, you can divine some useful and practical tips to help make your compliance program thrive with greater resilience in your organization.


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© Thomas R. Fox, 2017