10 Leadership Principles From The Denzel Washington Movie Unstoppable

Review: Chris Pine and Denzel Washington are 'Unstoppable' despite Tony Scott's best efforts

Unstoppable is unbelievable!  Great action.  Great pacing.  Great tension.  Denzel Washington is my favorite actor of this generation and Unstoppable adds to the resume.  This 20th Century Fox movie, directed by Tony Scott, is based upon the 2001 CSX unmanned train incident and the actions needed to avert certain disaster.

From a leadership perspective, this movie is primarily about the importance and consequences of our decisions.  There are two types of decisions leaders make:

  1. Pivot Decisions – Do I take Option A or Option B to reach my desired destination?
  2. Strategic Decisions – After making my pivot decision, what decisions do I then have to make along the path to reach my desired destination. 

With that in mind, there are 10 leadership principles we can take from this movie.

  1. It’s Hard To Stop Something With Great Momentum – Leaders, momentum is your best friend.  It makes you better than you really are.
  2. Current Economic Realities – Washington’s character Frank Barnes tells Will Colson, played by Chris Pine, upon arriving for his first day of work “You’ve got the right last name and a rookie pay scale.”
  3. You Never Know What You Are Carrying – The unmanned train was carrying toxic chemicals.  While this is a negative situation in the movie, this has positive implications for leaders.  Leaders carry experiences, expertise, people skills, and insights that they often do not even know they possess.
  4. One Bad Decision Pivot Decision Can Result In Several Bad Strategic Decisions – The decision by a train operator not to connect the air brakes resulted in a rescue operation needing to take place.  Leaders, today’s decisions will determine tomorrow’s success.
  5. Great Results Come From A Series Of Great Decisions – Leaders make dozens, sometimes hundreds, of decisions daily.  Each decision either takes you toward your desired goals, or farther away from them.
  6. Experience Matters – The movie’s hero Frank Barnes had 28 years of railroad experience.  We as a nation have lost our appreciation for the value of experience. 
  7. Trust People In The Trenches – Information needs to be gathered at one level (the trenches).  Only then do decisions need to be made at the next level (Executive).
  8. You Can Choose Your Decisions.  You Cannot Choose Your Consequences. – Our decisions put into motion a series of events that we often have no control over.
  9. Persistence – Barnes tells Colson before beginning to chase down the runaway train that “You quit too easy.”  Often our greatest successes come just after we almost quit.
  10. What Really Matters – Right before events take place that could result in Barnes’ death, he calls his two daughters to tell them he loves them.  This is often the case because when your life is almost over, it doesn’t matter how big your organization was, what the company profits were or how you increased shareholder value.  What matters will be your family.

My only complaint was they said “GD” way too many times.  Otherwise, this is a great escape movie that you should see.  And leader, if you are getting ready to give up and quit – DON’T!  Your victory is probably soon at hand and your family and team desperately need you.

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About Brian Dodd on Leadership

I am a church stewardship and leadership consultant for INJOY Stewardship Solutions. This blog combines my personal passions of church, sports, pop culture and family into a single leadership resource. I trust your time on this site will create conversations and add value to your life.

10 Responses to “10 Leadership Principles From The Denzel Washington Movie Unstoppable”

  1. reposting this on my tumblr. good read!

  2. ChrisKnight RT @briankdodd: 10 Leadership Principles & Review Of #Denzel Washington Movie #Unstoppable: http://wp.me/pVReH-zm

  3. IrepDleagueDemo @BrianKDodd #NEW “Denzel” music video – http://youtu.be/2FlqUxR8Do8?hd=1 #Comment

  4. scottybrewer1 Bro, I saw Unstoppable last night and read your thoughts. Great stuff. I’m a Worship Leader from Indianapolis. Your thoughts are encouraging

  5. ADHumlen Clever post:10 #Leadership Principles based on #Denzel Washington Movie #Unstoppable: Via @BrianKDodd: http://wp.me/pVReH-zm

  6. hello Brian Dodd On Leadership , i review your blog , that a nice blog and perfect. Good for everyone. best review for Frontview Mirror and Entertainment content. i going to visit to read and comment your blog.

  7. BengalsNewz RT @briankdodd 10 Leadership Principles & Review Of The #Denzel Washington Movie #Unstoppable: http://wp.me/pVReH-zm #President Bush …


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