10 Leadership Lessons From Denzel Washington And Unstoppable

With the release of the Denzel Washington movie Unstoppable on dvd this Tuesday, I wanted to re-visit a post I wrote when the movie was originally released in November.  Enjoy!

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 leaders, 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.

8 Responses to “10 Leadership Lessons From Denzel Washington And Unstoppable”

  1. SolutionML #FF RT @briankdodd: Interesting analogy for #leaders #executives:10 #Leadership Lessons From D Washington:Unstoppable http://wp.me/pVReH-Rx

  2. leadershipworx RT @briankdodd: 10 #Leadership Lessons From Denzel Washington & Unstoppable http://wp.me/pVReH-Rx #relationships #leadership

  3. Thanks for the post. I love movies, especially ones with strong life/leadership lessons. Will have to see this one!

  4. Quotes_home RT RT @briankdodd: 10 #Leadership Lessons From Denzel Washington & Unstoppable http://wp.me/pVReH-Rx #movies #quotes #fathers…

  5. Brian: Really appreciate your Leadership Blog. I need help? I am looking for one of your posts. It had a elderly gentleman sitting on dock with his arm around a young boy fishing. I believe the post had to do with mentoring. Is it possible to resend me a copy of the post.Greatly appreciated if you can. Thanks again

  6. i like it 10 Leadership Lessons From Denzel Washington And Unstoppable | Brian Dodd On Leadership now im your rss reader

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