Finding Leadership in the Movie Seabiscuit

Finding Leadership in the Movie Spacesuit Traditionally, analysis on roles for effective leadership surround corporate or military settings with clearly defined problems, discernible issues, and areas where hypothesis can be made, models formed, predictions tested, and outcomes verified. Analyzing a film like Spacesuit for the roles of leadership present many interesting questions about leadership and what it means to be a leader. The film Spacesuit chronicles the lives of individuals as they become intertwined to produce an outcome, training a horse to race.

At what point do individuals stop seeing themselves, in their daily lives, as individuals and begin seeing themselves as members of groups having to take on leadership and fellowship roles? I contend that all of the main characters in the movie are active learners, which are foundations to great leadership, but Charles Howard is the primary protagonist of the film. His leadership is borderless between business and personal experiences, constantly driving the group’s success.

In order to better understand our characters, it is important to understand some of the definitions of leadership, as applied to our characters. According to Max Deeper (1987) in his article, “What is Leadership? ” he states: “The signs of outstanding leadership appear primarily among the followers. Are the followers reaching their potential? Are they learning? Serving? Do they achieve the required results? Do they change with grace? Manage conflict? ” (cited in Business Leadership, 2003, up. 5-66) In the outset of the film we see; Tom Smith riding on the open range chasing and lassoing a wild horse with great skill, Charles Howard having left the Ford plant back east, opened a bike shop in San Francisco, as luck should have it a car breaks down in front of his shop, which he not only fixes, but sakes improvements, drawing him to selling cars and becoming successful at it, and John “Red” Pollard as a young man deftly learning the skills of horsemanship, as well as learning his love of literature.

All of these characters are learning and managing conflict, but they are not serving, therefore they all have the trappings of being leaders but by this definition, they have not actualities to the definition of leader. Yet as stated in the paper by Ellen Van Velour and Victoria A. Guthrie(1998) “Enhancing the Ability to Learn from Experience” (cited in Business Leadership, 2003 up. 24-225), ‘To maintain their effectiveness, people in positions of leadership must be able to learn, actively and continuously. The actors are recognizing new behaviors, engaging in a variety of development experiences, testing skills that were previously untested, trying new approaches, and developing and using a variety of learning tactics to acquire new skills as laid out in Velour and Guthrie Paper(1998). The fixing of the Stanley Steamer engine by Charles Howard is a prime example of this kind of growth, but Howard does not show himself as a leader until he hires on Tom Smith as the horse trainer.

Out of all the struggles we see in the film, Smith is having the hardest time with the transition of engaging in new experiences since he is not only the oldest of the group and more prone to be set in his ways, but the timeless tradition of ranching seems to bend toward the nostalgic than the future. This is most poignantly revealed when his ride is halted by barb wire fence, Tom steps from the horse and inspects the fence, only then to notice that the fence is shielding a road and a car is speeding down that road. Tom must learn to adapt or become, literally and figuratively, run over.

Charles Howard on the other hand finds himself embracing new ideas and challenging the old ones. His resolve is shaken for a period of time by the death of his son and divorce from his wife, but Howard perceivers because he is a great leader. Great leaders realize that the group is more important than the individuals. This is the same paradigm that allows soldiers and sailors to complete the mission despite incredible losses. Charles Howard finds a rebirth of confidence, sparked by the relationship he forms with Marcela. She is a confident, intelligent woman whom he immediately arms a co-leader relationship with, subsequently marrying her.

It is at this point that we also see Howard challenge his own internal process, as he shifts from the automobile to horseradish. This again elucidates strong leadership skills. Souses & Posses (2002) in their paper, “The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership” state that exemplary leaders challenge the process. Leaders are “people who are willing to step out into the unwound. Innovation comes more from listening than from telling]. Sometimes a dramatic external event thrusts an organization into a radically new condition. (cited in Business Leadership, 2003, up. 6-77) For Howard this was death, divorce, and remarriage. Howard begins to rethink his personal views. In the prime of his automobile success that he “wouldn’t spend more than five dollars for the best horse in the world. ” (2003) Yet as we see later on he pays $2000 to purchase the horse Spacesuit and on numerous occasions risks his financial career and reputation for the horse. There is one moment in the film that truly cements the argument that Howard is the exemplary leader of the film. The scene is when the trainer Tom Smith realizes that his rider, Red

Pollock was blind in one eye. Smith is furious; looking to extol a pound of flesh from the young man for not revealing this fact sooner. Howard takes a step back, as Heifers & Laurie (2001) put it in their paper “The Work of Leadership”, he put himself on the balcony. Great sports players like Magic Johnson, in basketball, and Bobby Orr, in hockey, were able to “play hard while keeping the whole game situation in mind, as if (they) stood in a press box or on a balcony above the field of play. (cited in Business Leadership, 2003, up. 545-546) This is exactly what Howard did.

Instead of saying “your right Smith, let’s crucify the kid”, he looked at Smith and quoted one of Smith’s own lines used earlier in the film. “Way don’t throw a whole life away, Cause he’s banged up a This act by Howard encouraged Smith to carry on. Souses & Posses (2002) state that “genuine acts of caring uplift the spirits and draw people forward. ” (cited in Business Leadership, 2003, p. 80) Hoard’s act not only showed that he cared for Red and believed in his riding ability, but had been listening to Smith and honored his values too.

According to Souses & Posses (2002), “the power of spending time tit someone, of working side by side with colleagues, of telling stories that made values come alive, of being highly visible during times of uncertainty, and asking questions to get people to think about values and priorities,” (cited in Business Leadership, 2003, up. 74-75) is the heart of modeling the way of exemplary leadership. This is a superb way to define this moment in the movie, validating Hoard’s leadership prowess, within this truly powerful scene. For me to understand the project, it was important for me to think of Howard as the CEO of the Spacesuit Corporation.

This allowed me to conceptualize the players and judge them as effective versus ineffective leaders and followers, as well as functional versus dysfunctional groups and teams. Once I was able to wrap my mind around these concepts I was able to see that Howard was an effective leader, exhibiting so many of the qualities of successful leadership, would have been surprised if the outcome of the movie were any different than an astounding success.