The movie Gladiator is one of my favorite films of all time not the least because it holds wonderful lessons in Leadership. In this article, I share with you some of my favorite quotes/snippets from the movie along with how I interpret them as highly important Leadership maxims.
The relevance of this post is not limited to people in managerial positions, the lessons are applicable by anyone interested in becoming a better version of themselves.
Here we go:
1) Maximus’ ritual to touch the earth.
In NLP Coaching we call this action anchoring. If you notice, whenever Maximus is getting ready to step into battle, he kneels and connects with the earth.
Having a specific anchor to get in state before an activity or event (a board meeting, a pitch, a workshop, a meditation, an exercise session...) is a very powerful way to leverage the power of habit by sending yourself the message that it's time to rock and roll. In many ways our primal minds have a pavlovian reflex. Yes, just like a dog. Sit. Stay. Go.
2) Maximus to his men before leading them to battle:“What we do in life echoes in eternity!”
I once read a beautiful quote that said "Live your life as if you were going to live it exactly the same 100 times over". If you had to live your life, unchanged, again and again 100 times, what would you do differently? What actions would you take? What would you stop?
This is about Legacy over short term gain.
I heard somewhere that we all share the same destination (Death) and that we all end up equal. Although I believe in the former I do not believe in the ladder. I believe that If I live sheepishly, not true to myself and my dreams, this will be felt at my time of death. The opposite is true for me as well, If I Live fully, then I will sit in peace on my death bed.
3) Marcus Aurelius' decision to defer his son from taking the throne.
If you're the son of an emperor, that does not make you one. It certainly does not give you the merit to be one. The crowns are ultimately a meritocracy and there is no way of denying that fact. The consequences of having the wrong people in charge will be paid for sooner or later. True leaders earn the right to take charge through real world experience and adversity.
4) Marcus Aurelius delegating the responsibility of Rome to Maximus: "Maximus, will you accept this great honor?
Maximus: “With all my heart, No.”
If you think that saying No to your boss, spouse or friends is tough, try saying it to your emperor. The most graceful and simple way of saying No: “With all my heart, No”.
Leaders are true to themselves and what they stand for, hence they say No often and gracefully.
5) Marcus Aurelius' Daughter to Maximus: “Will you serve my brother as you did my father?”
Maximus: “I will always serve Rome”
Great Leaders do not serve other humans, they serve causes.
6) Maximus' servant: “Sometime I do what I want to do. Sometimes I do what I have to.”
Even when we choose a career we want, we still have to do lots that we don’t necessarily want to. Having said that, in an ideal career, at least when we don't Love the activity, we still Love the cause. The most accomplished Leaders are on a mission.
7) The portrait of the young emperor as entitled and childish.
It points directly to this fact: The greatest value of a man is in his character. His presence. His attitude. His integrity. Not his status or bank account.
8) Proximo: “I wasn't the best because I killed quickly. I was the best because the crowd loved me. Win the crowd and you will win your freedom”
Maximus: " I will win the crowd, I will give them something they’ve never seen before”
- my favorite passage. That is what made the greats, Michael Jordan, Conor McG, Kobe Bryant, Steve Jobs (Maybe not him but Apple products)...great. The key is: it is not about winning the crowd for fame, it's about winning the crowd for a larger message, for an impact.
9) Maximus to his fellow gladiators in the arena: "If we stay together, we survive.”
United we stand. Divided we fall.
Seek help. Serve others. Be served.
The whole is larger than the sum of it’s parts - 1+1 does not always equal two. Leaders know and leverage that.
10) The part in which the emperor submits to the crowd shouting “Live, Live” while he wants Maximus Dead.
When we are too attached to receiving the crowd’s approval, we are slaves of it and cannot do what we truly believe. Ultimately this caused the Emperor's demise. It is also, I think, the reason Henry David Thoreau mentioned "The mass of men leads lives of quiet desperation". Leaders do what they feel they must do, specially when facing external pressure.
11) Senator Greco to another Senator: “I do not pretend to be a man of the people Senator. But I do try to be a man for the people.”
A leader does not manipulate crowds to serve it's own agenda. A leader aims to serve in the best way possible. Being a good Leader starts with your intention. With your purpose for wanting that responsibility to begin with.
12) The portrait of the young emperor's hunger for Love and approval (getting more and more blatant throughout the movie).
Love cannot be forced. It cannot be manipulated. Deceiving who we are for the purpose of gaining someone else’s Love is a sure fire strategy for endless dissatisfaction, self doubt and suffering. Taking Leadership is turning this on it's head.
13) Maximus: “Death smiles at us all, all a man can do is smile back”
Leaders will accept and smile at everything they cannot control. It takes courage to face uncertainty. Leaders learn to develop that courage. They know that ultimately, there is no use in fighting uncontrollable circumstances. I have a special affinity for that scene because I am a big believer of keeping Death by my side. Remembering that I am going to die is one of the best ways I know of moving forward with intention and heart.
I conclude by mentioning that I greatly appreciate Maximus' embodiment of Ralph Waldo Emerson's quote: “In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.” The balance between his power, strength, ability, courage and his kindness, humility, empathy and sobriety, truly embody what I find to be strongly charismatic Leadership.
I hope this post inspires you to envision and be the kind of Leader that you choose to be.