Hartwick Classic Film Leadership Cases®

Note: The descriptions below have been collected from the Hartwick Humanities in Management Institute web pages. They are slow-connection-friendly in this collected format. I've added links to Amazon.com via the film titles.

I've not yet reviewed case studies, but the film's reviews (on Amazon) are very impressive. I can remember watching some of these films as a child (Twelve O'Clock High, Flight of the Phoenix) with my father, one of the Miami Valley's institution builders (National Center for Aerospace Intelligence). Only years later do I appreciate what he must have seen in those films.

Others from the Hartwick list I keep available for colleagues (Gandhi, Apollo 13). I hope to create viewer's guides to some of the films absent from the Hartwick list (The Mission, Romero, Catch 22).


In this brilliant Hartwick Classic Film Leadership Case®, Henry Fonda plays a juror who seeks to convince his eleven peers to reconsider their hasty decision to convict a young boy who has been charged with murdering his father. The struggle to change his colleagues' minds is highly charged and fascinating, and gives students the opportunity to consider how important it is for an effective leader to be able to read the behavioral clues of others. Students come to realize, too, that the increased emphasis on participative leadership suggests that cognitive complexity (accurate perception and insight into self and others, problem solving behavior, flexibility, empathy, and interpersonal skill) is essential to effective leadership.

Topics Include: Behavioral Clues, Power and Influence, Cultural Diversity,
Ethical Decision Making and Diversity, Group Dynamics,
Conflict Resolution
Theories Covered: Organizational Culture, Conflict Management,
Fiedler's Leadership Model
Film Information: 1957, not rated, 92 minutes, black & white


This Hartwick Classic Film Leadership Case® focuses on the crisis that can result when an organization demands "maximum effort" from its members. Based on the story of a stubborn general's mission to rebuild a bomber group whose shattered morale under heavy losses threatens to undermine the aerial offensive against German-held Europe in World War II. The case dramatically contrasts the leadership styles of two very different leaders and provides students with the opportunity to consider the benefits (and costs) of each. Students are challenged to determine why one leader seems to be succeeding whereas his predecessor did not. In the process, they come to realize the importance of matching their leadership style to the situation.

Topics Include: Turnaround Management, Situational Leadership
Transformational Leadership, Vision, Goal-setting
Film Information:1949 (not rated), Approx. 132 minutes, Black & White


This Hartwick Classic Film Leadership Case® uses the highly acclaimed film Apollo 13, which is based on the real-life crisis on board an Apollo spacecraft that occurred on April 13, 1970. The Apollo missions had become so routine and perfect that the Apollo 13 mission generated little interest from the press - until a routine maintenance procedure caused an oxygen tank to expolde, leaving the three astronauts trapped in a crippled capsule that might not ever make it back to earth. This movie describes the struggle of the astronauts and the Mission Control technicians in Houston to improvise a new set of procedures to safely return the astronauts back to earth as one crisis after another arises. This Hartwick Classic Film Leadership Case® makes us aware of just how often disruptions and discontinuities occur. How is a leader to survive and thrive in a world in which the unexpected events occur on a regular basis? This is the question that Apollo 13 raised so pointedly.

Topics Include: Individual Leadership, Situational Leadership,
Group Problem Solving, Decision Making,
Environmental Complexity, Managing Ambiguity,
Crisis Management, Managing Paradox, Ethics
Film Information: 1995, rated PG, 140 minutes, color


This Hartwick Classic Film Leadership Case® tells the story of the fatal charge of the English cavalry at the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War. The film is based on historian Cecil Woodham-Smith's book The Reason Why. Ordered to advance against well-defended Russian artillery, the Light Brigade is destroyed by the jealousy and incompetence of its commanding officers. The Earls of Cardigan and Lucan, brothers-in-law and sworn enemies, fight over matters of prerogative and recognition while their organization suffers. Through lack of clear communication, organizational confusion and petty infighting, the brigade is doomed to destruction.

Topics Include: Crisis Management, Team Building, Motivation,
Leadership Style, Individual Leadership,
Group Leadership, Situational Leadership
Theories Covered: Cognitive Clarity, Integrative and Segmentalist
Problem-Solving Strategies, Organizational Life-Cycle,
Change and Group Identity, Leadership and Organizational
Planning, Leadership in Strategy Implementation,
Complexity of Environment, Managing Paradox,
Ethical Dimensions of Leadership
Film Information: 1968, rated PG-13, approximately 130 minutes, color


This Hartwick Classic Film Leadership Case® is based on the innovative film that combined a powerful script with equally powerful directing, acting, and cinematography to create what many consider to be the best American film ever made. It is the story of a reporter's attempt to find the truth about a dead newspaper tycoon - the greatest American of them all - by interviewing individuals who knew him well. It investigates Kane's attempts to become sole arbiter of truth, morality, beauty and reality. The life of Kane as depicted in the film closely parallels the life of William Randolph Hearst.

Topics Include: Ethics/Values, Dysfunctional Leaders, Individual Dimension of
Leadership, Status and Power, Group Dimension of Leadership,
Situational Dimension of Leadership, Cultural Factors in Leadership,
Leader-Follower Dependence and Independence, Leadership Traits
Theories Covered: Leadership Needs, Self-Actualization and Autonomy,
Democratic vs. Autocratic Leadership, Stress and Directive
Leadership, Intristic and Extristic Motivation
Film Information: 1941, not rated, 119 minutes, black & white


This Hartwick Classic Film Leadership Case® uses the highly acclaimed film Courage Under Fire. The backdrop of the movie is the Gulf War in which the heterogeniety between the Iraquis and the Gulf Confederation was so great that it could only be overcome through war. Lieutenant Colonel Nat Serling has been assigned to determine wheter Captain Karen Emma Walden, who died in the Gulf War, deserves to be awarded the Medal of Honor for combat. Captain Walden was commander of a medevac unit that consisted of a white male (Rady), an African-American male (Altameyer), and a Hispanic male (Monfriez). During the investigation, Colonel Serling encounters three very different versions of her conduct during her command of a medevac helicopter attempting to rescue a downed Black Hawk crew. Colonel Serling must also determine why different crew members give such different accounts of her conduct, and how these accounts relate to different cultural ideals of masculinity. In addition, the psychological effects of tokenism are explored as Serling, an African-American, must confront the doubts about his own bravery regarding his own conduct during the Gulf War. Courage Under Fire is a powerful movie because it makes us aware of the tensions that differences in gender, race, and culture can create and how they give rise to varying interpretations of the same events.

Topics Include: Leadership Traits, Gender Stereotypes, Subordinate Reactions to
Female Leadership, Management of Diversity, Cross-Gender and
Cross-Culture Mentoring, Situational Leadership, New Models of Leadership
Theories Covered: Motivation to Lead, Disadvantageous Stereotypes,
Dimension of Leadership Across Cultures, Cultural Influences on
Acceptable Leadership, Ethical Dimensions of Leadership
Film Information: 1996, rated R, 115 minutes, color


This Hartwick Classic Film Leadership Case® is based on the fast-moving, provocative film about a nuclear ballistic submarine which has received orders to do the unthinkable - launch a nuclear first strike against Russia. The strike is ordered to prevent a threatened launch of nuclear missiles which have come into the possession of a rebellious Russian ultra-nationalist - a frighteningly plausible contemporary situation. At this most critical moment, the command structure falls apart as a dispute between the Captain and Executive Officer over the proper course of action results in the crew splitting into two combative factions. The ship convulses as the rival groups take, then lose, control of command. With the clock ticking toward the last possible moment for launch, the situation must be resolved one way or another, with potentially disastrous consequences to an incorrect decision. The strength of the film is that the Captain and the Executive Officer ar both right and wrong. The case study shows the potential conflict that can occur when two senior officers differ on the strategy and course of action to be followed. The dependence of a leader on the willingness of followers is exposed, showing the internal conflict that followers experience when the actions of a leader seem to deviate from their understanding of the mission and values of the organization. In addition, there is a racial undertone in the film, since the Captain is white and the Executive Officer is black.

Topics Include: Power/Authority, Followership, Ethics/Values,
Cultural Diversity, Team Breakdown,
Why Leaders Fail, Authoritative Leadership
Theories Covered: Theory X and Y, Behavioral Perspective
Film Information: 1995, rated R, 116 minutes, color


In this Hartwick Classic Film Leadership Case®, a newly-appointed teacher inspires a love of poetry and intellectual freedom among his young students at a strict New England prep school. In the process, however, he encounters the profound resistance of his teaching colleagues and administrators. Students have the opportunity to grasp how difficult it is to bring change about in entrenched organizations, and in addition are encouraged to focus on alternative ways in which that change might be implemented. Even more profound is the question of whether or not the change he attempts will be good for the organization. The case also dramatically portrays the differences between transactional and transformational leadership as well as autocratic versus democratic leadership styles.

Topics Include: Transformational vs. Transactional Leadership,
Charismatic Leadership, Power Bases, Motivation
Theories Covered: Social Learning Theory, Misuse of Authority
Film Information: 1989, rated PG, 128 minutes, color


This Hartwick Classic Film Leadership Case® presents the leader of Camelot in real-life, flesh-and-blood terms. Based on the best-selling novel, The Once and Future King by T.H. White, the film tells the story of how Arthur is challenged by his magician/tutor, Merlyn, to create a kingdom in which power is exercised, not for his own gain, nor to sustain the vanity of his nobles, but for the benefit of the common good. The betrayal of Queen Guinevere with Arthur's strongest supporter and friend, Lancelot, forces Arthur to decide between the good of his realm, and his personal loyalties to family and friends. This legendary tale asks whether power used on behalf of a trancendent vision can survive, and how a leader imbued with such goals can protect his achievement.

Topics Include: Organizational Renewal, Charisma, Power/Authority
Intristic and Extristic Motivation, Organizational Structure
Organizational Conflict, Management of Diversity in Organizations
Theories Covered: Leaders Versus Managers, Managing Paradox,
Life-Cycle Theory of Leadership, Situational Leadership,
The Autonomy-Heteronomy Polarity, Participative and
Directive Leadership, The Unity-Plurality Polarity
Film Information: 1981, rated R, 141 minutes, color


William Golding's compeling story of a group of British schoolboys stranded on a remote island provides the core of this Hartwick Classic Film Leadership Case®. Their gradual degeneration into a savage horde leaves an unforgettable imprint on anyone interested in leadership failure. Students focus first on what went wrong. They contemplate the damage that can be done by organizational power struggles; they observe the boys attempting to organize for survival; and they study closely the two leaders. There is Ralph, who holds position power from the outset. And there is Jack, who successfully and tragically wrests leadership from him. Students then concentrate on the main conflict: the choice of which organizational path to follow the impulse to satisfy immediate desires or the need to plan strategically for the longer term.

Topics Include: Group Dynamics, Group Cohesiveness, Power, Dependency,
Misuse of Authority, Leadership Style,
Theories Covered: Group Development, Task and Relationship Behaviors,
Fiedler's Contingency Model, Leader-Member Exchange Theory,
Path-Goal Theory, Group Structure
Film Information: 1990, rated R, 90 minutes, color

* can be used as a supplement to Hartwick Classic Leadership Case® Lord of the Flies.


This Hartwick Classic Film Leadership Case® is based on one of the best screen biographies in the history of motion pictures. It describes the life of the former Indian leader so intimately that students feel they have actually known and been deeply affected by this great leader; one reviewer of the film wrote that "There is a genuine feeling that the spirit of Gandhi is on the screen." Students look at Gandhi as exemplar of a new model of leadership in which the ability to translate an idea into reality and sustain it is crucial. As a result, they consider the importance of absolute values, the need to reconcile power with service, and the necessity to make decisions and take actions that are bounded by moral principles.

Topics Include: Transformational Leadership, Ethics/Values,
Negotiation, Cultural Diversity
Film Information: 1982, rated PG, approximately 187 minutes on 2 cassettes, color


Oriented around the film Gettysburg, which is bases on the historically accurate novel The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, this Hartwick Classic Film Leadership Case® study deals with the largest and most deadly battle ever fought on American soil. It reveals much about leadership - successful and unsuccessful. It is during the Civil War that the small town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania became the site of what is seen by many to be the war's turning point. The three day battle, which took place from July 1st to 3rd 1863, is best known for Pickett's Charge, a magnificent feat of individual courage and a terrible waste of life. The Civil War itself involved the development of industrial war, a war of ideas fought as a total war involving economics and politics as well as military strategy and certainly leadership. The war was only won when the Union appointed its first great modern generals, Grant and Sherman. They took the field against Robert E. Lee, the last and to many, the greatest old-fashioned general. We will meet Lee at Gettysburg to see how several leadership issues come to light. Why did the Union and Confederate armies meet at Gettysburg? Why did they fight? How were they led? How was this battle to become a picture of what came next - a deadly mirror for all that was greatest and most troubling in American democracy?

Topics Include:Strategy, Crisis Management, Visionary Leadership,
Leadership Style, Organizational Culture, Followership,
Motivation, Situational Leadership
Theories Covered: Risk Management, Decision-Making Procedures,
Leadership and Organizational Planning,
Language of Leadership, Suboptimization
Film Information: 1993, rated PG, approximately 254 minutes on 2 cassettes


In this Hartwick Classic Film Leadership Case®, students learn what few know: that not only was the Civil War the war to free the slaves, many people of color themselves fought in the war. They watch as members of the 54th Regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry made up of entirely African Americans fight an uphill battle across impossible terrain against the Confederate army. They were decimated, but their performance and dedication so impressed the army that it began to recruit African Americans into its ranks. But there is more here than history. The case profiles the story of a young white officer who, although doubtful about their capabilities, is ordered to lead a regiment of African Americans. Students are encouraged to think about the insights into both race and humankind that the film suggests. They are also struck by the numerous cases of emergent leadership that reveal themselves in the regiment. Finally, they focus on how the officers and men forge themselves together into an effective organization based on mutual trust.

Topics & Theories Include: Cultural Diversity, Teambuilding,
Servant Leadership
Film Information:1989, rated R, approximately 122 minutes, color


This Hartwick Classic Film Leadership Case® is based on Shakespeare's great exploration of leadership as portrayed in the award-winning Kenneth Branaugh film Henry V. Students witness what is perhaps history's finest call to arms as they see and hear the young king deliver his St. Crispian's Day speech, ending with the unforgettable words: "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers." This is a fundamental case on leadership development, focusing students' attention on conflict, succession, and above all, redemption. Students observe as Henry V grows in stature and ability, developing skills and credibility in the eyes of his followers. They come to realize that Henry V epitomizes transformational leadership as they witness his single-minded attention to England's well-being, on unifying his realm, and on achieving organizational goals.

Topics Include: Transformational Leadership, Succession, High-Performing Teams,
Situational Leadership, Managing Ambiguity, Ethical Leadership
Theories Covered: Leadership Traits, Language of Leadership, Leadership and the
Basis of Power, Turbulent and Nonturbulent Environments,
Stress and Cognitive Mapping, Principle-Centered Leadership
Film Information: 1989, not rated, 138 minutes, color

* can be used as a supplement to Hartwick Classic Leadership Case® The Henriad.


Everyone has heard a story about a losing high school sports team that with the help of new blood and rigorous training goes on to "win the big one." But this Hartwick Classic Film Leadership Case® is based on a true story, one that describes the rebirth of a down-and-out Indiana high school basketball team at the hands of a new coach. As students witness this comeback, they are struck by how apt the metaphor of coaching is to effective management and leadership. They also see how the resurgence of a failing athletic team resonates with meaning for any organization seeking to reinvent itself. They also focus on the challenges a newly-installed leader often faces: organiaztional politics, naysayers, gossip, scandal, even vengeance. The coach's ability to articulate and communicate a vision for the team, to analyze the situation and develop a plan of action, to set measurable and realistic goals, and to gain the respect and trust of others provides a rich tapestry of leadership insight.

Topics Include: Team Building, Turnaround Management,
Renewing the Organization, Goal Orientation
Theories Covered: Kouzes and Posner's Leadership Challenges, Power,
Evered and Selman's "Coaching and the Art of Management," Change
Film Information: 1986, rated PG, approximately 114 minutes, color


John Huston's film based on Rudyard Kipling's famous story explores the dynamics of power and charismatic leadership against the exotic backdrop of India and Kafiristan in the late nineteenth century. This Hartwick Classic Film Leadership Case® study examines the challenges facing two swashbuckling entrepreneurs as they attempt to scheme their way into positions of power. What results is an investigation into the clash of cultures, the nature of authority, and types of group interaction. The dramatics series of events exhibits classic strengths and weaknesses of the human psyche in extreme situations.

Topics Include: Organizational Values, Cultural Diversity, Entrepreneurship,
Followership, Conflict Management
Theories Covered: Fiedler's Contingency Model, Leadership Substitutes Theory,
Charismatic and Transformational Leadership
Film Information: 1975, rated PG, 129 minutes, color


This Hartwick Classic Film Leadership Case® characterizes the leadership skills of a New York male labor organizer and a southern female textile factory worker. Both characters exhibit leadership qualities, one in particular the ability to empower others to accomplish the overall goal of organizing a group of powerless textile factory workers. Students observe as each empowers the other, and focus on the techniques each use to accomplish this all-important leadership task. In addition, students are given the opportunity to contrast the effects of an authoritarian leadership style and democratic leadership style. But perhaps the most important element in this case is the opportunity it provides to watch a woman of thirty-one achieve her full potential.

Topics Include: Men's and Women's Leadership Styles, Empowerment,
Change, Leadership Traits
Theories Covered: Theories of Charisma and Charismatic Leadership
Film Information: 1979, rated PG, 113 minutes, color


This gripping adventure about the crash of a small plane and the arduous efforts of the survivors to reconstruct the wreckage and then fly it provides the heart of the Hartwick Classic Film Leadership Case®. Observing this group as it faces what are clearly near-impossible odds as well as starvation and dehydration, students witness the struggle for leadership and the basis on which the characters vie for and receive leadership authority. Of particular note is the apparent leader's unwillingness to serve as leader outside the plane and his need to be in control. The case stimulates a rich discussion of the behavior of leaders in groups and emergent leadership as a function of group dynamics.

Topics Include: Emergent Leadership, Leadership Style, Crisis Management,
Power, Conflict, Organizational Survival
Theories Covered: Fiedler's Contingency Model, House's Path-Goal Theory,
Situational Leadership Theory, Leadership Substitutes Theory
Film Information: 1966, not rated, 143 minutes, color


In this Hartwick Classic Film Leadership Case® based on Tom Clancy's best-selling novel, a Russian naval commander (the most respected man in the Soviet submarine service) defects to the West with his crew, nuclear weapons, and state-of-the-art submarine. His leadership skills are undeniable and surface clearly as he enlists others to his cause. Yet two other leaders also emerge in the film: an American submarine commander and a highly-talented military analyst. The interpersonal dynamics which result from this triad reveal much about leadership. Students are encouraged to consider how challenging the status quo, inspiring a common vision, role modeling, and motivational ability play an important role in leadership. The case is also a cautionary tale about how easily leaders can go wrong, and how dramatic consequences can result from tactical decisions.

Topics Include:Power/Authority, Conflict Resolution, Decision Making,
Team Building, Motivation, Command Excellence
Theories Covered: Intuition Theory, Conflict Theory, Reengineering
Film Information:1990, rated PG, 135 minutes, color


This Hartwick Classic Film Leadership Case® is based on the film which is based on Pierre Boulle's novel of the indomitable Colonel Nicholson, a British army officer captured by the Japanese during World War II. Colonel Nicholson and his men are forced to build are forced by their captors to build a railway bridge across the River Kwai. As students will see, the railway bridge becomes Colonel Nicholson's means of preserving his organization and inspiring his men with the will to survive. A triumph of planning and strategic vision, the bridge is a symbol of Nicholson's humane and rational leadership even as it becomes a target of the British Commando team sent to destroy it.

Topics Include: Motivation, Power, Followership, Empowerment vs. Alignment,
Goal Displacement, Situational Leadership
Theories Covered: Excellence, Acceptance Theory of Authority,
Dynamic Adaptive Autonomy, Suboptimization,
Cultural Factors in Leadership, Principle-Centered Leadership
Film Information: 1957, rated PG, approximately 162 minutes, color


This Hartwick Classic Film Leadership Case® is based upon the book, Mutiny on the Bounty. This film depicts the mutiny against Captain William Bligh during a worldwide British naval expedition in 1789. Mel Gibson is Fletcher Christian, the leader of the mutiny, and Anthony Hopkins is Bligh. Captain Bligh is given the mission of bringing breadfruit from Tahati to Jamaica with his old friend Fletcher Christian. As the drew members wait for the first breadfruit plants to mature, they become enmeshed in the culture of the native inhabitants. When it comes time to bring the breadfurit plants to Jamaica, Captain Bligh faces the problem of restoring group unity and cohesion. Captain Bligh's attempts to create group unity through authoritarian and coercive means causes Fletcher Christian to lead the crew in a mutiny in which Bligh and the officers are set adrift.

Topics Include: Individual Dimension of Leadership, Group Dimension of Leadership,
Conflict Resolution, Situational Dimension of Leadership,
Ethical Dimension of Leadership
Theories Covered: Theory X and Y, Safety-Valve Institutions, Acceptance View of
Authority, Cognitive and Affective Conflict, Groups in Organizations,
Organizational Conflict, Authoritarian Personality
Film Information: 1984, rated PG, approximately 130 minutes, color

*Can be used as a supplement to Hartwick Classic Leadership Case® Mutiny on the Bounty


In this Hartwick Classic Film Leadership Case®, double-dealing in the stock market provides the backdrop for a profound inquiry into the ethics and behavior of individuals and organizations in a capitalistic society. Students observe the film's leading characters as they try to make as much money as they can, breaking the law regularly as they persue their financial goals. In the process, the squarely face the caricature of business leader as predator - a person for whom the challenge of a deal, and the desire to win, are everything. In this Darwinian world, they attempt to come to grips with the assertion, so unforgettably articulated in the film, that "greed... is good." In the process, students grapple with a full range of ethical questions, including whether or mot an act is immoral or illegal when "nobody get hurt" or when "everybody's doing it."

Topics Include: Ethics/Values, Decision Making, Power/Authority, Conflict Resolution,
Charismatic Leadership, Mentoring
Theories Covered: Ohio State Leadership Grid, Organizational Values
Film Information: 1987, rated R, 126 minutes, color