Leadership in the Movies 2018-06-04T22:31:24+00:00

Project Description

by Victoria Brodie

Stand and Deliver – Lean On Me: A Comparison of Leadership Styles

Stand and Deliver is a 1988 film focusing on the character of Jaime Escalante, a mathematics teacher in the largely Hispanic community of East Los Angeles.   The movie, based on a true story, portrays Escalante as being convinced his students have the potential to do more than their school, and their community, believes they can.  Escalante makes it his mission to help the students pass the rigorous Advanced Placement calculus exam.

Escalante consistently believes his students can do more, and uses a variety of leadership techniques to not only engage the students to do more than has ever been asked of them, but also to fight the cultural myopathy imposed upon them. Escalante uses a situational approach to leadership, shifting between different styles depending on the needs of the followers and the situation.

Escalante also exhibits traits of a transformational leader by engaging with the students and creating a connection that increases motivation and morality in the leader and follower. He demonstrates: charisma, inspirational motivation, intellectual motivation, and individualized consideration. Although he exhibits these transformational traits by taking a stand, seeing their potential, breaking down the stereotypes and assumptions, and giving them challenging work and a common goal, he shifts into transactional leadership as well, using the carrot and the stick to motivate.

It is clear Escalante is determined to help the students reach their shared goals, no matter what method of leadership it takes to make that happen.  As stated by Kouzes and Posner, in their model, to create extraordinary results, leaders must: model the way, inspire a shared vision, challenge the process, enable others to act, and encourage the heart. As an educator with an agenda to move his students forward, Escalante practices the five fundamental behaviors listed in Kouzes and Posner’s model.

Lean On Me is a true story of a larger-than-life school principal who, through courage, unorthodox leadership and determination, reversed the course of a high school on the brink of State receivership. From the moment principal Joe Clarke steps onto the campus of Eastside high school in Trenton, New Jersey, he is focused, results-oriented and an authoritarian. Although Clarke moves between leadership styles like Escalante, he is clearly rooted in this authority-compliance style of leadership. Authority-compliance is based in results, using people as a means to an end and as tools to completing the job at hand. Throughout the film, Clarke is shown as controlling, demanding, hard driving and overpowering.

Even in this dominant leadership style, Clarke moves into other styles, based on situational needs. He too demonstrates the Kouzes and Posner’s five fundamental behaviors a leader must practice to create significant results. His transactional nature is shown by contingent reward and management-by-exception – imbued with criticism and negative feedback. Even so, Clarke draws-in his followers in a distinctly transformational style, casting a vision and inspiring others to greater heights. Although Clarke uses a number of leadership styles to create results to turn Eastside around, the scene of the students gathering, nearly rioting, to have Clarke released from jail was truly a clear reflection of his transformational leadership style demonstrating the impact upon those he led.

Escalante and Clarke shared many leadership style traits. How they went about getting results, however, differed a great deal. It is difficult to discern if Clarke and Escalante’s leadership styles were, at the core, different, or if the situation just demanded the style at the time. One thing is clear: both men faced situations that demanded a style different from those practiced by their predecessors. Both Clarke and Escalante exhibited the behaviors of exceptional leaders, as stated by Kouzes and Posner, achieving the seemingly unattainable goals they set out to reach.

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