Lessons from “Glory”

The 54th Volunteer Infantry was a regiment of free black men from Massachusetts that fought in the Civil War. This movie is based on two historical novels and the letters of Robert Gould Shaw, colonel of the infantry. The two books were: One Gallant Rush by Peter Burchand and Lay This Laurel by Lincoln Kirstein. The film follows Colonel Robert Shaw as he prepares the soldiers of the regiment for war. However, the Colonel is white and the soldiers are free black men, so there is a lot of tension between them. The culmination of the movie centers around the charge against Fort Wagner, a brutal segment of Civil War history. At the beginning of the war, most white Americans believed that blacks could not be disciplined to make good soldiers in a modern war. The belief was that they would run when fired upon or attacked. Colonel Shaw, a white abolitionist, and hundreds of black volunteers in his regiment, gave their lives to prove that black men could fight as well as whites. Glory shows men, black and white, choosing to die for a worthwhile cause. It introduces an important event in U.S. history. The movie, for the most part, is historically accurate.

The film is an excellent aid to teach American history w.r.to Civil War, African American history so on and so forth. However, to me personally this is a tale of Leadership – Servant Leadership. Its a tale of identity, purpose, and social equanimity.

Colonel Shaw’s vision of tomorrow, to eleviate the social status of African American people by giving them oppotunity to fight in the war, and the process of achieving that end is a fascinating tale of a leader with Vision, with a plan, with conviction and courage to stand the cause and his ability to connect, comunicate and inspire a team that for all practical purposes was completely unknown. The film masterly captures the chronicles of war and intricacies of Col. Shaw’s leadership style. While he exudes toughness to inculcate discipline amongst the wayward soldiers, he is assertive in his demands, he shows empathy to understand their state of mind (hence their behaviour) and he takes effort to be one of them (Reduce the perceived social gaps) – which enhances inclusion.

The episode around his persistence in demanding better conditions (Clothes, shoes etc.) for his soldiers and ultimately succeeding in getting his demands, followed by the euphoria amongst the soldiers and the growing respect and acceptance in their eyes for Col. Shaw is a classic Servant Leadership learning moment. That one act galvanised this bunch of men towards a more committed and purposeful effort.

Ofcourse towards the end, when he has a bunch of committed, strong, proud young men willing to lay their lives for the cause, he is one of them. His insistance with his friend (the reporter) “If I fall here today, remember what you saw here” – is not for his own glory but for that of this bunch of daredevils whom the world didnt give any chance or rights or options. They were outlaws, yet they rose to earn the respects of the nation, and made a landmark contribution to the history of African americans in America.

The final moments, doesnt witness a heavy-duty speech. Just one question “If this man falls, who will carry the flag to the fort?” which has a volunteer. But the sheer feeling of Inspiration is there in everyone’s eyes. Its intrinsic, its felt.

54th Massachussets, will always be remembered for this glory. But what will be remembered more is Col. Shaw’s vision and his leadership. He displays leadership values of equanimity, inclusion, kindness, respect, passion, commitment, empathy, assertiveness, discipline, understanding, oand over an above a great vision. This is a tale of Servant Leadership, and how a leader can inspire a team / organization towards a vision that is unimaginable or unreal.

From a modern day context this story has strong application possiblity. While major focus is on theories of leadership which are Strategic in nature, these intrinsic elements can build much stronger, long-term focussed and inspired organizations.

A great story, supremely handled on screen and some top performances by Broderick, Washington (Oscar award winning) and Freeman.


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