Platoon – Analysis of the Movie and Comparison to Business World Today

15 01 2008


It looks like an university project. First I was wondering (for the n-th time) if we (me and the author) really saw the same movie, but IMO, aside from getting some facts messed up, the author also made some points at least worth to think about:

QUOTE: In its portrayal of the conflict between Barnes and Elias, the film is an example of a morality play – the narrative form in which conflicts between allegorical depictions of good (Elias) and evil (Barnes) leave plenty of room for moral lessons to be drawn (…)

Sgt. Barnes is a typical transactional leader. According to Robbins (2000) a transactional leader is one who “guide[s] or motivate[s] their followers in the direction of established goals by clarifying role and task requirements” (p. 43). Taggart (2001) says followers of transactional leaders “simply obey orders” (cited in Taggart, 2001). Such leadership is necessary within the military since failure means the loss of lives. Barnes demonstrates his leadership style the afternoon before the ambush, when he gives the orders of who will go on duty that night. However the failure of this style is shown, with the death of the new recruit, Gardner. Yet Barnes is able to give the orders, and effectively run the platoon, because of his reliance on deterrence-based trust. “Deterrence-based trust will work only to the degree that punishment is possible, consequences are clear and the punishment is actually imposed” 

The actions of Sgt. Barnes make it painfully obvious that transactional leadership may not be the most effective type of leadership. In order to retain his place as leader, Barnes eliminates his conflict, his enemy, his fellow soldier and American, quite ruthlessly, without much thought as to the consequences or considering the “Big Picture.” His ability to give orders also caused him to not objectively consider the objections raised by Sgt. Elias and could have prevented the death of Gardner. (…)

Sgt. Elias’s leadership style is transformational, rather than transactional. A charismatic leader is a leader who “provide[s] followers with meaning by constructing and communicating a vision, or image, that articulates followers’ values while allowing them to express their identity through a shared collective vision.” 

Elias displays two key attributes of a charismatic leader, extraordinary behavior and acting as an agent of change (Robbins, p. 144). As a change agent, it is Sgt. Elias’s challenge to Sgt. Barnes in the village scene with the little girl and the reporting to the Captain. His extraordinary behavior is shown in his prescience of knowing where the enemy will come from (and how to outflank them) and his superhuman effort to take on a seemingly entire Viet Cong army by himself. (…)

His unwavering belief in his vision ultimately leads to his death by the hands of Sgt. Barnes. While his values and parts of his vision are cherished by the rest of the Grunts, Sgt. Elias embodies the vision. When he died, in essence, there is no one to stand up and support what he believed – there is no new standard bearer.

Okay, okay, but I’d like to know what exactly Elias vision should be. Keeping clean hands in a dirty situation?

Another key leadership lesson from the movie that can be applied to the business world is that bad things can happen when members of the organization are not trained or oriented properly. It becomes immediately apparent in the film that Taylor, and all other new infantry in the war, are simply thrown to the wolves to fend for themselves with little training or orientation.(…)

In the platoon of the film, not only is there not a culture of training and education for the new men, the new members are often thrust into the most dangerous situations to protect the more experienced men who are close to fulfilling their one year commitment in the war and are close to going home. As a result of the culture of thrusting the untrained, inexperienced men into these situations, the new men make grave mistakes that get other people killed. If new members of an organization are expected to contribute quickly, then orientation, training and ongoing education is essential in developing the members’ skill sets.

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