Dunkirk is an absolute masterpiece!  So much so it is time to update my Top 20 Leadership Movies Of The Last 20 Years.  Directed by Christopher Nolan, this film takes place during 1940 World War II in the French port city of Dunkirk where 400,000 allied soldiers are pinned in by Hitler’s German forces.  The British then launch a plan to save them from annihilation and get as many soldiers off the island, across the English Channel, and back to Britain to fight the war on the mainland.

I was blown away back the fact there was no foul language or over-the-top violence.  Thank you Christopher Nolan!  This proves you can tell the most compelling of stories without sacrificing your character or dignity or turning off your audience.

The movie’s pace and musical score create an absolutely white knuckle experience.  Dunkirk is the best movie I have seen since Hacksaw Ridge.  It is destined to be a classic and Nolan has become one of the most masterful storytellers of our time.

The following are 19 Leadership Quotes And Lessons From Dunkirk.  What is interesting about this movie is few if any characters have names.  The story is the main character.  So just enjoy the quotes and lessons.

  1. Death Is A Reality In War.  Therefore, People Keep Doing Their Jobs. – In the initial scenes the Germans are bombing the beaches of Dunkirk where 40,000 allied soldiers are located.  After the planes would pass and the soldiers would duck for cover, they would then stand back up and continue their duties while new casualties were lying all around them.
  2. Smart Leaders Understand The Value Of Partnership – “He’s on me.”  “I’m on him.” – British fighter pilots.
  3. It Takes Everyone To Survive Times Of Desperation – In the English version of the Alamo, hundreds of average citizens sailed their private vessels to Dunkirk to rescue soldiers and get them safely back to England.
  4. Successful People Take Responsibilities Seriously And Do Their Jobs – My favorite character was a private citizen called Mr. Dawson, played brilliantly by Mark Rylance.  He told his son prior to launching his vessel, “There is no hiding from this son.  We have a job to do.”
  5. Survival Is One Of Our Basic Instincts – After rescuing a soldier stranded at sea, Dawson said, “He feels safer on deck.  You would too if you’ve been bombed.”
  6. Crisis Never Leaves You The Same – Dawson added, “He’s shell-shocked.  He’s not himself.  He may never be himself again.”
  7. Smart Leaders Always Create Options – Many of the soldiers on boats positioned themselves with an escape route if bombed.  This would allow them not to become trapped below and drown.
  8. Leaders Always Sit Down To A Banquet Of Consequences To Our Decisions – Dawson said, “Men my age made this war.  Why should we send in our children to fight it?”
  9. Passivity Is Not A Leadership Strategy – Dawson noted, “There won’t be a home if we don’t get our men across the Channel.”
  10. Leaders Are Forced To Make Hard Decisions During Times Of Scarcity – Captain Winnant wondering where the land and air support was said, “The fight is here.”  To which Commander Bolton said, “They save their destroyers and planes for Britain.”
  11. Great Leaders Help People Find Their Way Home – Commander Bolton said, “You can practically see it from here…Home”
  12. A Leader’s Greatest Ability Is Their Availability – Dawson’s son said, “We have to pick up survivors.”  To which he survived, “To do that we must survive ourselves.”
  13. Ordinary People Have The Capacity To Do Extraordinary Things – Ordinary people used their personal vessels to rescue approximately 10,000 soldiers.
  14. Everyone Has Dignity, Even In Death – When a teenage boy was killed by accident, a soldier needing a place to sit on a boat said, “He’s dead.”  His friend replied, “Make sure to be careful with him.”
  15. Leaders Never Confuse Activity With Accomplishment – After arriving back in England, a soldier told someone handing him a blanket, “All we did was survive.”  He replied, “That’s enough.”
  16. Leaders Should Arrive First And Leave Last – The last people off the island of Dunkirk were the army and naval officers.
  17. Great Leaders Pay A Price Others Are Unwilling To Pay – After saving countless lives and taking down dozens of planes, a British fighter pilot, played by Tom Hardy, landed his plane in enemy territory after running out of fuel.  He was subsequently captured by the enemy.
  18. “Wars are not won by evacuation” – Winston Churchill
  19. “I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone. At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do. That is the resolve of His Majesty’s Government – every man of them. That is the will of Parliament and the nation.  The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength. Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be.  We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” – Churchill speech to end the movie

Once again, Dunkirk is an absolute classic!  I cannot imagine anything beating this for Best Picture.  Just incredible!  Go see this weekend.


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