Inspiring Change in the Face of Adversity
Leadership Lessons from "Schindler's List"
In this blog, I attempt to capture the five essential leadership lessons I gleaned from “Schindler’s List.”
- Acting with Empathy and Compassion. To me, “Schindler’s List” highlights the transformative power of empathy. At the outset, Schindler is motivated by personal gain and business success. However, as he witnesses the atrocities committed against Jews in the Kraków Ghetto and the concentration camps, his perspective shifts dramatically. He recognizes the humanity in each individual, understanding that their lives.are worth fighting for. I was reminded of Gandhi’s Talisman. This transformation clearly underscores the importance of empathy in leadership.
By Empathizing with the experiences and struggles of others, leaders can cultivate
a deep sense of compassion and act as catalysts for positives change.
- Recognizing Opportunities for Impact.
Schindler’s leadership shines through his ability to recognise opportunities for impact and seize them. As an astute businessman, he identifies the potential to use his factories as a haven for Jewish workers, shielding them from the horrors of the concentration camps. Schindler’s actions demonstrate the importance of perceiving opportunities to make a difference, even in the most challenging circumstances.
Effective leaders possess the ability to see beyond immediate obstacles and find
creative solutions that benefit both their organisations and those they lead.
- Leading by Example, always.
Throughout the film, Schindler leads by example, personally investing time and resources in protecting his workers. He displays unwavering dedication, working tirelessly to ensure their safety and well-being. By immersing himself in their struggles and risking his own life, Schindler gains the respect and loyalty of his workers. This serves as a reminder that true leadership is not just about issuing directives from the top, but also about actively participating and leading from the front.
Leading by example fosters trust, inspires dedication, and
cultivates a shared sense of purpose.
- Building a Diverse and Complementary Team.
Schindler’s success in saving lives was made possible by the diverse group of individuals he surrounded himself with. He assembled a team of resourceful individuals who possessed a range of skills and connections crucial to his mission. Itzhak Stern, Schindler’s Jewish accountant and right-hand man, used his connections and paperwork expertise to ensure the workers’ safety and protect them from arbitrary arrests and deportations. A group of young boys from the Płaszów concentration camp, known as the “Plaszow Boys,” were skilled at smuggling goods into the camp. Schindler recruited them to smuggle food and other essential items into his factory to sustain his workers. This emphasises the importance of building a diverse and complementary team in leadership.
A team with diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and expertise can provide fresh insights,
enhance problem-solving capabilities, and create a harmonious environment
that values different voices.
- Taking Responsibility and Exercising Agency.
Schindler’s transformation from a self-centred opportunist to a righteous saviour is marked by his acceptance of responsibility. He recognizes that he has the power to make a difference and acknowledges the weight of his actions. As the film unfolds, Schindler’s agency becomes more evident. In one scene, he negotiates with Amon Goeth, the sadistic Nazi commander overseeing the Plaszów concentration camp. Despite the risk to his own safety and the potential repercussions of challenging a high-ranking Nazi officer, Schindler navigates the complex dynamics of Nazi Germany. He utilises his wit, charisma, resources, and influence to protect and provide for his Jewish workforce.
Leadership is not just about positions of authority, but about taking responsibility and exercising agency to catalyse the profound impact one can have on the world around us.
A Reflection on these timeless lessons
Once you have seen it, it’s difficult to unsee.
I think the leadership lessons from the “Schindler’s List” transcend its historical context. It is specially relevant to those of us working to solve complex and sticky societal problems which have survived for centuries and evolved.
Schindler’s unwavering commitment to saving lives, even at great personal risk, serves as a reminder of the immense power we hold to make a difference. Schindler demonstrates the qualities that make a leader. A willingness to confront difficult truths, the courage to challenge the status quo, and a deep sense of responsibility for the well-being of others.
These timeless lessons can inspire leaders from all walks of life to create positive change, foster compassion, and make a lasting impact on the lives of those they lead. If you haven’t yet watched the movie, do make time to watch it. And if you already have, possibly it’s time to indulge again..! 🙂