Business Insights From The Movie 1917

leadership and business insights from the movie 1917


I wasn’t expecting to gain business insights from the movie, 1917.

I was interested in seeing the World War I movie 1917 as I had seen previews in the theater. This movie had also recently won the Best Picture award at the Golden Globes. It’s an excellent movie.

Without giving anything away, let me share some thoughts:


  • I wish the President of the United States and everyone in Congress could see this or a similar war movie. The horror of war is not to be forgotten before committing people in the military to overseas combat.


  • While the movie isn’t based on a true story, it certainly depicts what we expect of 18 and 19-year-old young adults. Their courage in battle is inestimable.


  • There can be great acts of humanity amid horrific violence and inhumanity.



  • We’d like to think the mission has been thoroughly thought out to mitigate potential risks that might surface, but the reality is the unexpected often dominates and undermines the mission. This is where the notion of “living to fight another day” is derived. You can’t succeed if you’re not available to fight tomorrow. It’s not cowardice; it’s wisdom.


  • In war, as in the business world, there are lots of uncertainties. People are pushed into ambiguous situations and expected to come out victorious. Many know going in that they may not prevail, but they forge ahead anyway for the sake of the mission. The Mission is a higher priority than personal safety.


Applying the Insights to Your Business

How to incorporate the business insights from the movie 1917 to help your mission succeed:


  • Consider how your planning and strategy impact your ground troops, your employees. Is your strategy missing a realistic tactical model that sets them up to succeed or to suffer?   
    Are you supplying your employees with the tools, time, enough staff, and clarity of focus to carry out the mission successfully?  

    Or, are you setting them up to suffer professionally and personally to carry out your mission?


  • Are your expectations too high? Are you placing heavy responsibility for the mission on employees without taking their preparedness into consideration?
    A large percentage of managers or team leaders are placed in the position because they know the business processes and procedures. What an overwhelming number of managers lack is preparedness around managing people.
    That lack of preparedness mixed with pressure to perform the functions of your mission take their toll on managers and the boots on the ground employees. The higher your expectations and lack of tactical supplies can cause managers to mishandle people.

    People quit managers and companies, not jobs.


  • It’s easy to focus on winning the war while ignoring the heroes in the battles. I don’t recommend it. Recognize the humanity of your employees. Your best employees are those who do the tactical well (or even just an okay job), but also those who demonstrate their humanity, emotional intelligence, empathy, and compassion for other team members, customers/clients, and your mission.
     People run your company, not machines. How do you demonstrate your humanity?


  • Look for resilience over resume’ and give your employees a reason to continue to fight for your mission. Failure to adhere to those guidelines will result in weaker teams and the desertion of great employees, both mentally (engagement) and physically (resignation).


  • Know when to abandon a plan of action that is failing. A retreat allows you to maintain resources while restructuring your strategies. It also keeps smart employees, who recognize poor leadership planning, from abandoning ship before it goes down.
    Is it worth the losses to forge ahead in the same direction when the unforeseen or poor planning becomes a death sentence?


  • Do you empower your implementors with decision making authority or have you trained them to fear failure? Have you clearly communicated the strategy of the mission to help your employees make decisions in ambiguous situations, that will follow and further the mission?
    When tasking people with implementing your strategies, do you respect their initiative to solve a problem or make mission-critical decisions, even if the decision fails to deliver intended results? If the mission is clear and of value to employees, they will take the personal risk of failure to see the mission through. But they won’t if every failure, big or small, is met with a flogging.


1917 is a heart-pounding movie and makes one think. War and business aren’t just the outcomes; they’re the people and stories behind the results. I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Thought for the week:

“Only the dead have seen the end of war.” — George Santayana


Read more of Dave’s insights for Business Execution and Leadership.



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