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Leadership lessons from Humphrey Bogart

I was just thinking about this, this morning for some reason: There’s a scene in the film Casablanca that is an example of Jim Collins’ Level 5 leadership (modest, courageous, ego-lite leadership).

When a group of German soldiers start singing about the Fatherland in Rick’s nightclub, around the piano, the French people in the club, their homeland occupied, look downcast.

Victor Lazlo, the resistance leader husband (Paul Heinreid?) of Ingrid Bergman, walks up to the band and tells them to play the Marseillaise. The band leader glances across at Humphrey Bogart (Rick), sitting at a corner table. Bogart nods imperceptibly (well, it’s perceptible to the band leader; stop being so picky).

It’s his nightclub. This is a big risk for him to take. It’s a hidden act of leadership. The band starts playing the Marseillaise, gradually drowning out the German soldiers as, led by the resistance leader, the audience stand up one by one and noisily sing along. The German soldiers give up. For now.

This has always been one of my favourite scenes in a film and I have always thought that the grandstanding leadership of the resistance leader – admirable though it was – inspired me less than the little nod given by the hidden leader in the corner, who let it all happen, taking on a risk to himself and his livelihood, and took none of the credit for it.

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