Gladiator by Ridley Scott
Nowadays, such quality as leadership is an important and essential part of many areas of our life including business, sports, politics, etc. Leadership may be defined as a capability to motivate someone to accomplish certain goals, set new standards, and help people reach their potential regardless of adverse circumstances. A true leader possesses a number of qualities that enable him to stand out from the crowd. These traits may include the power to influence others, self-confidence, stress-resistance, creativity, responsibility, independence, persistence, sociability, and the ability to delegate.
There is a number of ways for a person to explore and learn the lessons of leadership. Of course, one can acquire them through special educational courses, online training programs, specialized literature, and so on. However, sometimes, watching a movie is no less effective. In this respect, the film Gladiator by Ridley Scott comprises excellent examples of leadership and management skills as well as depictions of ethical and unethical decisions made by the protagonists.
The protagonists of the film are represented by Maximus, the Roman General who was forced into becoming a slave and a gladiator, and Commodus, the Emperor of Rome, who has a tremendous power and authority. Despite the fact that they both originated from rich and educated segments of the society, there is an immense difference between their leadership styles and behaviors. From the very beginning of the story, Maximus is depicted as a leader with a highly developed emotional intelligence. In the first scene, he seizes the opportunity to prepare for the final fight and passes by the ranks of his army. The viewer can see not only respect and admiration from soldiers towards their commander; Maximus himself appreciates the efforts of his subordinates and shows respect to them. The general exactly knows how soldiers are feeling, and he understands that big battles can be won only with strong cooperation, trust, and motivation within the team. His openness allows him to stop an ordinary soldier, tap him on the shoulder and express support, maintaining optimism and determination to win the battle. Mutual respect and leadership are also shown during the battle on the arena. Despite having an experience of a general, Maximus does not place himself above others. He immediately assumes control of the battle and offers effective tactics gaining trust of other gladiators.
When Maximus loses the most precious thing in his life, his family, and through betrayal becomes a slave fighting as a gladiator, his ability to learn helps him overcome this personal tragedy. As a general who has won countless battles, he understands that adapting to changes and being flexible is the key to keep going when the ground is crumbling under your feet. While the desire for personal revenge for his slain family fuels the protagonist’s motivation, Maximus never loses the vision of what is righteous for Rome. He seeks freedom, peace, and well-being for all the citizens of his country. The ability to place public interests ahead of personal profit is what makes a true leader.
However, leadership breeds loyalty only with the help of a solid foundation – persuasion and negotiation. The protagonist demonstrates these skills through communication with the Senator of Rome and the Emperor’s sister. He convinces them to help him reunite with his loyal army. Maximus’ desire to free Rome from corruption and usurpation of power by Commodus also persuades the Senator to join forces with other Senators. Delegation is another sign of leadership – one person cannot do it all.
As for Commodus, he mistakenly absorbed belief that he was from the very beginning superior to everyone else. However, seeing that his throne and the role of a successor does not guarantee him respect and loyalty, Commodus builds his authority and leadership with the help of fear, threat, and manipulation. Of course, such form of leadership can work for a certain amount of time, but eventually it will fall. In the desire to please the crowd and distract people from the vital problems of the capital, Commodus demonstrates certain political skills and renews gladiator fights at the Colosseum. It boosts his popularity and influence to some extent, but does not lead to sustainability of his position on the throne. Without leadership supported by respect and admiration, any superior will soon find himself without subordinates. This exactly happened in the final scene of the movie during the epic fight between Commodus and Maximus in the arena. Even before this combat, Commodus once again betrays the principles of a fair battle and stabs Maximus in the back.
The lack of influence and leadership becomes evident when Commodus loses his sword during the battle and asks his guards for help. They refuse and leave him defeated carrying the body of Maximus out of the arena.
As mentioned above, the movie depicts ethical and unethical decision-making by the main characters. Besides ethical aspects, a different approach for decision-making can be seen. For instance, Marcus Aurelius, the Emperor of Rome, in his determination to pass the throne to Maximus rather than his own son demonstrates a rational model of thinking. He has a clear problem (getting too old to rule) and the candidates for his crown. The criteria and alternatives are well explored, and Commodus himself admits that he has none of the four chief virtues necessary to rule according to his father. Though the Emperor is aged, he hardly has serious time constraints to hamper his decision. The highest perceived value for Marcus Aurelius is Rome becoming a republic again, and this honorable task can be given only to the person who has not been corrupted by politics – Maximus.
Contrary to his father, Commodus is not so rational and makes several decision-making errors, the biggest of which is his decision to murder the Emperor and seize power by fraud. Apparently, this action is caused not only by his desire for power but also his overconfidence bias. Commodus overestimated his potential as a leader and was too optimistic in evaluating his capabilities. The Senate resists his rule, and many acts are carried out only with the threat of death. As the new ruler of Rome, Commodus displays signs of bounded rationality. He tries to reduce the amount of problems to a scale at which they can be easily resolved or even ignores these issues altogether. Instead of addressing the numerous problems of the city, he decides to organize 150 days of games at the Colosseum in order to distract the population. Subsequently, Commodus arranges a public duel in the arena with Maximus to restore his image and power in society. Blindfolded by his envy and misguided by overconfidence, he is defeated.
As for Maximus, he is more an emotional and intuitive person in decision-making. When talking to Marcus Aurelius before his death, he is proposed the throne of the Emperor. Nevertheless, knowing the ambitions of Commodus and feeling the disturbance this nomination may bring, he is eager to refuse. Maximus also tries to make decisions ahead of time and expects positive results. Feeling that talentless governance of Commodus will lead Rome to decline, he exerts every effort to make a plot against the new Emperor and finally defeats him taking Rome a one step closer to becoming a republic again.
Drawing a conclusion about the styles of leadership demonstrated by the protagonists, it is necessary to emphasize once again that they were completely different. Maximus, being a leader in his nature, shows an example to his subordinates by his own actions. He is not afraid to get his hands dirty when it comes to hard work. He receives respect from other people through his superior experience, skills, and emotional intelligence. On the other hand, Commodus does not prove to be an effective and recognized leader because he lacks fundamental virtues that people value. The form of leadership based on fear and manipulation cannot be steady regardless of what time we live in. The traits that make a person a true leader are indeed timeless.