Even if you’re not a huge fan of the 1999 science fiction film The Matrix (why wouldn’t you be?), there’s a lot that can be appreciated about the film, putting aside the fact it's a big budget, Hollywood, kung fu, slow motion, bullet-dodging explosion fest.
It’s also one of the smartest films ever made.
The Matrix is often remembered for its dazzling special effects, but the most important points of the film often go unnoticed by the casual moviegoer.
If you're a little hazy about the storyline, let's recap: Set about 200 years in the future, robots control the human race, most of whom are unwittingly plugged into a colossal virtual reality simulation. There are a few survivors (our heroes) left fighting to free the minds of others by unplugging them from the hardware of the matrix. In other words, imagine the reality you are experiencing right now is not real but merely a hyper-realistic computer program that is controlled by artificial intelligence and you've never seen the real world. Epic!
Outside of the documentaries and numerous books that explore the philosophical ideas within the narrative, the leadership style of Morpheus is worth more than a passing mention.
In fact, Morpheus is probably the single best example of a character in a mainstream film to demonstrate many of the popular business leadership theories (transformational leadership, servant leadership, etc).
4 Principles of Morpheus Leadership:
1. Have Clear Goals Morpheus has a crystal clear vision and mission — everybody in his team knows what they’re working to achieve. The vision is to win the war against the machines. The mission (to achieve this end) is to find "The One."
“If you’re nothing else as a leader, be clear.”
— Marcus Buckingham, coauthor First Break All the Rules
2. Recruit The Best People What better metaphor could there be for recruiting a team with the best talent than Morpheus, the man who saw it as his sole purpose in life.
In management circles, you may have heard the phrase “Get the right people on the bus.” It originated from Good to Great by Jim Collins, one of the most influential business management books of all time, which proposed the idea that “people aren’t you’re greatest asset — the right people are.” If there’s a single overarching theme throughout Good to Great, it is this: everything starts with the right people, from the CEO to the receptionist.
“The most important leadership skill is clearly the ability to make great people decisions and to put people in the right seats and to rigorously change the bus if you have to.”
— Jim Collins, author Good to Great
3. Train the Heck Out of Them (Be a good coach) Morpheus doesn’t just boss Neo around. Think about the exchange of words that takes place while they’re training in the dojo:
Morpheus: How did I beat you? Neo: You're too fast. Morpheus: Do you believe that my being stronger or faster has anything to do with my muscles in this place? *Neo thinks* Morpheus: You think that's air you're breathing now? *Fight continues* Morpheus: What are you waiting for? You're faster than this. Don't think you are, know you are...
Morpheus doesn’t say, “You have a lousy high kick… do it this way.” He asks questions in a supportive yet direct way, reassuring Neo throughout the learning process while bolstering his self-belief. He draws the answers out of Neo and guides him to the right path, then steps aside and lets Neo proceed on his own. Morpheus, as the name suggests (the god of dreams), has the power to wake people up and unlock their potential.
“Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.”
— John Whitmore, author Coaching For Performance
4. Be Selfless Morpheus is every bit the servant leader — someone who puts the needs of others first and helps them to develop and perform as highly as possible. He is willing to sacrifice himself for Neo or any member of his crew. Jim Collins would describe him as a “Level 5” leader: humble, yet incredibly driven. However, the ambition is directed toward the success of the enterprise, not for selfish profit or ego.
Morpheus embodies the idea that the base element of leadership is caring, which is why, when his crew-member Tank is just about to “pull the plug” on Morpheus (a necessary action that will kill Morpheus to prevent the machines for gaining vital intel), he says, “You were more than a leader to us, you were a father.” There is no higher compliment that a leader could hope to earn in his or her lifetime.
“True leadership must be for the benefit of the followers, not the enrichment of the leaders.”
— Robert Townsend