Titans demonstrates leadership styles, leadership ethics, and leadership frameworks using the example of s high school football team. Gregory Allen Howard’s 2000 film starring Denzel Washington and directed by Boaz Yakin offers an entertaining but insightful glance at the challenges leaders face and optimal means of overcoming obstacles and interpersonal conflicts. Remember the Titans takes place in Alexandria, Virginia in 1971, during the integration of public schools. The ensuing racial tension creates volatile situations for the team, its coaches, and the community. Coach Herman Boone (Denzel Washington) and Coach Bill Yoast (Will Patton) demonstrate their leadership abilities not only by coaching the team to a lossless season but also by navigating through the difficulties of racial tension. Moreover, the students on the team become leaders from political, structural, and symbolic frameworks. The film is therefore an apt vehicle for illustrating how effective leaders deal with change, uncertainty, and hardship. Remember the Titans also addresses the role of teamwork in the leadership process.
The characters in Remember the Titans operate within several leadership frameworks, often simultaneously. Individuals in formal and informal positions of power demonstrate their personal leadership styles too. The Titans coaches each lead the team toward football victories and also toward personal triumphs in overcoming racism. Thus, the coaches inadvertently become social and political leaders.
Coach Yoast sacrifices his personal ambition to make the Hall of Fame for the integrity of his team. Being ousted from his long-held position as head coach initially turned him against Boone but as an experienced leader, Yoast realized that leaders learn to roll with structural changes. The situation created opportunities to work within political, human resources, structural, and symbolic frameworks. Boone also rose to the occasion by unapologetically assuming a position of power and leadership in spite of the antagonism directed toward him for being black and for usurping Yoast as head coach. Although Coach Boone is belligerent and authoritative, he commands respect. At training camp he states outright, “This is a dictatorship. I am the law.” Boone uses public humiliation to motivate players to try harder, an issue that causes significant conflicts between him and Assistant Coach Yoast. Yoast’s leadership style is less intense than Boone’s but both coaches ultimately learn from each other.
Coach Yoast proved himself to be a political leader by the way he handled the ego blows dealt by the school system restructuring, the way he handled Boone’s coaching style, and because of the way he handled the town’s racism. Racism is an inherently political issue that either galvanizes people or brings them together. Rather than polarize the town and team, both Yoast and Boone work together like politicians do across party lines. Political leaders like Yoast and Boone must disguise their true feelings in order to be effective leaders. Similarly, Yoast sucked up his pride by working as defensive coach after being the head coach for fifteen years. Yoast is one of the strongest political leaders in Remember the Titans.
Boone is far less willing to become humble. He refuses to take advice from Yoast; he can’t stand any threats to his authority; and he maintains control over the team by being autocratic, not democratic. When Yoast put Petey on defense after Boone yelled at him, he exercised his best judgment. Yet even though the team won the game, Coach Boone chastised him for threatening his authority. Boone claimed that coddling the players won’t prepare them for the rigors of the real world. His framework of leadership is harsh yet realistic. Boone believes that a tough love approach will toughen up the boys and better prepare them for life.
In addition to his role as political leader, Yoast leads from a symbolic framework. He had coached the team through fifteen successful seasons and therefore the entire town of Alexandria, the school staff, and the players all respected him as leader even after he was demoted. Yoast’s spunky daughter looks up to her dad as a symbolic leader and because of her passionate involvement with the team, she also serves as a symbolic leader in the movie. Yoast symbolizes effective leadership in Remember the Titans, due to his self-sacrificing approach to teamwork, his ability to triumph in the face of adversity, and his visible successes on the gridiron.
Yoast’s demotion itself can be viewed from within a structural and symbolic framework too. Because of to the social and political changes taking place in American society and at the administrative level of the school system, Boone replaced Yoast as a token of affirmative action. From a structural perspective, Boone and Yoast lead from the top of the hierarchy on the team. They reinforce the social and political structures that help teams work in organized and systematic ways. Likewise, the players participate in the structure of leadership by creating their own rituals like the warm-up dance and the huddle chants. These rituals help the team thrive because it reinforces the authority of the hierarchical leaders.
Coaches Yoast and Boone were also leaders from a human resources perspective because of their official roles within the school system. The ancillary coaches also represent how leadership roles play out within a bureaucratic framework. School board officials who manipulated both Coach Boone and Coach Yoast are leaders within a human resources framework, even though their ethics are questionable. Unlike Yoast or Boone, the school board officials manipulate others for political and symbolic purposes. Yoast and Boone, regardless of their personality flaws, act with ethical integrity throughout the film. The students also demonstrate remarkable ethical integrity in spite of their initial resistance to racial integration.
What might have been a disastrous situation turned into an incredible season for the Titans, both on the field and off. Coaches Yoast and Boone both rose to the occasion by becoming effective leaders within political, structural, human resource, and symbolic frameworks. Football and school are both hierarchical and rigidly structured. The coaches know how to work within that framework and its boundaries. The players eventually come to respect both Boone and Yoast because of their ethical integrity. Ultimately the coaches must succeed on the field in order to prove the effectiveness of their personal leadership styles.
More importantly, Coaches Boone and Yoast inspire leadership potential in their players Captain of the team Gerry Bertier (Ryan Hurst) is the most notable leader from a political, structural, and symbolic framework. His injury and eventual death affects the entire town, which viewed him as a symbolic leader. The moment Gerry accept his condition and claims he will compete in the Paralympics proves his leadership prowess. As team captain Gerry is also a political and structural leader who is responsible for motivating his team and mediating conflict. Julius also becomes a key leader in Remember the Titans because of his honesty with Gerry. He is an indirect and symbolic leader who inspires Gerry to become a better person. After Gerry’s paralysis, Julius comes into his own as a leader, motivating his depressed team with a half-time speech reminding them, “This team is perfect.” In Remember the Titans, leadership is most evident in the way the coaches and team players exemplify ethical and practical principles of leadership in their daily lives and not just on the field.
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