I generally refrain from referencing fictional characters as examples of servant leadership. However, after watching Battle: Los Angeles, I felt the example of main character Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) was too strong to pass up. As I wrote in the Servant Leader Manifesto and in Servant Leaders Can be Mean Too, the military represents many great examples of servant leadership. This movie captured these principles beautifully. In Battle: LA, Nantz is a U.S. Marine, with retirement papers in hand when he’s called back to active duty to defend Los Angeles against an alien enemy.
SSgt Nantz is called back to support the book smart but inexperienced 2nd Lieutenant William Martinez. In contrast to Martinez, Nantz has a great deal of experience. Including actions that resulted in the death of many men in his unit. This is a burden Nantz clearly carries heavy in his heart. His new team reminds him of this regularly as they frequently second guess Nantz’s decisions and motives. However, that eventually goes by the wayside as Nantz devotes himself to the team, risking his life to save them and several civilians.
One of my favorite moments in the film is when Nantz approaches the shell-shocked and ineffective 2nd Lieutenant to whom he reports. With bombs incoming, the team needs to move away from the blast zone, but the lieutenant is not making and decisions. To shake him from the paralyzed state that risks the entire team, Nantz says, “I’d go to hell and back for you” but you have to make a decision. Martinez catches on and steps up to become something closer to the leader he wants to be.
Before the movie is over, we get a glimpse into several servant leadership principles exemplified by the military through the role of SSgt Michael Nantz, including:
Selflessness: Nantz’s self-sacrifice begins when he joins the effort, seemingly hours away from retirement. This character trait is exemplified further throughout the movie in his actions to protect the team and civilians.
Transparency: Nantz does not hide reality from the team. He regularly reminds them what it means to be a Marine – that they fight in spite of their fear and that they are often the only ones left. Everyone is counting on them.
Healing: Whether it is helping a child deal with the loss of his father, the team’s recurring encounters with the death of fellow military men and women or building up the young new 2nd Lieutenant, Nantz helps others heal.
Commitment to Building Others: At many points in the film, Nantz could probably take control of the team fairly easily. In fact, at some points the 2nd Lieutenant seems likely to want him to have it. Yet SSgt Nantz continues to build up the younger leader, encouraging him to be the leader the team needs.
Service: He’s a Marine. What more need I say?
Battle: Los Angeles has it’s imperfections as a movie, but then, I’m not a movie critic. I enjoyed the action and drama. What I loved, was the example of servant leadership. If you want to see a science fiction flick on us vs. the aliens, you’re probably just as well off with Independence Day or others. But if you want to see a great example of servant leadership, Battle Los Angeles is a great choice.
Question: What other fiction movies exemplify servant leadership for you?