The Post Movie - Servant-Leadership Authentic Lesson - Tom Hanks as Ben Bradless Faces Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham in the Hall Way as the Have a Difficult Conversation

Servant-Leadership 101: Principle of Authenticity (The Post Movie Example)

The fifth principle in the Acronym Model of SERVANT-Leadership™ is Authentic. This 6-minute lesson demonstrates this principle, through the example of Kay Graham and Ben Bradlee (played by Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks) debating personal relationships vs. professional responsibilities. Graham is the CEO of The Washington Post and Bradlee is Executive Editor for the paper.

In 1971, another newspaper revealed the existence of a U.S. government report that questioned the country’s military involvement in Vietnam and the potential for success. The confidential report was commissioned during the war by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. McNamara is a close personal friend of Kay Graham (Streep’s character). That report is leaked to a competing paper. Now aware of the report, Ben Bradlee desperately needs a copy of the report for The Post to report on it.

The two colleagues have great respect for each other. Now they must balance their close personal friendships, virtues, and professional responsibilities. Watch as you see two leaders struggle to remain authentic.

If you or your organization could use support developing leaders, let’s talk!

The Post
20th Century Fox
December 22, 2017

Questions for Further Development:

  • How are you staying authentic?
  • How do you ensure you do not wear different masks, depending upon circumstances?
  • What is your greatest challenge to remaining authentic?

If you or your organization could use support developing leaders, let’s talk!

Full Video Transcript

GRAHAM: Bob McNamara’s an old friend he’s going through a lot in his life right now. I just think he’s probably said all he wants to say.

BRADLEE: Why, do you think?


BRADLEE: Why? Why is he talking to you?

GRAHAM: Well, I’ve just told you. He’s my friend –

BRADLEE: Is he talking to any other friends?

GRAHAM: I’m not sure I appreciate the implication of what…

BRADLEE: McNamara is talking to you, because you are the publisher of the Washington Post. Because he wants you to bail him out. Because he wants you on his side.

GRAHAM: No, Ben! That’s not my role. You know that. I wouldn’t presume to tell you how to write about him. Just as i wouldn’t take it upon myself to tell him he should hand over a classified study – which would be a crime by the way – just so he can serve as your source.

BRADLEE: OUR source, Katherine.

BEN: In 1971 a study revealing that the U.S. government doubted their ability to win the Vietnam war, as it was raging on, was published by the New York Times. Katherine Graham, played here by Meryl Streep, is the first female publisher of a major American newspaper – The Washington Post. Ben Bradlee, played here by Tom Hanks, is the paper’s executive editor. The editor confronts the publisher, because she is a good personal friend with Rob McNamara, who commissioned this study in question, and Ben Bradlee wants a copy to report on it. At play here are two powerful newspaper leaders wrestling over their personal friendships with each other and others, trying to do what’s best for their employees, their readers, and their country.

WOMAN: Were you expecting someone?

KATHARINE: At this hour?

BEN: I hope I’m not too early

KATHARINE: Not at all. It must be urgent?

BEN: I trust you saw the New York Times?


KATHARINE: The study – the one they are working off of – that was commissioned by Robert McNamara.


BEN: And if he commissioned it, he might have a copy. I don’t need to tell you that finding a source, it’s like finding a needle in a haystack.

KATHARINE: I don’t need the analogy.

BEN: I haven’t been a writer for a while so that old cliche – that was the best comparison I could come up with. I need a copy of that study, Kate.

KATHARINE: You know, Ben, as much as I do relish a good investigative assignment, Bob McNamara’s an old friend. He’s going through a lot in his life right now. I just – he’s probably said all he wants to say.

BEN: Why do you think?


BEN: Why? Why is he talking to you?

KATHARINE: Well I just told you – He’s my friend.

BEN: Oh, is he talking to any other friends?

KATHARINE: I’m not sure I appreciate the implication of what – No, Ben. That’s not my role. You know that! I wouldn’t presume to tell you how to write about him just as I wouldn’t take it upon myself to tell him he should hand over a classified study – which would be a crime by the way – just so he can serve as your source.

BEN: OUR source, Katharine.

KATHARINE: No, I’m… No I’m not – I’m not going to ask Bob for the study, all right?

BEN: I get it. You have a relationship with Bob McNamara. But don’t you think you have an obligation, as well, to the paper and to the public?

KATHARINE: Let me ask you something. Was that how you felt when you were palling around with Jack Kennedy? Where was your sense of duty then? I don’t recall you pushing him particularly hard on anything

BEN: I pushed Jack when i had to. I never pulled any punches.

KATHARINE: Is is that right? Because you used to dine at the White House once a week – all the trips to Camp David Oh! And that drunken birthday cruise on the Sequoia you told me about! Hard to believe you would have gotten
all those invitations if you didn’t pull a few punches.

BEN: As a leader, there will be many times you will be tempted to act in one way in private and another in public as a servant-leader you must resist this urge. It would be easiest to be two different people in such situations – at least in the short run. In the long run, it will hurt and cost you greatly. Instead, stick to your virtues, have the difficult conversations, practice resolve, but most importantly be authentic.

Servant-Leadership Principle Reflection Questions on Authenticity

  1. How are you making sure that you are consistent in who you are in public and private?
  2. How do you make sure that you’re not switching off masks and pretending to be something you’re not at different times?
  3. How are you being consistent and being authentic?


Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner is the founder and principal of Modern Servant Leader and Radiant Forest, LLC. He has studied and promoted servant leadership awareness and adoption for over 20 years. He is the author of 2 leadership books and has 2 decades of corporate management and leadership experience. His corporate experience spans CIO, VP, Director, and many management roles at Fortune 500, INC 500, and Nonprofits. Ben’s education includes a B.S. in Management Science & Information Systems from Penn State University and an MBA from Lehigh University. Ben's Full Profile Here: About Ben Lichtenwalner

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