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The Guardian: A Leadership Lesson

Today we use the movie "The Guardian" as a lesson in leadership; specifically, something known as the "Phases of Transition". If you haven't seen the movie, I recommend watching it; either before or after reading this, but it's not entirely necessary.

So in the movie, the relationship between Ben Randall and Jake Fischer started out as many great big screen relationships often do; deeply troubled with misunderstandings between the two of them. As the story unfolds, these two “enemies” become close friends and they both end up teaching each other amazing lessons about life.

Legendary rescue swimmer Ben Randall lost his team at sea during a dangerous mission and it still haunts him. His life as an Aviation Survival Technician in the United States Coast Guard, along with the baggage that comes with it, has become too much for his wife Helen to handle. Ben, on the verge of retirement and now losing his marriage, struggles to make sense of where his life has been and where it is heading. He has become jaded to say the least and resistant to change. He seems confused in many ways.

Randall is reluctant to stop being an AST, but he is clearly affected by the many obstacles life has presented. Capt. William Hadley tells Randall he will be relocating for a few months to regroup and teach at the U.S. Coast Guard's enlisted Aviation Survival Technician/Rescue Swimmer School at Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City, North Carolina. Randall does agree as long as he has total control.

The new class of recruits is spunky to say the least. This is especially true for Jake Fischer, a high school swim champion with a troubled past. Soon, we discover that Fischer lost his teammates in a horrible accident. This is shown as a reflection of Randall and ends up being the bonding point for both Fischer and Randall.

The relationship between to two begins to solidify when even more similarities are discovered between the two, such as Randall being the top of his class, and Fischer is probably going to be the top of his. It becomes a rivalry of sorts. These are essentially two alpha males bonded by similar experiences and measurements. This is what will eventually distinguish their relationship above the others as Randall is able to help Fischer pull important lessons from Randall’s own life experiences. This develops trust between the two over time.

What Randall was able to do in that particular learning environment was to ensure Fischer and the other recruits owned the lessons, collaborated, become self aware, and demonstrate that he practices what he preaches and leads by example, so they know it is good in practice. A great scene to demonstrate this was the scene about hypothermia.

Randall had the credibility as he was a highly decorated AST and he had obvious value of character. Randall attempts to teach by example and makes the lessons very personal for the recruits. This, so they have a strong understanding of what the reality will be once they get out into the real world. Randall is hard on the recruits but for obvious reasons. At first, his approach does not go over well with the other cadre but even they turn around eventually.

Of course, as is often the case in an “Alpha Male” organization such as that, there is an identity related obstacle that even the cadre are not immune to and must contend with. The case with Randall is no exception. That obstacle is the idea that recruits may question the methods of the cadre and feel as though their methods may be outdated and antiquated. Perhaps even feel as though the cadre could not match the trainees toe to toe due to age. This particular aspect comes out in several scenes but is demonstrated when Fischer questions why Randall is teaching if he is so good and then Randall seems to doubt himself and decides to check his own swim times.

Eventually, the trust between Randall and Fischer becomes strong, to the point where Fischer and Randall work together post graduation. In yet another dangerous mission, the roles reverse and Fischer becomes the teacher to Randall. Fischer is put into a position where he must take control of the situation and basically save Randall.

This pushes Randall in many ways. Soon, Randall is going to provide the biggest lesson of all; self sacrifice, and Fischer is going to see it firsthand. To me, this story is a very exciting way to describe something known as the "Phases of Transition".

More to the point, the Guardian boils our lesson down to the challenge, the support, and the assessment of leadership. This process along with consistency will breed results. However, it is not an easy process because there will always be some level of denial, resistance, and exploration. Only once these measures have been achieved will one see the eventually commitment, until finally the student owns the lesson and begins anew.

David Robertson

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