We shall be governed no better than we deserve…

Whilst the world recovers from the shock election of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States, the film of his life so far is, no doubt, being written (and here’s a useful Trump character analysis, if that’s you). Hollywood loves to screen-ify our world leaders; from Ghandi to Mandela to JFK and Nixon, their life stories have played in technicolour glory with the “best” actors in the lead roles (guaranteeing them a shoe-in for an Oscar nomination, at least). Often these films are made once the leader has deceased (probably because it’s tricky dealing with a living person’s lawyers/agents/families), but some are made during their lifetime (The Queen, George Bush, Aung San Suu Kyi).   Watching leaders watching the film of themselves, now there’s a riveting spin on C4’s Gogglebox.

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Meryl Streep and Hillary Clinton (Source: AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)

Alive or dead, our world leaders provide a rich source of material for film-writers;  from morality tales to conspiracy theories to David-and-Goliath fables, they provide scope to tell a great story. And added to this, they promise to show us either the worst of human nature – avarice, egotism, acquisitiveness – or the best – morality, integrity, altruism, steadfastness.

Interestingly business schools have begun to notice this too;  literary interpretations of leadership are increasingly becoming part of the MBA curriculum.  Lists of “must-see” films for business graduates speckle the internet. From the obvious Steve Jobs and Wall Street, to the surprising; Babe and The Wizard of Oz – there’s seemingly much to learn about leadership from the big screen.


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Source: alamy.com

The top film for most business buffs though (and frequently acknowledged as “one of the great (if not the greatest) motion pictures of all time.” New York Times), is Citizen Kane, made in 1941, directed by and starring Orson Welles. Loosely based on newspaper tycoon Randolph William Hearst this is the story of Charles Foster Kane, a megalomaniac in love with power and crushing everything in his path, who’s quest for fortune and power lead to an isolated love-less life.  (Told in a dazzling series of fragments, shards, jigsaw pieces and reflected images, it’s cinematic storytelling skill and subject matter make it a favourite for many Journalists and Media producers too.)

And so the obvious correlations between Kane and Trump have surfaced again this week. Trump – who’s on the record as saying it’s his all-time favourite film – has offered his inimitable interpretation of the film – that Kane’s downfall was in part due to his poor choice in women.  A cause of further consternation about his appointment for the literati – http://www.politico.com/magazine/


There are many interested parties (from journalists to politicos) who, right now, will be imagining the next few years with Trump as President.  But for those interested in his screen story are at some point going to have to imagine how it’s all going to end -glory or vitriol.  Perhaps even imagining an assassination attempt. This is just one possible ending that others have tried with it’s more extreme leaders; remember too The Interview, the comedy about North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, that frazzled US diplomatic relations recently.  Will Donald Trump be happy to countenance such liteary interpretations of his own life?

When asked about his favorite book – Trump often cites; ‘The Art of the Deal,’ and ‘Surviving at the Top.’ Both books penned by himself (in 1987 and 1990, respectively). Reportedly he told a journalist, “I love books…I love reading when I get a chance to.”

Well let’s hope he finds the time as he awaits inauguration, to broaden his literary references from the freakish to the more humane .  The Stanford Graduate School of Business can help him out here. They have a course specifically looking at fiction, to teach it’s students about great leadership – The Business World: Moral and Spiritual Inquiry through Literature. “Limiting ourselves to manuals and biographies and case studies means we’re missing something big. Because some of the most valuable insights into the heart of leadership don’t come from the business aisle. They come from the literary classics.” says Scotty McLennan, lecturer in political economy. “Literature allows you access to the inner lives of its characters. “You see them not only in their work environment, and in decision-making moments, but in their larger life.”

From Albert Camus (any) to Kazuo Ishiguro (Remains of the Day) and Philip Roth (Zuckerman trilogy) the reading list of this course could well enrich many a business-focussed mind. But if that’s all too much effort, then just take one book; Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes.

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Visions of Quixote, Octovio Ocampo (1989)

Really? A 16th-century bloke who careered around the Spanish countryside tilting at windmills and challenging sheep to battle? Yes really, because Quixote lived his life with passion and discipline  says James G. March (who once taught a landmark course in Organizational Leadership at Stanford Graduate School of Business) – like a flamenco dancer who performs with seeming abandon, yet within the strictures of the art. Leaders can learn from Quixote about a life dedicated to imagination, commitment, and joy. “The critical concerns of leadership are not technical questions of management or power, they are fundamental issues of life,” (March has also produced a lecture-length film, see below)

For how America (natch, the world) will fare under a Trump presidency, keep an eye The Simpsons, their 16 year-old prediction that he would one day, be president shows the stunning intuition of their writing team. By the way they predicted his run of the Oval Office would “ruin” the American economy…

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The quote “We shall be governed no better than we deserve” comes from George Bernard Shaw (1856 – 1950)

Featured image: http://thefederalist.com



Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, which helps people see the juxtaposition of traditional African society with the imposition of Western religion, military, and business

Outgoing President Obama’s favorite books include Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, the tragedies of William Shakespeare and Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls.

And for more; a list of inspirational leaders and the books that they cite helped them find success.


Passion and Discipline: Don Quixote’s Lessons for Leadership James G. March’s lecture film (2003)

A selection of the 10 greatest portrayals in film of 20th century leaders from listverse.com

The documentary I Am Fishead: Are Corporate Leaders Psychopaths? examines whether the people at the top are more likely to be psychopaths than the rest of us.

thoughtleadersfilms.com  “Thought Leaders” is a high paced, edgy and entrepreneurial collection of conversations with USA experts, innovators and leaders on the global market, entrepreneurship, innovation and brands.



Radio 4 – The Long View, Donald Trump and the politics of celebrity. Oh how wrong we were – this was recorded long before Trump was a twinkling in the Republican candidacy.

Radio 3, The Essay: Why Citizen Kane matters.. To mark the centenary of the birth of Orson Welles, film critic Peter Bradshaw shares his own Rosebud theory in his personal take on Citizen Kane.

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