What is it all about
Snowpiercer is a science-fiction movie set in 2031 where the entire world is frozen except for those aboard the train called Snowpiercer (no surprise here). For 17 years, the world’s survivors are on a train hurtling around the globe creating their own economy and class system. Led by Curtis, a group of lower-class citizens living in squalor at the back of the train are determined to get to the front of the train and spread the wealth around.
The movie is dark, sometimes weird and totally illogical, yet it may be enjoyable watching for some of you. The movie has however one interesting scene that we’re going to study today.
What do we see in this scene?
After many fights, Curtis (played by Chris Evans) suggests he moves forward with a few people, leaving their leader Gilliam (played by John Hurt) at the back, protecting him and the wounded. This way he could more easily open a breach without fearing to lose the elder.
Gilliam however, requests from Curtis that he open his eyes and realize he is the real leader.
What do we learn from this scene?
I like this scene very much because of its atmosphere and the key learning points taught us by Gilliam.
It is said that a good leader requires different personality traits, one being humility. This scene shows us that Curtis, doesn’t put his value above others. He respects the elder and recognizes him as their leader. He comes up with suggestions believing in his competences, and gladly puts his life on the line. He doesn’t act selfishly, he’s not interested in the role of leader and instead focuses on creating a better life for all.
Gilliam has been the leader of the group for a long time. He’s getting old and doesn’t have much energy left. He also feels that he’s slowing Curtis down. By telling Curtis that he has to accept he is the new leader, Gilliam conveys the following message:
1. We lead by action, not by role. Gilliam feels he can’t lead anymore and while he holds the title of leader, it is Curtis’ actions that make the difference. This reminds me of the Native Indian leadership model where the leader is selected based on contextual needs. When there is war, a warrior is chosen to lead and in time of peace, the tribe selects a healer or builder.
2. While humility is important, acceptance may be even more so. It’s only by accepting that his people recognize him as their leader that he can fully endorse this role and have ownership and accountability over his actions.
In this case, humility can be seen as a sort of barrier; one that provides Curtis with the freedom to do as he pleases without taking into consideration the full impact of his actions. Many of his people may and will die and why he recognizes that, he doesn’t feel complete accountability for it. This simply happens through Gilliam’s approval who’s the official leader. Once Curtis understands and accepts that he bears the title of leader (without any official ceremony that is), then he also realizes that there is nobody above him to take the fall. The leader is not necessarily the one taking credit for successes, but he sure gets condemned for big failures. And while this adds an extra layer of stress on Curtis’ shoulders, it also gives him the responsibility he’s lacking up till now.
When speaking about “leader’s acceptance” we often refer to the part where a leader should accept all followers the way they are. Accept they are human, that they are irrational and can be emotional; that they have their dreams and so forth. This acceptance is a form of respect.
However, I believe a leader can only achieve this once he/she accepts being the one leading the flock. That means accepting the burden and responsibilities bestowed on oneself (or delegated if preferred) by fellow people. Accepting that he/she is the one chosen to lead and take the difficult decisions for all the others. As Lolly Daskal writes in one of her posts: “Acceptance is not about passivity, detachment, inaction, or being powerless.”