Saving Private Ryan: Leadership Lessons for the Crisis and the Future

Crisis Leadership

Like many of you, I’m catching up on my Netflix shows and re-watching classic movies.  One of my all time favorites is Saving Private Ryan with Tom Hanks (side note- I’m glad to hear he and his wife are doing better.)  In Saving Private Ryan, there is one particular scene that summarizes the leadership that is needed to get through the current crisis and should be a staple for the future.

At time 1:43 in this clip (,) Captain Miller explains how “griping” should be conducted with respect to rank and leadership.  With this in mind, I have come up with four steps all leaders must do right now.

Provide Solutions and Direction

1. BE A LEADER.  Although we all may be experiencing fear and doubt, as a leader you can not show it.  You can acknowledge and empathize with your clients and employees that the world is a little messed up, but you must be the rock.  You must have the calming voice, be the voice of reason, and the one that provides solutions and direction.  

Employees and clients will feed off of what you say and how you say it.  They will also read your body language. In no uncertain terms can you be full of doom and gloom.  Keep your head high and speak with confidence. Be inspired and inspire confidence in your teams that they will make it though this.

Demonstrate Compassion

2. GET PERSONAL. Talk, I mean really talk, with each of your clients and each of your employees.  Know your people and look out for their well-being.  Ask how they are doing?  What are their worries?  Can you help?  You can weave in what needs to be accomplished (employees) and how you can provide a service (clients,) but only after you have touched their hearts and souls.  You have to have compassion and demonstrate compassion. The heart holds hand with the mind.  Now, more than ever, you need to touch both.

Never Complain Down

3. NO COMPLAINING!!!  If you want to vent, do it with someone at your level (managers to managers, VP’s to VP’s, etc.)  In no circumstance should you ever vent in front of your teams or your clients.  As an officer of Marines, I never complained in front of my Marines and as I was promoted, I never complained to or in front of my junior officers.  Keep any complaining at your level.  Never complain down! (watch the video clip.)

Can Do vs Can’t Do

4. SHORTEN YOUR TIMELINE.  I can’t emphasize this enough; focus on the next week or next two weeks and look for what you CAN DO and not what you can’t do.  This is critically important for the health of your business, your employees, and your clients.  If you only focus on the obstacles, especially the ones you can’t control, you are going to be dead in the water. I’m going to bastardize Col John Boyd’s “OODA Loop” (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) to give you a brief framework:


Observe what is currently going on.  Barriers and opportunities.

Orient your team by providing clarity to the situation and communicate your intent.

Decide on a direction and specific actions that can be completed rapidly (one week at a time.)

Act now and get it done.  Do not waiver.  Make something happen. 

Get It Done

We are all in crisis mode.  It’s up to you as the leader to navigate through the storm.  Keep things simple.  Focus on the basics.  Give your teams clear guidance.  Get it done.

I’ll see you on the other side,


Patrick Houlahan