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Analysis of a Movie:


Foundations of Leadership (EDUC5201) Dr. Diana Petrarca
Presented by Joyce Thomas and Theresa Shin
An Overview of the Movie: Elysium
Learning Objectives
Leaders and Leadership
Matt Damon as Max
Applications of Diverse Leadership

An Overview of the Movie: Elysium
Set in the year 2154, where the very wealthy live on a man-made space station while
the rest of the population resides on a ruined Earth, a man takes on a mission that
could bring equality to the polarized worlds.

Director: Neill Blomkamp
Writer: Neill Blomkamp
Stars: Matt Damon and Jodie Foster
Some clips and description of the movie from the Director, Neill Blomkamp, Matt
Damon and Jodie Foster (2:10):


1. Differentiate between a variety of established and emerging positions,
models, and theories of leadership

2. Analyze leadership challenges and opportunities using various leadership
theoretical frameworks

3. Apply diverse leadership ideas, models, and theories of leadership to a wide
range of contextual circumstances and problems/dilemmas

According to Hersey and Blanchard (1969), before a leader can choose his leadership style, he must
first understand the situation. The main character Max is not a leader by choice, but rather a leader by
circumstance. Based on a workplace accident, the main character was placed in a situation whereby he
needed to take action, in order to cure him of his radiation exposure. However, his own dilemma with
his health would also have an impact on the well-being of the population that remained living on planet
For Hershey and Blanchard, tasks are different and each type of task requires a different leadership
style. A good leader will be able to adapt her or his leadership to the goals or objectives to be
accomplished. Goal setting, capacity to assume responsibility, education, and experience are main
factors that make a leader successful. Not only is the leadership style important for a successful leader-
led situation but the ability or maturity of those being led is a critical factor, as well. (Leadership, 2010-2013).

Based on Hersey and Blanchards Situational Leadership Model (SLM)
Direction (task behaviour) a leader gives Maxs personal dilemma, acts as the catalyst for his
quest for survival
Social-emotional support (relationship behaviour) a leader provides Maxs close relationship with
a friend, provides him with the support to seek further help in his quest for survival
Readiness Level that followers exhibit on a specific objective, that the leader is attempting to
accomplish through the individual or group - the social outcasts albeit, Educationally Astute support
Maxs quest for survival. Their readiness to follow is ultimately decided through their analysis of
the situation, noting that Maxs attempt to survive would also be an attempt to save all of mankind
left on earth
Communication, trust and support Max in partnership with the Educationally Astute, took a risk
on one another to develop a strategy to reach a common goal, that of a better quality of life and
Although he was not confident is his own abilities, Maxs demonstration of leadership is
evident in his ability to exhibit heroism. Max as a risk-taker knew there were no guarantees
in completing the task of reaching the nucleus of Elysium, in order to disarm the community
space station.
According to Weber (1978) as cited by Gottlieb (2012), we can see the resemblance of Maxs
life parallel to that of the life of Moses, from the Bible. Moses was chosen to lead in the
Exodus, however feeling unworthy, knew he was called upon for this life altering journey of
the masses.
Weber (1978, p. 241) as cited by Gottlieb (2012) p. 975 defines charisma as:
[A] certain quality of an individual personality by virtue of which he is considered
extraordinary and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least
specifically exceptional powers or qualities. These as such are not accessible to the ordinary
person, but are regarded as of divine origin or as exemplary, and on the basis of them, the
individual concerned is treated as a "leader."

Transactional to the Transformational, the opportunities, problems and challenges.
At first Maxs quest to reach Elysium was for selfish purposes, however, with the physical
restoration and emotional support he received from the constituents. He transformed his own
goal of survival into a goal for the greater good. The injustices he received as a resident of earth
was a statement that all mankind on earth need not have to suffer in the same way.
Max displayed the leadership qualities as espoused by Burns (2010) whereby, the leader is driven
by a political purpose. In this case, a stance against poor living conditions for the less fortunate,
who did not have the political status to grant them the right of living on Elysium.
As Max becomes more dependent on his followers for health treatment and emotional support,
the relationship between himself and his supporters transforms from a transactional to a
transformational leadership dependency.
Founded on the work of Burns (1978) and House (1977) as cited in Day and Antonakis (2012), Bass
(1985) theory of transformational leadership as cited in (Day & Antonakis, 2012) describes the
growth of Maxs character as the protagonist in Elysium.
Maxs personal struggle with selfishness, was displaced when those that had faith in his abilities as a
leader to carry on the mission of providing a better living condition for all inhabitants of Earth,
adapted his focus to include working towards the good of all who supported him.
According to Bass (1985), the leader shifts goals away from personal safety to achievement and self-
actualization and the greater good (Petrarca, 2013).
The paradigm shift for Max occurs when he sees the suffering others have had to endure, due to the
inability to seek medical treatment on Elysium. As posited by Bass (1985), the transformational
leader begins to develop a moral and ethical compass to help guide in his decision making. This was
evident when Max decided to place his own life at risk to help the young girl with cancer receive
treatment while he diverted the guards at the power source of Elysium.
In the final analysis, Max knew that his chances of survival were minimal as he battled the
defending security forces of Elysium. However, since the onset of his circumstance, his
emotional intelligence continued to be tested with each battle he endured to survive. As
stated by Bar-On (1988) as cited by Barrett (2006), Max became aware of his own fears and
the ability to express his concerns to his friends. He was aware of the plight of others and
that his fight to survive was a fight for all of humanity left on earth to survive. Finally, his
ability to adapt to problem solve by controlling his personal emotional impulses would be the
key in being able to complete the mission of unlocking the control panel on Elysium for the
inhabitants of earth to infiltrate, and access the benefits of the space stations amenities.

Max was not a charismatic leader as posited by House (1977) as cited by (Miner, 2005). He
fell upon his leadership due to an unfortunate turn of events in his life. Max best portrays
Luthans & Youssefs (2004) as cited in (Avolio & Gardner, 2005) description of an authentic
leader. Max as a leader is able to recognize that he has weaknesses, which he works to
accommodate by surrounding himself with extremely capable followers and builds an
inclusive and engaging positive organizational context (Avolio & Gardner, 2005). In the story
of Elysium, it was this context that allowed the supporters of Max to contribute to Maxs own
development as a leader and his confidence to carry out the task of bringing justice to all of
humanity (Avolio & Gardner, 2005).
Max seems self-aware based on his previous life experiences and as mentioned by George et
al. (2008), Max is an individual who can develop self-awareness from their [his] experiences.
Authentic leaders act on that awareness by practicing their values and principles, sometimes
at substantial risk to themselves (p. 9).
Questions to Consider
The Earth in the late 22nd century depicted as diseased, polluted and vastly
overpopulated, left to further degenerate, and in contrast, the Earths wealthiest
inhabitants living on Elysium, a man-made space station, created for the elite to
preserve their way of life, which seems to have everything that the inhabitants
on Earth do not have. Elysium seems to be a possible future world that director,
Blomkamp envisions given the state of our society today.

What would it take to deflect our path from creating this hell on Earth in the
late 21
century as illuminated by the director and writer, Neill Blomkamp?
What type of leaders do we need to possibly create a better world?

Geert Hofstedes cultural dimensions theory (1980) could be applied as a framework to support
global management of the resources and living conditions for all inhabitants of Earth. This model
factors in the cross-cultural differences when dealing with global, political and environmental
dilemma. Hofstedes (1980) findings displayed that the more aware we are of our cultural
differences, the less misinterpretations and misunderstandings between people from different
countries. In the case of this movie, the cultural divide that became exponential due to the
environmental conditions that the inhabitants left on earth had to be managed for future survival
of humanity.
House (1997) as cited in (House, et al. 2002) expanded on Hofstedes (1980) work, and developed
the GLOBE Project, which researched cultural differences in order to develop cultural
competencies demonstrated through leadership attributes. Max is a reluctant hero as he sacrifices
himself for his friends child and for all inhabitants of the Earth. He reflects self-transcendent
values as mentioned by Shamir and Eilam (2005) as cited in Avolio and Gardner (2005). Max is also
aware of his limitations and the choices available to him, weighed the consequences of action/
inaction, and made the choices and decisions that resonated with his values (George et al., 2011).


As posited by House et al. (1997), a leader for Earth and Elysium in the year 2154 would have to
exhibit the following six leadership attributes as outlined in the Global Project framework.
The six Globe dimensions of culturally endorsed implicit leadership (CLT), House (2002):
Charismatic/value based characterized by demonstrating integrity, decisiveness, and performance
oriented by appearing visionary, inspirational and self-sacrificing
Team oriented characterized by diplomatic, administratively competent, team collaboration and
Self-protective characterized by self-centered, face saving, procedural behavior capable of inducing
conflict when necessary while being conscious of status
Participative characterized by (non-autocratic) participative behavior that is supportive of those who
are being led
Human orientation characterized by modesty and compassion for others in an altruistic fashion
Autonomous being able to function without constant consultation (Wikipedia, 2013).

Summary of our leader - Max
As globalization continues to thrive and change, as portrayed in the movie Elysium, the
concept of global leadership will adapt to serve the best interest of a world being made
incrementally smaller.
People want their leaders to be trustworthy, just, honest, decisive, and so forth. However,
how these traits are expressed and enacted may still be noticeably different from society to
society (Centre for Creative Leadership, 2012).
Leader effectiveness is the fundamental quality that is needed to maintain an ever diverse
population as found on Earth and Elysium. MAX demonstrated the six attributes as espoused
by House et al. (2002).
House et al. (2002, p. 8)
Attributes and practices that
distinguish cultures from each
other are predictors of how
leaders will respond to their
In the case of Max, his
effectiveness as a leader was
based on his acceptance of the
diversity of the standards in
Elysium and Earth. The
interdependence of leadership,
societal culture, practices, and
behaviours is shown in House et
al.s (2002) Theoretical model.

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