The Guardian: A Leadership Lesson


Today we use the movie “The Guardian” as a leadership lesson, specifically, 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. The lesson will become evident.

So in the movie, the relationship between Ben Randall and Jake Fischer started 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 teach each other amazing life lessons.

Legendary rescue swimmer Ben Randall lost his team at sea during a dangerous mission, which 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 understand 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. 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 at the top of his class and Fischer probably going to be at the top of his. It becomes a rivalry of sorts. These are essentially two alpha males bonded by similar experiences and measurements. This will eventually distinguish their relationship from the others as Randall can help Fischer pull important lessons from Randall’s 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, became self-aware, and demonstrated 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 credibility as he was a highly decorated AST, and he obviously had a value of character. Randall attempts to teach by example and makes the lessons very personal for the recruits. This is 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 is not immune to and must contend with. The case with Randall is no exception. That obstacle is the idea that recruits may question the cadre’s methods and feel that their methods may be outdated and antiquated. Perhaps even feel as though the cadre could not match the trainee’s 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 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 will provide the biggest lesson of all; self-sacrifice. 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 leadership assessment. This process, along with consistency, will breed results. However, it is not easy because there will always be some level of denial, resistance, and exploration. Only when these measures have been achieved will one see the eventual commitment, until finally, the student owns the lesson and begins anew.

Did you enjoy this article? You might also like “The Difficulty of Change and How to Overcome It.