In the book Think and Grow Rich, self-help guru Napoleon Hill defines 11 “Major Attributes of Leadership,” which can translate well into various facets of life. However, these qualities are especially critical when in the pursuit of business success. Oscar-winning actor Denzel Washington has portrayed a number of powerful characters during his successful career, many of whom display the same leadership qualities described in Hill’s classic book.
Below is a list of each characteristic that Hill qualifies as an “attribute of leadership” in Think and Grow Rich, along with the corresponding Denzel Washington movie role that I believe best exemplifies and personifies each principle:
1. ‘Unwavering Courage’: Malcolm X in Malcolm X
“No follower wishes to be dominated by a leader who lacks self-confidence and courage,” Hill says.
Even if you haven’t seen the film Malcolm X, you are probably already familiar with the story and can recall many instances where Malcolm X’s actions required nothing less than unwavering courage. Denzel Washington’s portrayal of Malcolm X in the 1992 drama illustrates the unwavering courage of this iconic civil rights leader.
2. ‘Self Control’: Eli in The Book of Eli
“People who cannot control themselves can never control others,” Hill says.
This statement reminds me of Washington’s portrayal of Eli in The Book of Eli. This film highlights Eli’s calm poise and self-control, in spite of his chaotic post-apocalyptic surroundings.
3. ‘A Keen Sense of Justice’: Robert McCall in The Equalizer
“Without a sense of fairness and justice, no leader can command and retain the respect of his or her followers,” Hill says.
In The Equalizer, Washington plays Robert McCall. McCall sacrifices his life of peace and tranquility to protect an exploited child, because he knew he had the ability to provide her with the help and care that she needed. In McCall’s words, “You do something about it, because you can.”
4. ‘Definiteness of Decision’: Private Silas Trip in Glory
“People who waver in decisions show that they are not sure of themselves. They cannot lead others successfully,” Hill says.
If you have ever seen Glory, then you know how much soldier Silas Trip “loved the 54th.” The final, impactful scene of this Civil War film demonstrates how exercising “definiteness of decision” can inspire others to do more than they normally would.
Watch it below:
5. ‘Definiteness of Plans’: Melvin B. Tolson in The Great Debaters
“A successful leader must plan the work, and work the plan,” Hill says.
The film The Great Debaters is set during the 1935-36 school year at Wiley College. Washington plays the school’s debate coach, Melvin B. Tolson, and he is determined to give his talented debate team a national platform. After much planning, recruiting, and coaching, Tolson leads his team of bright, hard-working students to compete in the first interracial collegiate debate in the U.S.
6. ‘The Habit of Doing More Than Paid’: Sam Chisolm in The Magnificent Seven
“One of the penalties of leadership is the necessity of willingness, upon the part of the leaders, to do more than they require of their followers,” Hill says.
In the western The Magnificent Seven, Washington plays Sam Chisolm, a warrant officer, and leader of the vigilante group that vows to protect the town of Rose Creek. During the movie, Chisolm famously declares that Rose Creek’s citizens “deserve their lives back.” While he knew his financial resources were incomparable to that of the film’s villain, this did not stop him from leading the fight against his enemies.
7. ‘A Pleasing Personality’: Dudley the Angel in The Preacher’s Wife
“Followers will not respect leaders who do not score highly on all factors of a pleasing personality,” Hill says.
Do you remember The Preacher’s Wife—when Washington endearingly portrays Dudley, an angel sent from heaven to help Reverend Biggs and his family. Throughout the movie, Dudley handles various situations with kindness to achieve his ultimate objective, in spite of the opinions of critics that completely missed the point.
8. ‘Sympathy and Understanding’: Joe Miller in Philadelphia
“Successful leaders must be in sympathy with their followers. Moreover, they must understand them and their problems,” Hill says.
In the movie Philadelphia, Washington plays personal injury lawyer Joe Miller. Miller is approached with a case from Andrew Beckett, a former senior associate of a corporate law firm that believes he was wrongfully terminated due to his recent AIDS diagnosis, played by Tom Hanks. While Miller initially refuses to take the case, he changes his mind and decides to defend Beckett after consulting a medical doctor, who explains how HIV/AIDS is actually transmitted. Miller also witnesses first-hand the extent to which those that did not understand the disease would go to alienate Beckett out of fear and ignorance. These experiences provided Miller with a new level of understanding that allowed him to sympathize with Beckett, and ultimately take his case when no one else would.
Watch Miller’s epiphany below:
9. ‘Mastery of Detail’: Bleek Gilliam in Mo’Better Blues
“Successful leadership calls for the mastery of details of the leader’s position,” Hill says.
In Mo’ Better Blues, Washington plays Bleek Gilliam, a star trumpet player and leader of the band The Bleak Quintet. The film opens with young Bleek sacrificing his leisure time to practice and perfect his musical skill. It’s this focus and determination that leads Bleek to ultimately acquire a mastery of musical details.
10. ‘Willingness to Assume Full Responsibility’: John Quincy Archibald in John Q
“Successful leaders must be willing to accept for the mistake and shortcomings of their followers,” Hill says.
In John Q, Washington plays John Quincy Archibald, a family man who was willing to assume full responsibility for the life and health of is his son Michael. Archibald demonstrates his willingness to sacrifice anything in order to get his son the medical care he desperately needed.
11. ‘Cooperation’: Herman Boone in Remember the Titans
“Leadership calls for power, and power calls for cooperation,” Hill says.
Remember the Titans is set during 1971 in Alexandria, Virginia. In the film, Washington plays high school football coach Herman Boone. Boone is challenged with trying to unite his team of diverse players, who remain divided as a result of the racial tension that continued to permeate the recently desegregated town.
Coach Boone’s efforts to bring the team together includes a trip to the Gettysburg Battlefield, where he profoundly proclaims, “If we don’t come together right now on this hallowed ground, we too will be destroyed—just like they were. I don’t care if you like each other or not, but you respect each other.”
Watch this scene below:
In order to thrive as a team, the players and coaches had to set aside personal interests in order to pursue their major goal. Through Boone’s tutelage and encouragement, the team quickly learns to cooperate and work together, and they eventually go on to win the state championship.