Situational Leadership: An analysis of Remember the Titans
ESS 520- Leadership in Sport
Situational leadership is the idea that one changes his or her leadership style in a given situation. According to Hershey and Blanchard, the type of leadership that is appropriate for any given situation is driven by follower readiness or development. Readiness is based on two factors: ability, meaning the follower has the necessary knowledge, skill, and experience and willingness, or confidence, commitment, and motivation.
The theoretical model put forth by Hershey and Blanchard matches up each follower readiness level with an appropriate leadership style. R1 means that the followers are low on ability and low on confidence. This calls for leadership style S1, which is comparable to a dictator, and involves the coach providing specific instructions and closely supervising performance. S1 falls on the spectrum that is high on task behavior but low on relationship behavior. R2 is the next follower level where the followers are still low in ability but high in willingness. S2 is the leadership style to go along with R2 and is high on task and high on relationships. The leader, in this case, explains decisions and provides opportunity for clarification. R3 (high on ability, low on willingness) matches up with S3 (low task, high relationship) which is a supportive leadership style. The leader shares ideas and facilitates in decision making. The final level is R4 (high ability, high willingness) and the final leadership style is S4, a kind of laissez-faire style of coaching. In S4, the leader turns over responsibility for decisions and implementation.
Remember the Titans is a movie based on the true story of integration in the 1970’s and how that plays out on the high school football field. It is also a good illustration of situational leadership and follower readiness as the movie follows the black head coach, Coach Boone, and the white assistant coach, Coach Yoast, along with their new racially integrated football team.
The movie starts out with the teams from the separate schools hanging out with just each other, showing that they are comfortable with members of their race and comfortable with their roles and positions on their respective teams. However, when the two must merge together the level of discomfort and unease is evident from the very first team meeting. This is an example of a team in the forming stage of Bruce Tuckman’s model of group development. Forming is the stage characterized by uncertainty and shyness. The team doesn’t know what to expect from each other or their coaches. In this scene of the first team meeting, Coach Boone addresses the black players and tells them that this is a dictatorship, not a democracy. He clearly establishes himself and sets the tone for what he expects from his team members (Remember the Titans, 11:15). Coach Yoast then walks in with the white athletes and the whole team meets for the very first time (Remember the Titans, 13:25). Although this is still technically forming, there is always an underlying sense of conflict and tension, which is perhaps a result of overall unease of the community and the nation in regards to race relations at this point in history.
The next scene depicts Coach Boone shoving his team into the storming stage as they prepare to leave for pre-season training camp. He assigns white and black players to sit together and lets them know that they will also be rooming together at camp (Remember the Titans, 17:00).This is a great example of a coach knowingly pushing his team into conflict so that they can get though storming and into norming and performing.
At the forming stage, the follower readiness level is R1. They segregate themselves whenever possible, showing an unwillingness to come together and play as a team. This is evident in the first team meeting and when they get on the buses to go to training camp. In addition, the newness of the team along with the racial hostility in the community at large makes it so that they are unable to come together.
Coach Boone’s leadership style is S1 at this point. He explicitly states that this is a dictatorship, not a democracy, and his authority is further established when he is approached by two of the white players, Gary and Ray, who try to tell him how to run the team (Remember the Titans, 15:30). He publicly states that he is in charge and clearly puts them in their place in front of the team, coaching staff, and all of their families.
On the other hand, Coach Yoast seems to be in leadership style S2. His approach draws on the relationships he has with his players and the community and he tries to explain what is going on without being a complete authoritarian. I think that the difference in their coaching styles at this point of the team development stems from the fact that Yoast has a relationship with many of the boys and their families while Boone is trying to come in and prove himself in an openly hostile environment. If Boone weren’t as tough as he was, it would be hard for him to ever earn the respect that he needed to run the team.
As the team leaves for training camp, it is clear that they are in the storming phase. There are multiple instances of hostility and tension between the black and white players. Arguments over who gets which bed and what posters to hang on walls eventually gives way to a fist fight between Gary (the white captain) and Julius (the black team leader) who were assigned to room together (Remember the Titans, 19:10).
As practice gets underway, there is constant conflict between teammates and coaches alike. Yoast makes it obvious that he doesn’t always agree with what Boone is doing by his facial expressions and his tone of voice. At one point, Yoast talks to Boone about introducing new plays and letting the boys have some fun and Boone is not open or willing to hear any new ideas (Remember the Titans, 23:20). Boone is pushing his players to the brink, in their faces yelling at them and punishing them if they miss a tackle or fumble a football (Remember the Titans, 20:45-22:00).
During this stage of intense storming, the team begins to enter R2 of follower readiness. They are still unable to work together and play at the highest level, but they are starting to feel more secure in their roles on the team and are showing a level of willingness to get to know their teammates, black and white alike. Boone tells everyone that they must get to know every one of their teammates and report back to him on what they are learning (Remember the Titans, 26:00). Some of the players start to bond and form new relationships, which lays the groundwork for the team to progress into the norming stage.
At this point, Coach Boone is still in leadership style S1. He tells his players and coaches what to do with no room for suggestions or input. He makes sure that it is clear that he is the final authority on and off the field. Coach Yoast is somewhere between S2 and S3. His concern for the relationships with his players is evident when he questions Boone for pushing them too hard (Remember the Titans, 27:50) or when he wants to introduce some new plays to let the boys have some fun. He is supportive and encouraging of his players at practice and motivates them without being too harsh. I think that this difference in coaching is good in that is provides a good balance between two extremes. However, it is harmful to the team in that the coaches are clearly not on the same page so that makes it hard for the players to work together when it is obvious that the coaching staff is struggling to work together.
The team slowly creeps into the norming stage and it is evident during the Gettysburg run scene (Remember the Titans, 31:00). Boone wakes them up at 3:00 AM and takes them on a grueling run to the battlefield of Gettysburg. During the run, you see teammates supporting each other and pushing each other to keep moving, and by the time they finish the run, they are too exhausted to hate each other or fight.
More evidence of norming is clear when Gary calls out a white teammate for not blocking for a black quarterback (Remember the Titans, 34:45). Julius and Gary, the two leaders who were constantly at odds with each other, come together at the end of a grueling practice to show team spirit and camaraderie. At this point, roles are clear and the team is sorting out what it stands for. The players start to come together and there is a comfort level that never existed. The team is seen cheering, encouraging, and pumping each other up (Remember the Titans, 36:00), they joke around and sing with each other in the locker room (Remember the Titans, 38:05), and they sit at mixed tables in the dining hall. When they leave camp after two weeks, they are feeling good and have clearly come a long way since they left.
Once they get back to school, there is obvious tension within the community, but the team fights to stay united and play together. Julius and Gary work together to break up fights at school and the team goes out to celebrate after wins together. But the racial discomfort is always close at hand when the team members get kicked out of a restaurant because some of them are black. They win the first couple of games, but Boone points out that they aren’t playing with any heart. The turning point into the performing phase is when the team calls a meeting without the coaches and comes up with their own warm-up routine to distinguish themselves from everyone else and to make sure they are playing with heart and soul (Remember the Titans, 1:04:00).
During the norming phase, the team progresses into R3. They are definitely able to get along and play together, but once they leave camp their confidence is shaken by the racial tension they encounter. Coach Boone also progresses in his leadership style to S2. The relationships with his players and coaches start to develop (Remember the Titans, 58:30) and he becomes more of a coach than a dictator. Coach Yoast is at S3 at this point. His relationship behavior is high, as evidenced when he convinces Petey to play defense for him after Boone had chewed him out (Remember the Titans, 51:00). Coach Boone and Yoast seem to be more on the same page at this point in the movie and it reflects in their team.
The team is in the performing stage as they continue to win games and eventually go 13-0 to win the state championship. Their unique warm-up style gives their team an identity and sets them apart from the competition (Remember the Titans, 1:07:05). Players step up and get the job done when they are called on (Remember the Titans, 1:09:30), and the bad seeds are weeded out by the players, like when Gary decides he needs to kick Ray off the team for not doing his job (Remember the Titans, 1:12:25). During this performing stage, the team is definitely at R4. They have the ability and the confidence to win football games and play as a team. They are bought into the coaching staff and each other and it shows on the field.
In terms of the leadership style, Coach Boone stays in S2 for the most part, but he also shows glimpses of S3 and S4. He shows great concern for a player when he hugs him after hearing about his eligibility for college and he lets Gary make the decision to kick Ray off the team. Boone also starts to be more open to ideas from Yoast, like in the championship game when Yoast tells Boone he needs to change it up and do something different (Remember the Titans, 1:42:45). This openness to new ideas shows Boone’s leadership style adaptability. As the situations called for it, Boone used a different leadership style. Yoast was also in S2 at this point in the movie; he listened to Boone for ideas about defense and continued to push and motivate his players. He let the one of the team members make the decision when a player gave up his spot to another player when he wasn’t getting the job done (Remember the Titans, 1:39:50), showing an S4 style of leadership. Yoast also continued to show high concern for relationships as he did throughout the movie by visiting Gary in the hospital and trying to comfort him after his life changing injury.
Overall, this movie was a good illustration of situational leadership. Coach Boone, who seemed like he would never be anything but an authoritarian, adapted his leadership styles as his team proved that they needed a different kind of leader. In addition, while the conflicts throughout the movie were inevitable, as the team progressed though the group development stages and through the readiness levels, the coaches progressed as well, proving that progress can lead to near perfection.
Allerman, G.B. (2004). Forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning. Retrieved from http://coachleadership.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/formstormnormperform.pdf 7 February, 2011.
Bruckheimer, J. & Yakin, B. (2000). Remember the Titans. United States: Disney.
ChangingMinds.org. “Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership.” Retrieved from http://changingminds.org/disciplines/leadership/styles/situational_leadership_hersey_blanchard.htm 22 February, 2011.