3 leadership lessons from Oscar nominee ‘The Imitation Game’

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on January 20, 2015

I recently watched “The Imitation Game,” a film that received eight Oscar nominations, including best picture. The film is about Englishman Alan Turing (brilliantly played by best actor nominee Benedict Cumberbatch) and his small team of elite mathematicians and code breakers who broke the “unbreakable” German Enigma code during World War II. This permitted the British to successfully use a captured German Enigma machine to decode military messages and turn the tide of the war.

Film critics gave “The Imitation Game” and its actors high marks in many categories. Not one critic, however, mentioned that three of the themes that ran through the film are great lessons in counter-intuitive leadership, breaking paradigms and the importance of respecting the abilities of women.


Don’t discount a counter-intuitive leadership style


Turing lacked interpersonal skills and would have failed as a leader in most situations. As a team member, he alienated his fellow code breakers. He was driven, however, by his strong belief that “… only a machine could defeat another machine.”

Prior attempts at breaking the Enigma code by humans using traditional methods were unsuccessful. In spite of having no interpersonal skills, he slowly won his team over with an unwavering resolve that his approach was the only one that would break the code. His team began to develop ownership in Turing’s approach, and threatened to quit when the naval commanding officer who headed the Enigma project wanted to fire Turing because the military had no faith in anything outside of their own narrow inflexible framework for breaking the code.

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