The Bridge on the River Kwai

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Study Guide 7: Leadership

The study guide for The Bridge on the River Kwai can be purchased as an instant PDF download for $5.95. After reading the description below, if you wish to purchase this study guide, just click the “Add to Cart” button and follow the simple instructions. Don’t worry – if you change your mind mid-order, simply exit the browser. Once payment is completed you will receive a link that allows you to download the guide to your computer right away. You may save it to your computer’s hard drive and print it out when and if you need to.  

Price: $5.95  

This guide opens with a contemporary business sceneario, which begins:

As part of a corporate exchange program, you and a team of American engineers have been loaned to an Asian firm for a year, while a team from that company works in your place. You’re not sure why your company has participated in the exchange, particularly since the host firm competes with your company in several key international markets. Your bosses back home haven’t asked you to spy for them–in fact, all they’ve said is that should get along and do what you’re told.

Fom Day One the assignment proves rocky. . .

The Guide then links the contemporary scenario to lessons in the movie: 

David Lean’s classic 1957 film The Bridge on the River Kwai is rife with ambiguities. Two army colonels – one a captive British engineer, the other a rigid Japanese prison camp commandant – match wills while attempting to carry out their orders, obey the rules of their respective military cultures, preserve their self-respect and, not least, build a bridge. While Saito and Nicholson battle, a British-American commando team treks through the jungle to destroy the bridge before Japanese troop trains can cross it. Amidst the chaos of war, managerial lessons dealing with mission, motivation, teamwork and chain of command abound.

Excerpt from the plot summary:

Saito chews out his chief engineer. The bridge is falling farther and farther behind schedule. The British overhear it all, awaiting their work orders. Saito himself addresses them. “English prisoners,” he said, “why does the bridge not progress? You know why! Because your officers are lazy. They think themselves too good to share your burdens. This is not just. Therefore, you are not happy in your work. Therefore, the bridge does not progress. But there is another reason. I do not hide the truth. With deep shame and regret I admit to you the failure of a member of the Japanese staff – I refer to Lt. Miura. He is a bad engineer. He is unworthy of command.” Saito strips the engineer of authority and takes personal command of the project. He then gives the men a day of rest arguing that “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” As a further sign of goodwill he announces that he is has presents for them. The men open the wrapped packages only to discover that Saito is giving them Red Cross boxes he has been withholding from them. He again exhorts them to be happy in their work.

After their day of rest, the bridge project resumes. Another section collapses in the river.

Summary of the commentary:

The Bridge On the River Kwai is a superb vehicle for discussing corporate mission and the disconnects which occur in trying to achieve it. The perceived, as opposed, to actual missions of Nicholson, Saito and commando team are fully analyzed. Nicholson loses sight of his role in the larger war effort; Saito never loses sight of his mission, but risks failure by letting his concern over lesser issues get in the way; the commando team is united in its mission and unfettered by the conflicts that face the two colonels. The commentary closely examines Saito’s obsession with Bushido, the Samurai code, and discusses the misapplication of Bushido concepts in business settings. It also explores the important Japanese concept of “face” and the close reasoning that Saito employs to save face while still saving his career by getting the bridge built. Kwai offers strong lessons built around Japanese management principles in the pre-World War II and post-World War II periods.

These changes are presented by comparing scenes in Kwai , with those in a later movie (part of the moviesforbusiness.com series), Gung Ho. The commentary discusses leadership in the context of questions concerning skill-related excellence and general excellence in battle and in business.

The commentary is supplemented by Breakout Boxes dealing with these topics:

  • Business and Bushido: The Soldier’s Code
  • Key Results Areas: Saito vs. Nicholson
  • Doing Things Right vs. Doing the Right Things: Technical vs. General Excellence
  • Saving Face: Saito’s Rules
  • Steps to Task Organization: Nicholson’s Way

THE GUIDE also includes an essay that looks at business as depicted in the movies. For an introductory section on how to use the Management Goes to the Movies™ program, click through to Using The MGTTM Training Program.

The following Study Guide can be purchased as an instant PDF download for $5.95. After reading the description, if you wish to purchase this study guide, just click the “Add to Cart” button and follow the simple instructions. Don’t worry – if you change your mind mid-order, simply exit the browser. Once payment is completed you will receive a link that allows you to download the guide to your computer right away. You may save it to your computer’s hard drive and print it out when and if you need to.  

Price: $5.95  

Movies for Leaders book!

The Study Guide for The Bridge On the River Kwai is also available in trade paperback book format under the title of “MOVIES FOR LEADERS: Management Lessons from Four All-Time Great Films.”

Information on how to purchase your copy of the book can be found here.

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