Leadership Lessons from Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge

My family loves war movies.  We’re currently watching a 20-hour DVD set about World War II that my husband watched when he was growing up.  As the only female in the house, I’ve learned to enjoy them.  Now our older son is involved in the Army JROTC program at his high school, and is contemplating a career in the military.

So when the movie Hacksaw Ridge came to theaters, our family scheduled a night where popcorn became dinner and we settled in for the film.

Hacksaw Ridge is definitely a movie that will give you all the feels.  It chronicles the struggle of Desmond Doss, a pacifist who was passionate about serving his country during a time of war.  We follow his story as he breaks free from the shackles of misunderstanding through his decision of refusing to bear arms during this time of conflict.  We smile as we meet his future wife, laugh as we glimpse what boot camp may have been like, weep as we watch the portrayal of the loss of lives that guaranteed our very freedoms today.

My eye is always tuned to finding leadership lessons wherever I can, and there were plenty throughout this incredible film. (Check out what I learned by watching Black Panther.)

Leaders know when to retreat.

In war, the objective is most often to take ground and win.  But retreat is sometimes the only way to survive.  A great leader understands that retreat, when done at the right time and for the right reasons, can serve to catapult you forward instead of thrust you backwards.

Leaders know how to say I’m sorry.

After watching dozens of his men die at the hands of the Japanese, Captain Glover stands before the remaining troops with tears in his eyes and simply says, “I’m sorry.”  He obeyed the orders given to lead the men back into battle, knowing the probability that they would be massacred.  He didn’t make excuses, didn’t shift the blame, and didn’t ignore the pain.  He brought himself to his men’s level with two of the hardest words in the English language.  I’m sorry.

Leaders have to be a quick judge of character.

Sometimes there isn’t time for a leader to really stop and fully assess a person or situation.  At times, a leader must take the limited information he has and quickly decide how to proceed.  That means that a leader must learn how to gauge someone’s character at a glance when necessary.

Leaders may not have a title.

Hacksaw Ridge is the story of a single man, really.  Desmond Doss endured ridicule and punishment and was almost dismissed from the army for his stance against bearing arms.  Once he made it to the battle field, he was the medic who never gave up on his fellow soldiers.  After others had given up all hope, he continued to bring hope, help and strength when there wasn’t much to be found.  He was a private in rank, but essentially led his unit to victory.

Leaders keep pushing even when others want to give up.

Doss saved an incredible 75 soldiers during the assault on Hacksaw Ridge.  He continued to pull injured men to safety, one by one, despite being told repeatedly to retreat and give up.  There are many times as a leader that we are tempted to give up – and even counseled to do so.  Pushing through may yield the greatest reward.


War heroes are often men and women that we look to as great leaders.  They face incredible stress and odds, and must make leadership decisions that literally save or end lives.  While few of us lead in such intense situations, we can choose to lead with some of the same principles.


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