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The Blind Side showcases many aspects of leadership theory through the story of Michael Oher. Based on a true story about Michael Oher who was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in 2009, the narrative gives the audience a way to take an actual story and apply different types of leadership to the characters in the film. In this analysis of the setting, characters, point of view, synopsis, and leadership theory within the film, it will be clear why this film is a good fit for a leadership in film course. The addition of discussion questions at the end will also allow for further conversation about The Blind Side, leadership, and how each aspect of a film plays a role in the overall message.
The Blind Side was released in 2009. The year The Blind Side was released plays a role, as it is the same year that Oher was drafted into the NFL. The setting of The Blind Side is in Memphis, Tennessee. Historically, southern states have tended to be more racist. One major event that occurred in 2009 was the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Although this one event does not have significant correlation with the film, I think it is interesting to see where the world was in a political sense during 2009. When President Obama was inaugurated, I feel that there was a sense of change because the United States was exposed to diversity in a whole new way. In addition, the recession was occurring during 2009, which could also contribute to the aspect of Michael being in poverty throughout the film.
Throughout the duration of The Blind Side, many different characters emerge and display their leadership abilities. Not only do they show their leadership, but they also provide significant contributions to the film and how it is understood. Additionally, the personalities of all of the main characters allow for a well-rounded story. In my analysis of Michael Oher, S.J. Tuohy, Coach Cotton, and Leigh Anne Tuohy; I have realized the many ways that leadership theory is demonstrated in The Blind Side.
In The Blind Side, Michael Oher is truly the main character. In the first few scenes, the audience can see Michael is a heavy-set African American man. At around twenty or so minutes into the movie, the audience knows that he does not have a true sense of family and has basically been living day to day in order to survive. Despite the fact that his survival skills are excellent, the lack of family has taken its toll on Michael. When Coach Cotton gets Michael into school, he finds out that he has little athletic talent. In addition, Michael’s academic ability is below average as he did not have much of an education prior to coming to Wingate. Prior to meeting the Tuohy family, Michael is sort of lost as he does not have much of an identity, as he does not know his family and is not self-aware of the skills he has already developed. Michael does develop both athletically and academically within the film, as he gets more resources to allow him to succeed. In relationship with leadership theory, Michael’s emotional intelligence is underdeveloped due to lack of self-awareness of his abilities (Gill, 2009). However, at the end of The Blind Side when Michael enters higher education, he gains more of a sense of self and his academic and athletic ability.
Leigh Anne Tuohy is arguably the other main character after Michael Oher. Leigh Anne is a strong female lead that maintains both a high-paying professional designer job and a picture perfect family. Leigh Anne also works hard to maintain her image, as she is shown in several scenes with her friends who are also of higher socioeconomic status. Although she is stubborn and stern that things should go her way most of the time, she definitely has a soft spot for her family. Not only does she continuously show that she cares, but she is always working toward making sure that her family’s needs are met and that everyone is put together. Leigh Anne truly displays humility in The Blind Side, as she sees Michael walking down the street and she immediately tells Sean to turn the car around to pick him up. The goodness of her heart really shines through as she gets closer and closer to Michael, as she works toward developing all of his skills whether that be academic, athletic, or emotional abilities. Aside from Michael, I would argue that Leigh Anne makes the greatest transformation within this film. A major application of leadership theory that Leigh Anne embodies is servant leadership (Sendjaya & Sarros, 2002). An example of Leigh Anne displaying servant leadership is when she takes Michael to get a driver’s license. Although they tell her that she must legally adopt Michael for him to obtain a driver’s license, she does not bat an eyelash and immediately thinks about adopting him. Although Leigh Anne adopting Michael is only one example of servant leadership, one can see throughout the film that Leigh Anne will do just about anything to put her family’s needs before her own and to make sure that there is harmony within her household.
Next, the most light-hearted individual in The Blind Side is S.J. Tuohy. S.J. is the definition of calm, cool, and collected. Although he is young, he plays a pivotal role in The Blind Side. He serves as an ongoing resource to Michael. S.J. is the first person to approach Michael in the Tuohy family, as he sees Michael playing with some elementary children on the playground. Despite the strong friendship Michael and S.J. develop, S.J. is still childish in The Blind Side and makes several comments that show his privilege. S.J.’s positive attitude is highly contagious and it allows him to be perceived as easygoing. In regards to leadership theory, S.J. is highly compatible with coaching (Frankovelgia & Riddle, 2010). Although he does not hold an official title as a coach, he acts as Michael’s life coach in many ways. For example, S.J. videotapes all of Michael’s practices and games in order to provide feedback to help Michael improve in his athletic ability.
Although he is in an assigned leadership role, Coach Cotton is a leader in this film. In the beginning of the film, he fights to get Michael into Wingate. Once Michael is at Wingate, he tries to coach Michael and realizes it will be a bigger challenge than he originally anticipated. Coach Cotton practices transactional leadership at the beginning of The Blind Side (Bass, 1985). Because he does not take the time to get to know his players on a personal level, he is unable to coach them the way they need to be coached. As the film progresses, Coach Cotton is put in his place by Leigh Anne and he realizes that he needs to get to know his players and serve as an advocate for them. Coach Cotton’s leadership becomes transformational during the game when he supports Michael after he is stepped on by a player on the opposing team (Burns, 1978).
Point of View
At the very beginning of The Blind Side, the film is narrated by Leigh Anne. The first scene explains how the left tackle (Michael’s position) is useful in the game of football and how rare it is to find someone who is qualified to be a left tackle. Within the same first few minutes of the movie, Michael is questioned by the social worker. During the interrogation, the film is shown through the eyes of Michael. As the audience can see this early in the film, The Blind Side is not narrated by only one person, but rather by several individuals.
At Collins’ volleyball game, Sean Tuohy notices Michael picking up old popcorn bags from the gym bleachers. In this scene, the point of view shifts a few times from Michael to Sean. In another scene on Thanksgiving day, Leigh Anne notices Michael eating at the dinner table alone and from her point of view, she turns off the television and makes the family join Michael at the dinner table. When Michael finds out his mother has been evicted, the film is shown through his point of view.
The Blind Side begins by explaining the importance of having someone to cover the quarterback’s blind side; the left tackle. From the very beginning, the tone of the definition of a person to protect the “blind side” is created. Michael is shown as a young adult who has been the victim of a poor upbringing. Despite Michael’s extreme ability in protective instincts, there is a major lack in several other areas of his life. One of Michael’s friend’s parents advocates for him to get admitted to private school to get a proper education. One night, the Tuohy family notices Michael walking down the street in the rain, and they stop and pick him up to take him back to their house. From this moment on, the Tuohy’s take Michael in as a part of their family. Prior to encountering the Tuohy family, Michael struggled athletically, academically, and even emotionally due to the poor standards he was raised. The journey begins and Michael is challenged to do better in school and to work to get an education to create a better life for himself than his parents did for him. As time goes by, the Tuohy’s assist Michael to be successful in school, football, and life. Leigh Anne, Sean, Collins, and S.J. all play roles and are all large parts of Michael’s ultimate success in The Blind Side. While Michael’s athletic skills develop, his academic skills struggle to stay up to speed, and he is pushed even harder by the Tuohy family, the school, and potential colleges to get his grades up. Once he receives offers from colleges, Michael has to make the tough decision based on where he would like to play Division 1 football. Once Michael decides to attend the Tuohy’s alma mater, Ole Miss, he is interrogated on this decision. Conflict arises as Michael thinks that the Tuohy’s may have directed him toward Ole Miss. Once Michael returns to his biological household, he realizes that the Tuohy family is truly his family and returns to the Tuohy’s household. Once he heads off to college, he became a very successful football player and first draft pick in the 2009 NFL draft to the Baltimore Ravens. Ultimately, The Blind Side is commonly a “rags to riches” type of film, but with a bit more drama and a larger lesson about life, leadership, and the game of football.
Personally, I believe that the best theory to describe the leadership in The Blind Side is through servant leadership. Many examples of servant leadership have occurred in The Blind Side. First, the entire Tuohy family practices servant leadership by stopping their car to pick up Michael off the street to welcome him into their family. Although there was no expectation for them to pick Michael up and no one was watching them or expecting them to do so. Next, when Leigh Anne’s friend group mocks her and her compassion toward Michael while they are out for lunch, Leigh Anne stands up for Michael and for her decision to accept him. Finally, servant leadership is shown when Sean helps Michael to finish his final paper to get his grades where they need to be in order to qualify for a Division 1 scholarship for football.
Toward the end of the film when Michael is reading his final paper aloud in the background, the audience can tell that this is a transformational moment. In the beginning of The Blind Side, Michael was unable to keep up with his education and was significantly below the rest of his classmates. However, in this moment, the audience can tell that Michael has put genuine effort into educating himself to live up to the expectations of the Tuohy family, the high school, and his prospective colleges.
A large application of The Blind Side involves the five intelligences underlying leadership (Gill, 2006). The five intelligences include: cognitive, spiritual, emotional, moral, and behavioral ability. All five of these intelligences are obtained by Leigh Anne Tuohy from the beginning of the film and develop with time. In his relationship with the Tuohy family, Michael begins to grow and develop in these intelligences. Cognitively, Michael is able to focus on the importance of his decision to attend University of Mississippi and his decision to pursue a career in football (Gill, 2006). Spiritually, Michael becomes more aware of his purpose and how he can find the resources he needs to succeed (Gill, 2006). Emotionally, Michael grows in his self-awareness and his personal influence on the team, which allows him to understand his place on the team and in the Tuohy family (Gill, 2006). Morally, Michael realizes after living with the Tuohy family for a short period of time that the life he used to live is not the proper life to live (Gill, 2006). In regards to behavioral ability, Michael learns his role in communication and relationship with others (Gill, 2006).
In The Blind Side, Leigh Anne Tuohy assists Michael in the transition to Wingate high school by going through the four parts of leading effectively (Van Velsor et al., 2010). First, she works to make sure that she continues to uphold the trust and bond from Michael. She does this in many ways, but the way that stands out most to me is within her regular conversations with him, as the audience can tell that she is careful when asking Michael personal questions. Second, she constantly asks Michael how he is doing and feeling, as she aims to stay in touch with Michael’s emotions and to ensure that his emotional needs are met. Because Leigh Anne knows she and Michael are not in the same place in their lives, she meets Michael where he is at in order to help him to build his strengths. Finally, Leigh Anne accepts Michael’s vulnerability every single day. The transition from the streets of Memphis to Wingate is a large transition, and therefore, Michael had many emotions and experiences that Leigh Anne welcomed with open arms.
- How does privilege play a role in regards to power in The Blind Side?
- How does identity play a role in The Blind Side? Think deeply about the main characters and how their intersecting identities help to shape the film and the ultimate meaning of the film.
- Identify three leaders in The Blind Side and list three characteristics that all three of these characters have in common.
- How does Miss Sue serve as a leader in The Blind Side?
- What type of leadership does Coach Cotton display in relationship with Blake & Mouton’s managerial grid? (1964)
- After viewing The Blind Side, what do you believe is the most important aspect of leadership? What is the one thing all leaders must possess to be successful leaders?
- An ongoing theme in The Blind Side is the idea of mentorship. Can you name a mentor and apply how your mentor is similar to Michael’s mentors and why this is important?
- What is the biggest take away from The Blind Side in relationship to leadership? How can you use this lesson and apply it to your own leadership?
- Respond to Coach Cotton’s comment about his disappointment about “using up all of his chips” to get Michael into Wingate? How does this affect the way you see his leadership style?
Bass, B.M. (1985). Leadership and Performance Beyond Expectations. New York: Free Press
Burns, J. M. (1978). Leadership. New York: Harper & Row.
Frankovelgia, C. C. & Riddle, D. D. (2010). Chapter four: Leadership coaching. The Center for Creative Leadership Handbook of Leadership Development. 125-146. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.: San Francisco, CA. (ISBN: 0470387394)
Gill, R. (2006). Theory and Practice of Leadership. London: Sage.
Sendjaya, S., & Sarros, J. C. (2002). Servant leadership: Its origin, development, and application in organizations. Journal of Leadership and Organization Studies, 9. 57-64.
Van Velsor, E., McCauley, C., & Ruderman, M. (eds.), (2010). The Center for Creative Leadership Handbook of Leadership Development. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.: San Francisco, CA. (ISBN: 0470387394)