The Hunt for the Red October: Military Leadership Lessons Learned from the Movie

Today, I want to discuss some military leadership lessons I learned from the movie “The Hunt for the Red October.”  Even though this movie is about the Navy, and I’m an Army guy, I still think the movie is loaded with great military leadership lessons that would benefit ANY military leader.

Before I get into those military leadership lessons, I figured I would provide you with a quick synopsis about the movie, in case you haven’t seen it.  Here are a few quick facts about the movie.

  • The movie was released in 1990
  • It stars Sean Connery as Captain Marko Ramius and Alec Baldwin as Jack Ryan
  • Captain Ramius is a VERY respect Soviet Naval officer and has a distinguished reputation
  • Captain Ramius is put in charge of a new nuclear submarine with a revolutionary propulsion system making it next to impossible to detect
  • Captain Ramius intends to defect to the United States, in order to prevent nuclear war between the U.S. and USSR
  • Both the U.S. and the Russian Navy are in hot pursuit of the Soviet Submarine, in order to prevent a world war
  • Jack Ryan’s job is to infiltrate the submarine and figure out what Captain Ramius is doing so he can stop him

The movie has great acting and non-stop action.  I was sitting on the edge of my seat most of the movie.

Here are some of my favorite scenarios from the movie, along with some key takeaways.

# 1 The Importance of Checks and Balances, Even in the Military

Scenario: In the movie, the Captain (Sean Connery) and the Political Officer each had a key to the safe to retrieve their mission orders.  The safe needed both keys in it to open up.  This system was designed to prevent someone from going rogue and doing something bad with the nuclear submarine.   In addition, the Political Officer was assigned to the ship to ensure that things went according to plan.

My Takeaway: Whenever someone has unlimited power, there is always a chance they could abuse it!  The higher the rank, the more damage they can do.  It’s important to make sure there is someone watching and observing others, just to make sure the leader doesn’t abuse their power.   This is the beauty of the Officer and NCO relationship AND making sure that everyone has a Rater.

# 2 The Power and Importance of Technology in the Battlefield

Scenario: In the movie, the Soviet Submarine had a revolutionary propulsion system which made it almost impossible to detect underwater.  Not only was the ship extremely powerful, but it was also fast and quiet.  This gave the Soviets a huge edge over the Americans.

My Takeaway: Technology is very important in war and combat.  Having cutting edge technology can give you the slight edge over your enemies, even when everything else is equal.

# 3 The Importance of Confidence in Military Leaders

Scenario: In the movie, the Captain Ramius had a huge amount of confidence.  During the battles and maneuvers, he didn’t blink or worry.  In addition, he was respected by his men and by other leaders because of his confidence and abilities.

My Takeaway: Never underestimate the importance of confidence.  When the bullets start flying, and things go haywire, your Soldiers will look to you as their leader to be confident.  That’s when you need to be at your best.  If you are confident during these tough times, your Soldiers will also be confident.

# 4 Don’t Be Scared to Speak Your Mind

Scenario: In the movie, Jack Ryan is speaking to the National Security Adviser and some key military leaders.  When he is asked to speak his mind about what Captain Ramius might do, he speaks his mind and calls it like he sees it.  He pisses a few people off, but the National Security Adviser listens to him.

My Takeaway: As a leader and adviser, it is not your job to tell your boss what you think they want you to say.  It is your job to tell your boss your thoughts and insights, based upon your experience.  You are an adviser.  They need to hear your opinion and your thoughts on an issue.  That is what you get paid for!  You get paid to be a leader, not a sheep.

# 5 Unity of Men

Scenario:  In the movie, Captain Ramius and his officers were unified to defect to the U.S.  The men believed in their leader (Captain Ramius) and mission and then stuck it out, even knowing that they might die in the process.

My Takeaway: I’m not telling you to be a rogue.  Instead, I’m telling you that it helps to be unified with the people you serve with.  Ideally, you want everyone under your authority to be on the same sheet of paper and work together.  You should do the same thing with your boss.   It’s next to impossible to lead a team of Soldiers that is not unified and working toward the same goals.

# 6 Be Tactically Proficient

Scenario:   Captain Ramius was the ultimate tactician.  He did some crazy maneuvers throughout the movie, like heading toward a torpedo so he could hit it before they armed.  He also navigated through some underwater obstacles at very fast speeds.

My Takeaway: Know your tactics.  Study everything you can about tactics and master your skills.  Once again, when the bullets start flying this is when you need to be at your best.  You’ve probably heard the phrase “be tactically proficient.”  Well, it’s true.  Your job as a leader is to be a master at tactics.

# 7 Taking Calculated Risks

Scenario: In the movie, Captain Ramius takes many calculated risks.  From defecting his country, to heading toward torpedoes, to using certain tactics, he does many things that many people wouldn’t do.  He weighs the situation, trusts his judgment and takes calculated risks.

My Takeaway: I’m not telling you to be risky and make rash decisions.  What I am telling you is that there will be times when you have to take calculated risks.  That’s what you get paid to do.  You evaluate the situation, get the information you can, and MAKE A DECISION based upon your intelligence, information on hand, and experience.  You should never be risky, but you should never be scared to take calculated risks either.

Final Thoughts

There you have it folks.  These are 7 valuable military leadership lessons I learned from the movie “The Hunt for the Red October.”  Overall, I give the movie a 9 of 10 and consider it a must watch.  It is entertaining, educational and loaded with great military leadership lessons.

On a side note, I would love if you left a comment below to tell me some of the key takeaways and military leadership lessons you got from the movie.  I look forward to hearing from you.

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2 thoughts on “The Hunt for the Red October: Military Leadership Lessons Learned from the Movie”

  1. My first takeaway is the same as yours. Too much power cannot be in one person's hands. I had the privilege of working in the nuclear area for a while and let me tell you they do not screw around with the distribution of power.

    Don't be scared to speak your mind: This goes whether you don't understand your order or task or more importantly if you think it's a mistake or an illegal order.

    The movie also shows how a technological advance can make all of your current tactics completely ineffective.

    Overall, I also enjoyed this movie and I think, for the most part, it showed both countries military in a pretty good light for a movie. I hope in the future you do some movie breakdowns and equate them with real world issues.

    1. I enjoy reviewing movies and then sharing the lessons I learn from them. I will definitely do more of that in the future. Thanks for the comment. I’m glad you liked the Hunt for the Red October as well.

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