Lessons from Heartbreak Ridge

by | Jan 2, 2015

In 1986, Clint Eastwood starred in, produced, and directed a war movie called “Heartbreak Ridge.”  In it, Eastwood stars as an aging Gunnery Sargent Tom Highway, who goes back to his old unit to lead them.  There he takes over a rag-tag group of losers and is forced to “break” them and then build them up into a real fighting platoon. 
I loved that movie growing up.  It’s Eastwood at his gruff and meanest.  But it occurs to me that there are some real lessons we can take from the film and apply to business today. 

Every Group Can Improve

As I mentioned, Gunny Highway takes over the “Recon” platoon in disarray.  They are lazy, unorganized, and uninspired.  But with Highway at the helm, they slowly start to gel as a group.  No matter where you are starting (as an individual or as a team) you can improve.  

You CAN Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

When he returns to his old unit, Highway also comes back to find his ex-wife.  You come to know that he still loves her and knows that he messed things up.  In order to improve and understand women better, he reads Cosmo magazines throughout the film.  It’s funny, but it reminds us that everyone can grow and learn…if we want to!

Working Hard is the Key

In order to mold the “recon” group into a fighting unit, Highway has the group up and running early every morning.  He works them long and hard each day.  They run drills.  They learn to fight.  The same is true for your team.  Want to get better?  There is no magic pill.  The best way to do it is to work hard.

 Improvise, Adapt, Overcome

 One of the key statements Highway parrots throughout the movie is that his team needs to “Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome.”  The fact is, no matter how hard you train and prepare, things will sometimes go sideways.  In those situations, you need to have the wherewithal to (intelligently) change.  You need to look at the challenge ahead and Improvise, Adapt and Overcome.
So the next time you are flipping through the channels and see Heartbreak Ridge on cable, stop and take a watch.  It’s a fun movie and you might just learn something!

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Kirby Hasseman is the CEO of Hasseman Marketing, a full-service marketing agency located in Ohio.  Learn more about Hasseman Marketing here.  And if you are interested in having him speak at your next event, you can learn more here.


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