‘Dunkirk’ lessons -- leadership, grit, and hope


'Dunkirk' is a remarkable portrayal of leadership, grit, and hope depicted through sound, design, music, and visuals, and executed with Chris Nolan's technical prowess and visual poetry.

Dunkirk is centred around a British soldier named Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), who spends a week marooned on a beach awaiting rescue. A parallel storyline tracks Dawson (Mark Rylance), his son (Tom Glynn-Carney), and his son's friend (Barry Keoghan), who are planning to cross the English Channel in pursuit of the civilian rescue operations. A third subscript follows two Royal Air Force fighter pilots (Tom Hardy and Jack Lowden) who go after the German planes bombing the ships and soldiers on the beach.

The Germans are always a threat, they attack from anywhere: shooting from an unseen distance, dropping bombs from above, or firing torpedoes from below. The movie keeps the audience always on edge, waiting for the next attack.

Of course, the film was a lot more than this (go watch it if you haven’t done so!).

As I thought about the entire plot, I realised that there are some useful entrepreneurial lessons that we can take back home. I have put these lessons under three heads:

1. Hustle till you reach your destination

A scene from Dunkirk.

On the beach (the chapter dubbed ‘Mole’), there are two frightened and lonely soldiers, Fionn Whitehead and Aneurin Barnard. The hustle leads them to grab a stretcher with a wounded soldier and try to put him on a ship leaving the shore.. These two men battle multiple situations without losing hope and are able to survive.

Often times the only way to knock down the door in the entrepreneurial hustling world is to blow it apart into pieces.

The entrepreneurial journey comes with a lot of rejections — non-paying customers, employees leaving during tough times, and uncertainty of what to do next....

Yes, it takes time, and it is fraught with challenges but building a business takes a lot of hard work and sweat.

However, keep pushing yourself and hustle hard until you reach your destination.

2. Trust your team

The air team has Tom Hardy and two other pilots blowing off the German fighter planes that were targeting the ships and boats trying to get to the beach.

Tom's determination to save his team mates, as he picks off one fighter plane after another, even as his fellow pilots perish and his fuel meter begs him to stop, is mind boggling.

As an entrepreneur, it is important that you stand up for your team. When you stand up for people, you show that you're "on their side" when they need help. This builds long-term loyalty, trust, credibility, commitment, and morale in your team, and it gives your people a confidence boost.

When the going is good, share the credit and rewards with the team. The same should be applicable when things don't go well.

After all, your responsibility as a leader is to support your people appropriately and to make sure that they have everything they need to do their jobs effectively.

3. Do believe in miracles

At the end of Nolan’s film, when one of the returning men is congratulated, he says, “All we did is survive.” The old man's reply was: “That’s enough.”

You too can make a miracle happen if you quit putting half of yourself into something and instead put yourself 100 percent into something.

Giving 100 percent brings success in such large proportions that it changes lives forever.

Doing things half-heartedly never feels as good as going over the top does. Go over the top. It’s better to crash going all the way than playing it safe and never feeling anything.

Had those troops not been saved, the history of the war would have been vastly different. And it is hard to imagine a better tribute to this victory of survival than Nolan’s stunning movie.

Are there other lessons that you have learned from Dunkirk? Do feel free to share them.


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