What the Matrix Taught me about Transformational Leadership

February 14, 2014

For those that are familiar with the movie, Matrix, there is a seminal scene (run time: 2:12) in which Neo (played by Keanu Reeves) is presented with a choice: make a conscious decision to explore one’s truth or choose to return to the safety and comfort of day-to-day life (and continue to conceal one’s authentic self).

Prior to this crucial scene, Neo is portrayed as living a fairly typical existence.  He spends his days eking out a living as a computer programmer for Metacortex, a multi-national software company.  By his own account, he doesn’t “exist”.  He is a “nobody”.

Yet, night after night, he is plagued by the feeling that there is something else out there for him; something for which he cannot understand, nor explain.  He hungers for this “something more”.

So, when Neo is introduced to his mentor (Morpheus, played by Laurence Fishburne), he is bewildered to be greeted by someone who has such tremendous confidence in him.  Morpheus has an unwavering faith in Neo’s abilities.  He fervently trusts that Neo “is the one”; the one with exceptional gifts and the One with the ability to save humankind.

In turn, Morpheus presents Neo with a choice: the option to take the “blue pill”, a safe choice that would allow Neo to return to the comfort of his day-to-day life or the option of the unknown – Neo could take the “red pill” and make a conscious choice to explore his destiny.

This scene represents to me the perceptible power of a transformational leader.

A transformational leader is one who is “attentive to the needs and motives of followers and tries to help followers reach their fullest potential” (Northouse, 2012, p. 186).  Transformational leadership has the power to motivate followers, like Neo.  It also has the power to expand followers’ level of consciousness “about the importance and value of specified and idealized goals” (p. 190); it inspires followers to transcend their own self-interest and motivates them to fulfill higher-level aspirations.

Northouse, P. G. (2012). Leadership Theory and Practice. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications Inc.

The Wachowski Brothers (Director). (1999). Matrix [Motion Picture].

The Wachowski Brothers (Director). (1999). Blue Pill or Red Pill – The Matrix (2/9) Movie CLIP (1999) HD [Motion Picture]. Retrieved February 10, 2014, from http://youtu.be/zE7PKRjrid4