The Leadership Lessons We Can Learn from Ben Campbell in the Movie "21"

Vison. Hard work. Team work. These are all qualities that good leaders employ. It's also how Ben Campbell, the star character in the film "21," used them to his advantage. Here's what we can learn from an MIT mastermind about leadership.

Many kids grow up wanting to play for the Red Sox or shooting hoops and making millions for the NBA. In the movie "21" Ben Campbell (played by Jim Sturgess) grew up wanting to go to Harvard Medical School. But…there was just one tiny problem…he didn’t have the $300,000.00 it was going to take to make it happen.

So, Campbell, the most talented student at MIT, uses his mathematical skills (yes…he’s good with numbers), a few fake ID’s and creative disguises to join his brilliant stats professor (played by Kevin Spacey) and five friends in a plot of counting cards to break the Vegas casinos. And…he almost gets by with it.

As it usually goes in the movies, the mastermind plot begins to unravel, and young Ben Campbell has to decide which direction to turn…and in the end, he does the right thing.

I have to say, however, that I observed young Ben using some amazing leadership skills during the plot that we can all learn from. No...I don't condone counting cards (although I have heard that card counting is actually legal unless you are using an outside device...but maybe some of you who are Blackjack players can set me straight.) However, I am a BIG believer in these leadership skills that Ben applied to winning at the game of Blackjack:

1. Vision: Ben can see, taste and smell that Harvard Medical School ride. He keeps this vision front and center through both the highs and the lows.

2. Hard Work and Drive: Ben studies, reads and pours himself into the game of counting cards. He does not want to just learn the skill...he wants to be the best!

3. When you make the rules, you change the game: Ben and his teammates made the rules, so they change the game of Blackjack. In leadership, you have the opportunity to change the rules (legally of course) so that you get the results you want. If you are leading your organization by worn out rules, there is a good chance you are probably getting the pants beat off you by your competition.

4. Team Work: The game of counting cards is a team sport, and Ben plays the team according to the rules spelled out by the team. He watches his teams’ signals (Folded arms = Table’s Hot) listens to their language (the word sweet means the count’s at 16) and follows the system to build team chemistry.

5. Risk: Ben does something that most people don’t. He takes risk after risk by accounting for variable change. Brilliant!

6. Calm and Composure: Even when the pressure's on, Ben stays as cool as a cucumber...quiet, calm and quite composed.

7. Playing a System: In the movie "21", Professor Micky Rosa (played by Spacey) makes it very clear to the team that they are not "gambling" but that they are counting cards...a methodical system that works over and over again.

LESSONS LEARNED:

As the plot begins to unravel, young Ben Campbell does the right thing (you'll need to watch the movie to find out what that is,), and he learns these important leadership lessons:

1. Quick fixes almost always don’t’ last. The quick solutions almost always end in disaster.

2. Don’t justify your actions when you know they're crossing a line! Be very careful about saying "I’m only going to do this negative action one time or until x happens." Before you know it…you’re hooked!

3. Pay attention to your gut. Ben knew early on in the process that something was not sitting well about this whole scheme, but as with all humans, he gets lured in by the thought of wealth, fame, the hot girl and the thrill.

4. When you create rules that you know are not on the up and up, watch out! The system’ll get you every time!

5. When you become so engrossed in your work that you ignore what's going on in the periphery of your life, there will be a cost to pay. Ben loses a lifetime opportunity in his quest for money, AND he almost loses his closest friends.

6. Let integrity guide your decision making. In the end, living in integrity and doing the right thing can bring you the greatest rewards in life. I highly recommend this movie! I watched it two times in 24 hours, and I rarely watch movies two times:

Watch the trailer here:

http://youtube.com/watch?v=ZRzZX2aN3I0

http://Edge-Book.com

 

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1 Comments

  • Tammy Redmon

    Great read Bea!
    Well written and while I haven't seen the movie, my daughter can't stop talking about it. She was pretty impressed by (without calling them that) exactly what you outline in your post. She too has that dream of Harvard, and came home with a different dose of reality. Guess I will have to rent this one.

    And I love lesson learned number 6! Too often I have (unfortunately) seen business leaders compromise their integrity for a deal, project, team and it always comes back to bite hard.

    Here's to good lessons learned!

    Tammy Redmon