Heroes and History: Lessons for Leadership from Tolstoy's War and Peace

Professor Emeritus James March takes a look at the lessons of Tolstoy’s War and Peace for leadership, examining the limitations of heroic visions of leaders that Tolstoy exposed. The film uses the portrayal of leaders in War and Peace as a basis for raising questions about standard heroic stories of leadership. It explores some ways in which the complexities and ambiguities of history make standard narratives emphasizing the visionary role of leadership in history more mythic than real.

The film explores alternative conceptions that emphasize the significance of the density of ordinary competence in organizations, the development of capabilities without clear intentions for subsequent opportunistic use, and the importance of beauty.

History is not produced by the dramatic actions and postures of leaders, but by complex combinations of large numbers of small actions by unimportant people. War and Peace suggests that leadership may be better served by passivity and opportunism rather than by the pursuit of bold goals.

Among other sites, these explorations take the viewer to the battlefields of Napoleon’s 1812 invasion of Russia, to the Florence of Cosimo d’Medici, and to business schools in Denmark and the United States.

Heroes and History was written and narrated by James March, and produced and directed by Steven Schecter, the same team that examined the leadership lessons of Don Quixote, in a previous film: Passion and Discipline.