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This report is an analysis of Leadership in the movie Wall Street (1987), directed by Oliver Stone. This report explored the concept of leadership and how it depicted in the movie. The reports explain leader’s use of power and influence tactics. As the report proceeds it shows leader’s attributes and style and how it influences on movie character’s action and the environment in which they operates. In the end, it gives an analysis of the effectivness of the learder.
This reports justify analysis based on existing theroy, research evidence and empiricallly grounded data.
Major Characters in movie
Bud Fox …………………………….Charlie Sheen
A young, smart and very motivated stock broker
Gordon Gekko ………………….Michael Douglas
The millionaire, a corporate raider and a Wall Street shark
Darien Taylor …………………..Daryl Hannah
A yound and beautiful interiro decorator, friend of Gekko and Bud’s girlfriend
Carl Fox ………………………….Martin Sheen
Airplan mechanic and labor union leader at Blue Start Airlines, Bud’s father
Leadership has been defined in different ways, a definitaion of leadership that would be most commonly accepted would be “the ability of an individual to influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute toward the effectiveness and success of the organization…”(House et al., 1999, p. 184 as cited in Yukl, 2013, p. 19). After a comprehensive review of different leadership literature, Stogdill (1974, p. 259, as cited in Yukl, 2013, p. 18) concluded that “There are almost as many definitions of leadership as there are persons who have attempted to define the concept." Leadership can be viewed from two different angles one is shared influence process and other as a specialized role. Researcher who view leadership as a specialized role consider attributes as a factor in selecting a designated leader. On the contrast, theorist who emphasises on influence process considers “Leadership” as a social process or a pattern of relationship.
This report will analyse the leadership style of two main characters, Bud Fox and Gordon Gekko. This movie shows corporate America and the ethical behaviour in the workplace at the Wall Street. Bud Fox a smart, yound and very motivated stock broker has the desier to become the highes salesperson in his company. His main target is centered on big share trading account like Gordon Gekko. He says, “Just once I would like to be on that side” he dreaming of the day when he will be big corporate shot controlling the flow of millions of dollars like his hero Gordon.
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Gordon Gekko appears as a charismatic leader, his power to reward and by being an expert as Wall Street investor. He uses his leadership negatively for personal gain. He is embodiment of the popular idea of “A player or nothing”. Thougout the movie greed captures the essence of evolutionary spirit. He has everything wife, son, priceless art items but his desire to have more is clearly seen throughout the movie. Money is all a game to him. At ta board meeting of Teldar paper, he said “The point is ladies and gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works”.
One of the basic theories of early research leadership was the “Trait Approach”. This theory can be looked from the point of view of both successful and unssccessful leader. The early research on traits attempted to identify skills like physiological (appearance, height, and weight), demographic (age, education and socioeconomic background), personality, self-confidence, and aggressiveness, intellective (intelligence, judgment, and knowledge), task-related (achievement, initiative, and persistence), and social characteristics (sociability and cooperativeness) with leader emergence and leader effectiveness. In Wall Street, Gordon Gekko’s character can be said that he learned traits as he successed and progressed in his life and some of his traits are inherited. As per Bouchard (1990) (as cited in Yukl, 2013) “traits are jointly determined by learning and by inherited capacity to gain satisfaction”. Along this another factor of importance is given to intelligence and its relation with leader’s emergence in life and effectiveness. Gekko was able to understand complex activities in Wall Street and he could predict the outcome of deals as he predict in Anacott Steal when Larry Wildman wants to buy and save to make profit in long run. It becomes harder for Larry to do this when Gekko begins to buy stock in it and driving up the price.
Further analysis of Gekko’s personality and character can be done by “Big Five” Model (Digman, 1990; Hough, 1992 as citied in Yukl, 2013, p. 154) (Costa & McCrae, 1988, 1997 as citied in Pierce, Newstorm, 2006, p. 77) The Big Five dimensions of personality are Openness to experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism. Each dimensions has different traits associated with it. Neuroticism, Gekko can be seen in the movie as a very self-control, emotionally stable and emotional intelligence person. Larry Wildman involve Gekko’s mother in one deal for cheating him, Gekko keeps his cool attitutde and says “excuse me before I lose my temper…” and tried to leave the place. This shows that Gekko had a high self-esteem and it would be difficult to say that he was neurotic individual.
Extroversion is positively related to leadership and it is related to social leadership (Costa & McCrae, 1988). Gekko was action-oriented person, at Teldar Paper shareholders meeting he said, “Greed is God, Greed in all of its form, Greed for life, for money, for love and for knowledge” “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good” (Wall Street. 1987, Drama). He delivered this speech with confidence and dominated Teldar Paper’s executives. Thus, shows that Gekko was high on extroversion trait scale. Conscientiousness measure dependability, personal integrity and goal-directed behavior. Conscientious person more likely to become goal oriented, responsible, dutiful, competent, orderly and thorough (Costa & McCrae, 1992). Gekko was conscientious in many ways; he always had clear perception in his mind that he wants to make money from all his deal. When he involved in Bluestar Airline deal he was very clear to wreak the company and make profit from it. He did not disclose his intention to anyone. The agreeableness is to care, altruism and emotional support versus hostility, competitiveness, spitefulness, indifference, jealousy and self-centeredness (Howard & Howard, 1995). Gekko was more self centred person than agreeablness. In Bluestar he reversed his decision of running Bluestar, which he agreed earlier. Gekko’s openness can clearly seen in Wall Street. In Teldar Paper shareholder’s meeting Gekko declared “Greed is God” this shows openness of his view and thinking. Refer Table1 in appendix for a summary of “Big Five” Model. It can be reasoning from above that personality is more important. Also, it can be understood that Big Five model covers variety of traits, which are encompassed in to small number of metacontsructed framework.
Power and Influence
Power and Influence is key elements of leadership. To become an effective leader it is important to influence people to carry out tasks, support proposal and implement decisions.
Certainly it is easy to think of leaders who have used power for unethical or immoral purposes (Brown, 2006; Flynn, 2011; Price, 2009). That said, people who have power, deny it; people who want power, try not to look like they are seeking it; and those who are good at acquiring it are secretive about how they got it (Robbins & Judge, 2011). Great leaders have a vision to achieve large- scale ideas that they dream of accomplishing, and they have the personal power to enact it (Gibson, Ivancevich, Donnelly, & Konopaske, 2012). French and Raven (1959) (as cited in Yukl, 2013, p. 191) developed taxonomy to classify power and their sources. That includes five different powers reward power, coercive power, legitimate power, expert power and referent power. Refer table2 in appendix for a summary of Gekko’s taxonomy of power.
Gekko mostly used reward power and Coercive power on Bud and he also persuaded him to find insider information of company which was unethical. An example of reward power is when Gekko meets Bud in a restaurant, give him cheque and promises Bud lots of “perks” (benefits) if he does good job. Coercive power is just opposite of reward power. In Wall Street, when Bud feels that he has to comply with Gekko and if he doesn’t, he will loose Wall Street shark account. When Gekko meets Bud in squash at club; Gekko indicates that Bud is just an analyst and he has already so many anaylst working day and night with him. He does not want another analyst. In spite of how coercive power can have a short-lived effect, it is quite obvious that reward power, according to Lewicki et al (1985) (as cited in Manie Spoelstra & Wynand Pienaar, 2008, p. 120) is more likely to generate coveted results. Gekko's legitimate power can be considered as moderate, Gekko possesses the skills, style and knowledge that resulted in his success. He was the hero of Bud and Bud wanted to succeed in similar way. This gives Gekko power over Bud. Expert power can be seen between Gekko and Bud. Geeko expertis in Wall Street and he had some special ability to multiply investments.
One of the most important powers that Gordon Gekko uses in his relationship with Bud Fox is the referent power base. Bud wanted to be successful and wants to be a player in share market and Gekko was already very successful player. This power is obvious because Bud wants to be a “player” and Gordon was a very successful “player.” Bud wanted to be successful and by being with Gordon Gekko it will bring him one step closer to his goals. Refer Table3 in appendix for relation between power and its outcome. In the movie Wall Street, Bud fox commitment and in some case compliance can be seen as the outcome.
According to Bass (1960) & Etzioni (1961) (as cited in Yukl, 2013, p. 196) power source can be conceptualized in two broad categories, position power and personal power. Position power contains legitimate power, reward power, coercive power, information power and ecological power. Personal power contains expert power and referent power. As in the case of Gordon Gekko it can be seen that position power such as reward and coercive power, and personal power such as referent power, played instrumental in persuading Bud fox. Though Gekko used his power to become an effective leader he lacked the essence of ethical leadership.
Recent study on power and influence suggest that researchers are focusing on behaviour rather than entirely on power. Gordon Gekko’s character can be analyzed from a different perspective i.e. usage of Proactive Influence Tactics. It can be seen that Gekko used tactics like rational persuasion, apprising, ingratiation, exchange and pressure. With this tactics Gekko manipulated Bud fox to perform unethical task of gathering insider information. Gekko used these tactics mainly for his benefit and did not consider how effective this would be for him and others in the long term.
Studies suggest two important dimensions of leader’s behavior. The first dimension is “consideration” in which leaders demonstrates that they trust their subordinate, respect for follower and show concern. The second dimension is “Initiating structure” in this the leaders focus on task rather than relationship with subordinate. In movie Wall Stree, Gekko can be considered as a leader with “Initiating structure.” He always planned his activties as per goal of earning money and he used Bud’s to achieve his goal. Gekko showed “consideration” towards Bud while support and appriciating his work but it could be his true intention or his tactic to reach his ultimate goal of making money.
In 1964 Blake and Mouton proposed a model call managerial grid, it describes managers in terms of “concern for people” and “concern for production”. They presented leaders who simultaneously display high on both structuring and consideration are likely to be most effective. Gekko had high “concern for production”, all the task he assigned to Bud would help to increase his power and wealth. He had a moderate “concern for people”
The characteristic of Gordon Gekko was his Machiavellian style and charismatic style. One of the example of his charismatic style is when he gave speech in the Teldar Paper shareholder meeting. He was Machiavellian because he ruthlessly manipulated others and regularly practices bluff and deception. He took full advantage of Bud Fox and then when Bud got in some trouble he left him. It can be point of arrgument, whether he was a positive or negative charismatic person.
Effectiveness of leader
Effectiveness of a leader can be judged in a number of ways and it can be seen from many different angles, the Integrated Trait-Behavioural Model of Leadership (Derue et al, 2011) (as cited in BHM304 Leadership Development lecture slide) shows that leader’s effectiveness is influences by traits, attribution and behaviour. Gekko character is full of characteristic like intelligence, conscientiousness, openness to experience, and emotional stability. His interpersonal attributes like extraversion, and agreeableness were positive with regards to his leadership. He used all of his these characteristics with his Task-oriented approach. Gekko used his power over Bud, he was successful to used his charismatic and Machiavellian style to persuad Bud.
When seening effectiveness from a power and influence, Yukl (2013, p.219) argues that power that stems from position should be used only moderately by a leader to be effective. He also mentioned that an effective leader relies more on personal power. As Gekko had ultimate power over Bud, he was able to use his charismatic, Machiavellian and autocratic style to persuade Bud to get inside information. By the end of movie Bud Fox goes against Gekko’s decision of diluting Bluestar and becomes Gekko’s biggest enemy. Gekko was very effective in his leadership style and attribute, but lacked the quality of authentic and ethical leader. Gekko lacked transparency with bud; he used the leadership process and tactics for unethical task, and destroyed lives and businesses.
Analysing the depiction of Wall Street, Gordon Gekko’s character it is seen as effective leadership that can be achieved by developing traits and behaviour. But the point of argument, whether these traits, skills and behaviour are not used for unethical and manipulative task, still remains strong. Several scenes within the movie show the transformation into the unethical person, example when Bud visits Gordon and divulges a secret about Blue Star airlines that he had heard in general converstation with his father. Intitially it was an innocent transfer of information but it soon led to much bigger opportunities. Thus, it can be concluded that effective leadership should envision authentic and ethical nature to remain effective.
Table1. Big Five Personality Traits Model with relative examples in movie.
Big Five Personality Traits Specific Traits and Examples in the Movie
Openness Gekko’s openness can clearly seen during Teldar Paper shareholder meeting Gekko declared that “Greed is Good” this shows openness of his view and open-minded thinking.
Conscientiousness Gekko was conscientious in many ways; he always had clear perception in his mind that he wants to make money from all his deal. When he involved in Bluestar Airline deal he was very clear to wreak the company and make profit from it. He did not disclose his intention to anyone.
Extraversion Gekko was action-oriented person, at Teldar Paper shareholders meeting he said, “Greed is God, Greed in all of its form, Greed for life, for money, for love and for knowledge” “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good” (Wall Street. 1987, Drama). He delivered this speech with confidence and dominated Teldar Paper’s executives. Thus, shows that Gekko was high on extroversion trait scale.
Agreeableness Gekko was more self centred person than agreeablness. In Bluestar he reversed his decision of running Bluestar, which he agreed earlier.
Neuroticism Gekko can be seen in the movie as a very self-control, emotionally stable and emotional intelligence person. Larry Wildman involve Gekko’s mother in one deal for cheating him, Gekko keeps his cool attitutde and says “excuse me before I lose my temper…” and tried to leave the place. This shows that Gekko had a high self-esteem and it would be difficult to say that he was neurotic individual.
Table2. Sources of Leader Influence and Likely Outcomes
Power Taxonomy Gekko's Usage of Power
Reward power “The target person complies in order to obtain rewards he or she believes are controlled by the agent.” When Gekko meets Bud in a restaurant, give him cheque and promises Bud lots of “perks” (benefits) if he does good job.
Coercive power “The target person complies in order to avoid punishments he or she believes are controlled by the agent.” In Wall Street movie, when Bud feels that he has to comply with Gekko and if he doesn’t, he will loose Wall Street shark account. When Gekko meets Bud in squash at club; Gekko indicates that Bud is just an analyst and he has already so many anaylst working day and night with him. He does not want another analyst.
Legitimate power “The target person complies because he or she believes the agent has the right to make the request and the target person has the obligation to comply.” Gekko possesses the skills, style and knowledge that resulted in his success. He was the hero of Bud and Bud wanted to succeed in similar way. This gives Gekko power over Bud.
Expert power “The target person complies because he or she believes that the agent has special knowledge about the best way to do something.” Expert power can be seen between Gekko and Bud. Geeko expertis in Wall Street and he had some special ability to multiply investments.
Referent power “The target person complies because he or she admires or identifies with the agent and wants to gain the agent’s approval.” Bud admired the way in which Gekko had built his fortune and he considered Gekko as his role model.
*description in quotes are referenced from; Taxonomy from J. French & B.H. Raven, Studies of Social Power, Institute for Social Research, Ann Arbor, MI (1959) as cited in R. Dennis Green. (1999, p. 55).
Table3. Sources of Leader Influence and Likely Outcomes
Source of Leader Influence Type of Outcome
Commitment Compliance Resistance
Reward Power Possible—if “used in a
subtle, very personal way” LIKELY*—“if used in a
mechanical, impersonal way” Possible—“if used in a
manipulative, arrogant way”
Coercive Power Very unlikely Possible—“if used in a helpful,
non-punitive way” LIKELY*—“if used in a hostile
or manipulative way”
(or “Position” Power) Possible—“if request is
polite and very appropriate” LIKELY*—“if request or order is
seen as legitimate” Possible—“if arrogant demands are
made or request does not appear proper”
(or “Skill” Power) LIKELY*—“if request is persuasive
share leader’s task goals” Possible—“if request is persuasive
but subordinates are apathetic
about task goals” Possible—“if leader is arrogant and
insulting, or sub ordinates oppose task
(or “Friendship”) LIKELY*—“if request is
believed to be important
to leader” Possible—“if request is perceived
to be unimportant to leader” Possible—“if request is for something
that will bring harm to leader”
R. Dennis Green. (1999, p. 56). Leadership as A Function of Power *Indicates most common outcome
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