Boys in the Boat: Great Movie! But…

POV: the heart of the book “Boys in the Boat” wasn’t included in the movie.

Boys in the Boat: Great Movie! But…
Kelly Harrison
February 6, 2024

POV: the heart of the book “Boys in the Boat” wasn’t included in the movie. While the movie is compelling, engaging, and entertaining, it shies away from portraying the depth of the boys’ relationships and the beautiful tapestry of stories that Daniel Brown brought to life in the book.

I was disappointed, but I think it is challenging to take a book like Brown’s to the big screen accurately. How did the movie miss the mark in my opinion?

The answer begins in the first few pages of Chapter Thirteen (p. 234 in some editions). George Pocock (a boat builder and advisor to Coach Ulbrickson) approaches Joe Rantz (the main character) to give him some feedback about his rowing. 

Pocock starts with compliments and then arrives at his point: he tells Joe he sees him attacking the water, rowing like “he’s the only fellow in the boat as if it was up to him to row the boat across the finish line all by himself…[he wasn’t letting] his crew help him row.” Pocock goes on to explain to Joe how rowing well with his crew is like being a part of a symphony and Joe was just one musician. Rather than focusing on rowing hard, Joe needed to focus on “how well everything he did in the boat harmonized with what the other fellows were doing.” Pocock explained that doing this required Joe to open his heart to his teammates and care about his crew, even if being vulnerable with them led him to get his feelings hurt. Pocock recommended Joe learn to like every man in his boat and then he ended with, “Joe, when you really start trusting those other boys, you will feel a power at work within you that is far beyond anything you’ve ever imagined. Sometimes, you will feel as if you have rowed right off the planet and are rowing among the stars.” (Boys in the Boat, Brown, pp. 234-235).

In essence, he told him, “It’s about the boat, it’s not about you.” 

Sig Berg, founder of the Severn Leadership Group (SLG), makes a similar claim in his first book Swing - Elite Leadership for High Performance Teams when he shares with readers that “Leadership begins with you, but it is not about you.” One of Berg’s guiding principles, that has also shaped the SLG, is that the character of a leader is shaped by a core set of timeless and transcendent virtues. Relationship is one of those core virtues. Berg asserts that as a leader, knowing your people well professionally and personally -- their dreams, concerns, strengths, and what is needed for them to be successful, is critical when creating high-achieving teams. 

Building relationships did not come easy to me. I am a particularly analytical human: a math major, a computer science minor, and a bookworm. Relationships do not come easy to me, and the opportunities I had to lead in the Navy, and my experience as a mentor with SLG, helped me realize how important it is to grow in this area. I continue to focus on it. In fact, I regularly review an article that outlines about 45 questions that could be considered icebreakers or questions to generate small talk often, usually before a happy hour, an introduction, or a discovery call!

The crucial part of the book Boys in the Boat elaborates on the benefit of building trust between colleagues or teammates and it is as applicable in a professional setting as it is in a shell. I attempted to intentionally built trust with colleagues in my command tour, asking other squadron Commanding Officers (COs) for help at a time when a “perfect storm” of issues led our command to lack what we needed to continue training. Instead of judging me (what I was afraid of), the other COs jumped at the chance to help. To this day, these commands still show up for one another whenever a squadron hits a low point to be sure everyone in the community gets the training they need to excel.

Where can you grow in your relationships - professionally and personally? Can you ask for help to build a firmer foundation of trust? Maybe you have another tip that works for you, or maybe you are one of those lucky souls who is great at building and maintaining relationships. If so, I’d love to hear your advice as I keep focusing on my growth area!

Kelly graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2000 and holds an MBA from Indiana University.  She is a retired Naval officer who has been affiliated with the Severn Leadership Group since 2022.  Kelly currently serves as a keynote speaker and executive coach in Arlington, VA.  She enjoys spending time with her family and leading her daughter's Brownie troop on campouts.

Boys in the Boat: Great Movie! But…

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