Why Rick Blaine is a Leader
Rick Blaine is the protagonist in Casablanca; and, more famously, the quintessential Humphrey Bogart.
Beside the fact that Rick/Humphrey immortalized the chic, iconic trench coat and was the owner of an ultra-cool Moroccan bar, he also led a dangerous mission that united would-be enemies during WWII. His cleverness and bravado was a leadership capability that for me represents a cultural “win-win.” And, not for nothing, Casablanca is such a romantic story; if you have never seen it, you need to watch it this weekend.
The ultimate Lover Archetype
While some may think of Rick as a Hero for what he did for Ilsa and Victor Lazlo, I prefer to think of Rick as the ultimate Lover Archetype. His intense love for Ilsa was by appearances unrequited. This was wartime and the stakes were high…even for romance. Victor Lazlo, Ilsa’s husband, was a Czech resistance fighter and Rick an American businessman. What they shared, even though their motives were different, was a dislike of the reason for the war – the Nazi aggression. They were truly culturally aligned and in love with the same woman.
So what was Rick to do? He chose to favor a greater cause – the safety and wellbeing of Ilsa and her husband over a second chance to run away with Ilsa. Rick couldn’t live with himself if the Nazis captured Ilsa’s husband or, for that matter, Ilsa herself. In the process, Rick was able to see past Isla’s unexplained disappearance years earlier and heal their breach of confidence by learning what really happened and by doing the right thing. The time-honored story unfolds around three behaviors of Rick’s Lover Archetype.
His scenes and lines from the movie illustrate useful leadership lessons:
Lover leaders have a knack for helping individuals and groups appreciate one another.
Ilsa: “I can’t fight it anymore. I ran away from you once. I can’t do it again. Oh I don’t know what’s right any longer. You have to think for both of us. For all of us.”
Rick: [Using best Bogart gravelly voice] “All right, I will. Here’s looking at you kid.”
Lover leaders see others as peers.
Rick: “I congratulate you.”
Victor: “What for?”
Rick: “Your work.”
Victor: “I try”
Rick: “We all try. You succeed…”
Lover leaders heal breaches through communication, usually for the greater good.
Rick: [As he’s about to send Victor and Ilsa on a flight to safety] “There’s something you should know before you leave.”
Victor: “Mr. Blaine, I don’t ask you to explain anything.”
Rick: “I’m going to anyway because it may make a difference to you later on. You said you knew about Ilsa and me.”
Rick: “What you didn’t know was that she was at my place last night when you were. She came there for the letters of transit. Isn’t that true, Ilsa?”
Rick: “She tried everything to get them and nothing worked. She did her best to convince me she was still in love with me but that was over long ago. For your sake she pretended it wasn’t and I let her pretend.”
Victor: “I understand.”
Rick: “Here it is.” [He hands the letters of transit to Lazlo] Victor: “Thanks. I appreciate it. Welcome back to the fight. This time I know our side will win. [Plane engine starts, they all look at one another] Are you ready, Ilsa?”
Ilsa: “Yes, I am ready…”
Lover leaders learn to let go even when they want to hang on.
[As Victor walks ahead to the plane, Ilsa lags behind for a moment…] Rick: “You better hurry. You’ll miss that plane…”
Ilsa: “I don’t understand, what about you?”
Rick: “If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life…we’ll always have Paris.”
Rick Blaine let Victor and Ilsa leave without him to protect someone he loved from harm. He left his angry judgment aside and sought to understand what he could not see. He survived a betrayal and opened communications between his peers and his foes. He demonstrated respect. He may have been a Lover Archetype or a combination of several archetypes. In the end it was his authenticity and his knowledge of himself above all that made him shine as a leader.