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Norma Rae is a film about a woman named Norma who works a minimum wage job at a textile factory. A union organizer named Reuben comes to her town to give a speech on unionizing the textile factory and Norma decides to join his cause. In this film Rueben is identified as the primary leader in unionizing the textile factory, however, Norma becomes his protégé, in a sense, and as the movie progresses she learns from Rueben how to inspire the workers to fight back against the inequality and discrimination that they face in their unsympathetic work environment. This is proof that one of the biggest myths about leadership, that leaders are born not made, is in fact a myth (pg.9).
Rueben’s skills as a leader are apparent throughout the film, as one would expect from a man in his profession. However, through his ability to motivate others to recognize their potential, it is Norma who becomes the key figure in leading the textile workers to form a union. James Burns defines transformational leadership as “a process in which leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of morality and motivation” (pg. 86). I believe that this is a perfect example of a team leadership principle that Rueben, and eventually Norma, use to aid the process of forming a union. According to Burns, the primary component of transformation is the ability of the leader to observe to the real needs of their followers and impact or change whatever might be obstructing these needs (pg. 86). On the other hand, Norma sometimes also displays characteristics of an autocratic style of leadership, which, in some cases, impedes their goal of forming a union. She is very job centered and task oriented, especially when it comes to forming the union. In one scene she starts arguing with one of her peers for not showing up to work on time, which causes valuable time to be lost and unnecessary effort to be spent on arguing instead of focusing on the work at hand (pg. 47).
In this film every type of power listed in the textbook is present in on way or another. The book states that reward power is when a person in a position of power trades positive incentives in order to achieve a desired behavior from an individual. When Norma first starts to inform her co-workers of the benefits of forming a union the plant manager tries to utilize reward power by offering her a promotion and a raise in hopes of preventing her in forming a union. The next type of power portrayed in this film is coercive power, which is the ability to withhold undesirable penalties in return for a desired behavior. The best example of this is when the plant manager threatens to fire Norma and eventually does and even has her arrested when she refuses to leave the plant. Another type of power in this movie is legitimate power, which comes from the perception of authority and is a product of position. It is fairly obvious that the manager of the textile plant is the primary example of legitimate power due to his position at the factory. Also on display in this movie is expert power, which comes from the perception that an individual has expertise on a specific matter. Rueben is the character in this film that best portrays expert power due to the fact that his profession is a union organizer and he has expert knowledge on unions and how to go about forming one. Last but not least is referent power, which is defined as a power that comes from people developing strong bonds of mutual respect for one another. I believe that this is the most prevalent type of power in this movie. At first only a few people, mainly Rueben and Norma, band together in order to form the union. However, after Norma makes a stand and is arrested many more people join their cause, and shortly after the workers union is formed (pg. 73-74).
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