The Role of Leadership in The Intern

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The interaction of individuals within a firm is a significant determinant in its ultimate success. This tenet informs decisions on the methods that help rise organisational efficiency through avenues like increasing job satisfaction and encouraging leadership at the workplace. The analysis of The Intern is a great way to understand the application of organisational behaviour concepts at the workplace. The paper reviews three aspects that are relevant to the case study and the course unit: leadership traits, employee motivation and the effectiveness of the executive team.

Leadership is a desired quality in a firm set-up. An evaluation of Roberto De Niro’s character in the movie- Ben Whittaker- expands the scope and understanding of leadership. Even though he is just an intern, Ben Whittaker is a good leader and is not afraid to exhibit his endearing traits. He is assertive, calm and confident, acknowledges hard work and has high emotional intelligence. Good followership is also necessary for a functional company. Ben knows his place at the firm and exhibits positive followership traits such as work ethic, competence, discretion, and loyalty. This evaluation is based on the trait theory of leadership that insists that leaders are born rather than made. Despite its popularity, the theory is flawed since it is based on subjective judgement on a good leader. Motivation at About the Fit Inc. always seems to be high. An in-depth look at the workplace using Herzberg’s theory of motivation reveals that Jules Ostin has successfully created a balanced workplace where the employees’ needs are catered for sufficiently. Hygiene factors that help avoid dissatisfaction at the organisation include the open office plan, a house masseuse and a relaxed dress code. Motivational factors include recognition of employee’s efforts and evidence of the meaningfulness of the work they are doing. Despite the presence of many factors that influence the behaviour of employees at About the Fit, the executive leadership has been effective in running the firm. The open communication style makes employees feel included in decision-making and has helped form a cohesive workforce. The customer-oriented approach is another reason for About the Fit to be successful. The Intern highlights problems facing firms in the modern age and is a good learning tool for anyone who wants to learn about leadership and mentoring. While firms may adopt different tactics, investment in areas of organisational behaviour is imperative in the modern world.

Organisational Behaviour

The success of an organisation is highly dependent on how well it manages its people. People within an organisation differ to a great extent. In addition to this, ideas and workplace activities also affect their behaviour. Such consideration matters to an organisation since it may boost or undermine an organisation’s success. Throughout the organisational behaviour unit, we have reviewed theories that would help an organisation’s management to maximise the output of individuals within departments or similar groups. The behaviour of employees is influential in the development of workplace culture. Compassionate and helpful employees will help create a supportive work environment while disgruntled employees will ‘poison’ the workplace. Management should ascertain drivers of positive behaviour at the workplace and integrate similar factors in the workplace culture. This paper will explore organisational behaviour based on the analysis of the critically-acclaimed film, “The Intern.” The movie which stars Roberto De Niro and Anne Hathaway provides a great insight into organisational dynamics in the modern hence acting as a convenient and relevant case study. The paper will review aspects such as leadership traits, employee motivation, and executive effectiveness to understand organisational behaviour.

Leadership Traits

Ben Whittaker is an elderly but vibrant man who is tired of staying at home alone after losing his wife. To overcome his sense of boredom, he decides to interview for a senior citizens’ internship programme. From the moment he walks through the doors of the start-up one could see how different he is from the rest of the organisation’s employees. However, he embraced his uniqueness and became committed to serving the organisation and in particular Jules Ostin, the founder. Throughout the movie, Roberto De Niro’s character demonstrates a variety of leadership traits and followership traits. The first of the leadership traits he exhibits is assertiveness. Ben Whittaker has a strong set of values influenced by his generation and years of experience. Although he believes and sticks with them, he is delicate in how he conveys his opinions. Ben also acknowledges hard work. He observes that Becky, Jules’s assistant works very hard and is underappreciated. He compliments her regularly, even calling her “Boss.” Additionally, he reminds Jules of Becky’s credentials and her role in the company. Both Becky and Jules welcome his appreciation, and it potentially helps improve the former’s welfare. A related point is that Ben is a good observer. This is a good trait for a leader since it shows emotional intelligence. He recognises Becky’s plight and Jules’s problems through his keen observation and awareness of his surroundings. Another leadership trait demonstrated by the character is his calm and confidence even in the worst of circumstances. The best example of this is the fact that Ben accompanies Jules to San Francisco. He calms her when she feels overwhelmed and uses his experience to guide her steps as she looks for a CEO for About the Fit.

In an organisation, good followership is just as important as good leadership. Followership entails the ability to follow instructions and a programme, deliver on expectations. Ben Whittaker joins About the Fit as an intern, therefore he is obliged to be a follower despite enjoying decades as a company executive. The first follower trait he exhibits is work ethic. Ben is committed to his work and makes an effort to get things done despite the prevailing circumstances. The best example in the movie is when he clears the desk full of junk without necessarily being told to do so. The second follower characteristic, in this context, is competence. A good follower must complete a task as directed by the leader. Ben always ensures he does as Jules instructs. Discretion and loyalty are other follower characteristics exhibited by Ben in the movie. Despite hearing a lot of Jules’s private conversations, he keeps them to himself citing a hearing problem.

The trait theory of leadership predicts the leader’s effectiveness based on his characteristics. The underlying assumption of the theory is that leaders are born rather than made (Dinh et al., 2014). Therefore, some physiological, demographic, personality, intellectual, and social characteristics will make one a better leader than others. Examples of core traits identified in the theory are: “achievement drive, leadership motivation, honesty and integrity, self-confidence, cognitive ability, knowledge of business, emotional maturity and charisma” (Colbert et al., 2012). In the context of the case study, Ben has some of the core traits described in the trait theory including emotional maturity, honesty, integrity and self-confidence. Among the advantages of the trait theory is its natural appealing. Moreover, the research has validated the theoretical framework, and it serves as a standard against which leadership traits can be appraised. However, the complexity of the theory is problematic. Firstly, it is based on a subjective judgement on who is a successful leader. Additionally, scholars disagree over which traits are essential for an effective leader. The second issue is the list of possible traits. Different studies have listed more than 100 different traits for successful leadership though in different contexts. The core traits highlighted in the trait theory are, therefore, generalities (Storey, 2016).


A motivated workforce is key to the success of an organisation. Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory is an attempt to explain the employees’ vision of their work. In his study, Herzberg developed the following perspectives: “high and low attitude, short and long-term duration of feelings, first and second level factors, and the interrelationship of factors” (Latham, 2012). The most relevant perspective in the case of About the Fit Inc. is the high and low attitude variant in which job factors are categorised as either hygiene factors or motivational factors. The workforce at the company is generally motivated. Most employees are at the same age; young and energetic. Using Herzberg’s theory, one can align job factors to either the hygiene or the motivational side. Hygiene factors are extrinsic to work and help avoid dissatisfaction at the workplace. Factors that fall under this category include pay, company policies, interpersonal relationships, job security, and fringe benefits. The company has a relaxed dressed code with employees choosing whether to dress casually or officially. The open office plan is also a hygiene factor since it encourages integrity and interpersonal relationships between employees. About the Fit even has a house masseuse who helps calm tired and stressed employees. The rationale behind this move is to ensure that the company’s employees do not lose their focus at work due to tiredness and being overwhelmed. Motivational factors, on the other hand, are inherent to work and produce positive satisfaction hence motivating employees to work better and harder. These factors include “recognition, growth opportunities, responsibility, sense of achievement, and meaningfulness of the work” (Lazaroiu, 2015). About the Fit invests in recognising the efforts of its employees by installing a red bell which is rung every time something good happens. In the movie, one employee rings the bell when a company’s post on Instagram reaches a few thousand likes, and all employees celebrate. The growth of the company over a short period and a large number of happy clients helps show employees the meaningfulness of the work. However, sometimes employees like Becky seem demotivated. This is attributed to the feeling that her boss, Jules does not recognise her work.

Herzberg’s theory of motivation gives insight into the behaviour of employees and advises employees on how to maintain or improve motivation levels. The emphasis on job enrichment explains why modern organisations are very interested in extrinsic factors that affect employees. Despite the theory’s strengths, it has several limitations. First, it overlooks factors that change with the situation. A motivational factor could affect people in different situations differently (Ghazi, Shahzada and Khan, 2013). Secondly, the theory’s reliability is unsure due to the influence of raters who can analyse the same response differently. Thirdly, the two-factor theory is not as objective as other theories because employees are usually biased when reporting factors that influence their satisfaction or dissatisfaction (Malik and Naeem, 2013).

The Effectiveness of the Executive Team at about the Fit

The success of About the Fit is significantly influenced by its executive team. Jules Ostin built the organisation from the ground, and within 18 months it has 216 employees and a large warehouse from where the organisation does its deliveries. Open communication is a principle that is apparent throughout the organisation; starting from the office layout Jules’s leadership style. This choice by the executive has helped build a cohesive workplace where everyone feels involved in the executive’s final decisions. The style exemplifies participative leadership, with Jules being the main proponent. A good example in the film is when they discuss the layout of the company’s website. Employees and the executive discuss the issue and share decision-making within the group. Participative leadership ensures that employees accept policies more readily and morale remains at a high level. Employee retention is also higher in such organisations, and because creativity is encouraged, the company’s innovation scale is higher (Giri and Kumar, 2010). By encouraging openness, Jules created a dynamic organisation with a great future.

Decision-making is a major function of management in an organisation. In the case of About the Fit, most of the decision-making responsibilities are left with Jules. While she wants it this way, she is overwhelmed by work and has little time to cater to her responsibilities as a wife and mother. Jules’ decision-making is exemplary. By occupying the niche between the manufacturer and the consumer and maintaining this model she ensures the survival of the business. The decision by her fellow executives to hire senior citizens as interns is an interesting proposition. While Jules is not too keen on the agreement, her fellow executives encourage her to take an intern who turns out to be Ben Whittaker. The other executives reasoned that Jules had to lead by example. By taking on an intern, she would encourage other organisational leaders to do the same. Jules leadership style also has hints of leading by example. She is always early to work and does not leave until late. She challenges herself every day and involves herself in a variety of activities at the workplace. Rather than simply instructing, a leader by example works how he or she wants others to work (DeRue, 2011).

The effectiveness of the Executive team at About the Fit is apparent in its pursuit to meet the needs of customers. There is a time in the movie when a bridal team receives charcoal grey dresses while they had ordered pink dresses. Many organisations would have left their customer care team deal with the problem. However, Jules is personally involved in making sure that the bridal team receives the right dresses. The commitment in customer service is apparent when the team celebrates when the bridal team posts a photo with the pink dresses. Investment in customer support is especially necessary for online businesses it helps to retain existing customers and attract new ones. Doing more than the customer expects helps build brand loyalty (McLean and Wilson, 2016). Jules and her executive team knew this as is illustrated by Jules taking her time to answer customers’ calls.


While we watch movies primarily for entertainment, The Intern provides an opportunity to learn about organisational behaviour. People within a firm behave differently and react variably to different triggers. The evaluation of different aspects of organisational behaviour using a case study has helped increase my knowledge of the various intrinsic and extrinsic factors that affect organisational behaviour. Leadership is an acclaimed feature of any successful company. However, many of the organizations do not appreciate the importance of good followership. Ultimately, a follower is responsible for actuating the leader’s vision. Followership traits such as hard work, ethics, integrity, and initiative play a key role in the success of any organisation. Employee motivation is one of the most studied aspects of organisational behaviour. A motivated workforce, like the one in The Intern, is necessary for a successful organisation. Categorising variables into Herzberg’s two factors proved useful in understanding dynamics at About the Fit. Finally, the analysis of the executive leadership at the company gave an insight into how Jules Ostin’s characteristics as a leader made the company as big as it is. Organisational success is the result of the interaction of various factors. Leaders and followers should work as a collective if their efforts are to help the company in the long run.


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October 24, 2023




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