The Cowboy Way: The Western Leader in Film, 1945-1995

The Cowboy Way: The Western Leader in Film, 1945-1995

The Cowboy Way: The Western Leader in Film, 1945-1995

The Cowboy Way: The Western Leader in Film, 1945-1995


Analyzing a sample of 25 films, including such notables as Red River, Shane, Unforgiven, The Wild Bunch, Wyatt Earp, and Dances with Wolves, this work examines traditional leadership theories as reflected in the western film genre. The western vividly portrays a variety of leadership styles, motifs, and characteristics giving a unique perspective on several traditional leadership theories. The different leadership styles the films exhibit are categorized and described through content analysis. Some of the concepts and underlying theories and styles reveal a universal quality about leadership that transcends theoretical research. As a cultural study that traces the relative popularity of leadership styles, this work provides new insight toward studying leadership effectiveness.


The street empties as two men stand facing each other in the sweltering heat. a war of words has erupted into a duel in the sun. Each man, beads of sweat forming above his eyes, gazes, transfixed, waiting for the slightest movement to begin the dance of death.

Is it possible to imagine America without the cowboy?

No, that thought is inconceivable, as inconceivable as an America without George Washington. Like "the Father of Our Country," the cowboy is part man, part myth, and a wholly indispensable symbol of the many assumptions, presumptions, and beliefs about ourselves and our world.

In westerns, the leader is a military and a political figure whose instincts and rapid decision-making processes can mean the difference between life and death. Perhaps that is one reason why the showdown on the dusty, deserted street is, for many, the defining moment in the leadership model of the western. However, that view, as is shown in the following pages, is simplistic and even mistaken. the western is far more than a one-dimensional, one-size-fits-all narration of plot, and the central figure in the drama, the cowboy, is a richly textured and deeply nuanced leader exhibiting a variety of leadership styles.

In fact, part of the broad appeal of the western film genre arises from its surprising adaptability, both historically and culturally, which gives rise to a complex and evolving array of characters and points of view. Featuring heroes and anti-heroes, conservatives and liberals, the pantheon of the western film is capable of accommodating characters as . . .

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