Lean on Me


This paper focuses on the film Lean on Me. The 1989 film shows great communication concepts in the schooling dynamic. The introduction part summarizes the movie in two paragraphs, ending with a thesis statement. The body of the paper is clear on the communicative concepts applied in the film. Three concepts related to the film have been discussed. They include Utilization of Henri Fayol’s Rules, the competitive outlook in conflict management where the leader bears the final say, and a school environment that is intimidating and scaring. The last part is the conclusion that affirms the thesis statement. It is a link between the discussion of the concepts and the thesis statement. The paper achieves what it sought by showing that a vision of excellence is effectively achieved through great communication and resilient leadership.



Lean on Me is a 1989 fictional school based movie that focuses on a troubled character, Joe Clark, who is the principal of Eastside High School in New Jersey. The man is reappointed the principal of a school he was fired from, accepting the appointment begrudgingly (Lean on Me, 1989). On his return, he finds the school as a hub of drug use, den of gang violence and in a state of urban despair. Clark was brought in as the last resort in a bid to turn the school’s fortunes, and provide a much-needed blockade to the attempts of bringing the school under state government control.

With the task at hand, he resorts to unorthodox methods of getting the school under control. Clark became a symbol of tough love education; the kids loved him, but everyone else resented him. He is eventually successful, but not without confrontations with city officials, parents and teachers. His boss doubted his capabilities at times too. His message to the kids was very clear, the students to lean on him and learn (Lean on Me, 1989). A vision of excellence is achieved through great leadership that is enhanced through effective communication.


Communicative Concepts

In the movie Lean on Me, the main character Joe Clark, uses verbal communication in most cases. Clark uses both formal and informal communication. He asserts his authority and command through the boldness and finality of his talks. His style does not encourage feedback as it is too autocratic. There are different concepts of communication that enhance transmission of the message from the sender to the receiver. In the movie Lean on Me, the principal is very clear with the message he is sending. The message is “don’t lean on excuses, don’t lean on drugs, crime or anger, just LEAN ON ME and learn” (Lean on Me, 1989). This is the only thing he is trying to communicate with his associates, the students, teachers and the community at large. To achieve his desired goals, several communicative concepts are observable throughout the movie. Among them are utilization of Henri Fayol’s rules, intimidation and scaring school environment and a competitive style in conflict management.


Utilization of Henri Fayol’s Rules (commanding, control, organization and coordination)

This is a theory of management that is built in the modern classical way. Despite the setup being in the 1980’s when modern management was relatively unknown, Joe Clark looks like a man ahead of time. This theory in paper focuses on foresight, control, organization, command and coordination (Wren, 2003). Joe was the man in charge; he had to show great resilience to achieve the minimum target of 75% score in basic skills test, in a school averaging 33% when he took over the reins.

The rules of Fayol underline the use of several functions to pass the message across. Joe is technically gifted, and he does not struggle while asserting his way of doing things. The way he addresses people is commanding, controlling, organizing and coordinating in many ways. This displays the actual provisions of Fayol’s principles. As a supreme leader, he needs to possess the skills to expedite these functions in the communication process. At the time that Joe Clark joined Eastside High, all he needed was bringing in an aura of authority in every message he passed across. He attained this successfully by utilizing these rules in the best way possible.

Joe Clark is a great leader by all definitions. He shows flashes of genius by the way he brings Eastside High School back into normalcy. He is a no-nonsense man who wins the learners through his approach. More often than not, he tells his kids in school that, “if you fail, don’t blame your backgrounds, don’t blame the establishment, blame YOURSELVES” (Lean on Me, 1989). This is a great way to control behavior and actions of the students.

Joe is surrounded by enemies who wanted him fired from the school. He also has true friends like Thomas. This is the friend who assists him with foresight. He is able to anticipate actions by police and the community who form the bigger chunk of his enemies. This way, he manages to counter threats in a good way (Wren, 2003). His aura of command is unprecedented, he locks and chains classroom doors to keep away suspended students well aware that it was against the fire code. He fired teachers and expelled students in masses (Lean on Me, 1989).This helps in cleaning up the behavioral mess in Eastside High. When Cark steps into the school for the first time, he starts bossing people. The reason he is doing this is because people had their time and never used it and now it is his time (Lean on Me, 1989). He takes the assumption that people dislike work, are unambitious, irresponsible and their preference is more on leisure or other activities that are not productive.

This job provided a tough situation for Joe Clark. He had to coordinate his staff, parents and students in order to achieve the 75% required in the basic skills test. This is some miracle he pulled after using different methods together in this pursuit. He wittily coordinated the methods, even though some controversial, to pass the message and have it done. Coordination is usually at the core of success, and it happens under effective communication (Wren, 2003).

This method may not be very effective today. There are so many dynamics coming into force in the workplace. For instance, a reward system would have been necessary for the current setup. This is nothing that Clark used despite his great achievement. He was quite authoritative and irrational but still achieved desired success. It is a great foundation of management, where any design possible is used to pass a message.


Forceful or Competitive Style in Conflict Management

For Clark it was easy, it was always the case of him winning and the others losing. His style was authoritative. He always had to be the winner. His opinion was final and he did not accommodate anyone’s views. In the film Lean on Me, Clark shows complete disregard of what others perceive should be done. There is no argument on the fact that the school was in a total mess. It was a conflict by itself. In many cases, Clark is faced by situations where he needs to come up with solutions to the conflicts arising. The challenge could be amplified by lack of finances. This demanded that the conflict between money and the challenge had to be solved. A radical decision was always going to be the solution in such situations. This meant that in most circumstances he forced his decisions down the people by way of threat.

He is a man who believes in his vision and determination to succeed. He is overwhelmingly passionate about his job. In managing conflicts, this style majorly employs intimidation as the main way to overcome the challenges at hand (Croucher et al., 2011). This is a usually an effective method when dealing with people that have been radicalized by crime; like the case of Eastside High school. Some of the styles Clark used to bring everyone on board were controversial and not good. For instance, he used to abuse teachers in from of the students; threatening them with suspensions in order to have them on their toes.

The challenges facing the school were drugs, crime and poor performance (Lean on Me, 1989). To change the trend, the teachers, students, parents and the local authorities had to read from the same script. Clark believed he was the only link between these parties and any chance of attaining success. The fact that his predecessors had failed made matters even more intriguing for him. It became like an absolute birthright for him to succeed regardless of the means he used to achieve that.

The target is to eliminate crime, drugs and violence from the school. This should be reflected with a better score in the New Jersey basic test for schools. The unorthodox methods of bringing this into fruition sees Joe Clark do even the unthinkable. He breaks several legal codes like not taking fire escape precautions into consideration and the right of every kid to access education by chaining class doors and sending kids out of school (Lean on Me, 1989). This does not auger well with the authorities and parents. However, through the help of his friend Thomas, he is able to counter the forces working against him and remain in charge at Eastside High.


Scaring and Intimidating School Environment

The entry of Joe Clark into East Side dictates a new beginning. The new dawn cracks the whip in the school across the board. The policy that looks most applicable by the new man in charge was either one being with the school or being against the school. When someone seemingly fell into the latter category, their time in Eastside High was terminated. This saw many students expelled, and teachers fired from the school. An intimidating environment can get the best out of someone while make the worst out others. Clark was not interested in those who could not survive under his methods. They are the ones who made a quick exit when things got too hot for them.

Anybody associated with the school was always on his/her toes. It was just a matter of time and the sword would have fallen on anyone. From the beginning, he blames the teachers for the state of the school (Lean on Me, 1989). He does not appreciate what they do. He is a man that finds fault in everyone and everything that is associated with other people. He considers himself to be faultless. He has nothing against himself. This keeps everyone on the edge.

The students understand that their time in school is dependent on the margin of error they make. This makes some of them work extra hard in their academics, observing high-level discipline in order to achieve the set standards. The mood seems like that of a prison. There is no room to make the common mistakes anymore. Every other error is severely punished be it by a student or a teacher. The school corridors are no longer areas to warm during class intervals. The principal roams them like a lion’s den. They become like a cross between hell’s gate and prison walls. Nobody wants to be caught around there by the ‘Crazy Joe.’

In this, Joe does not need to utter a word. His presence in some areas is a message by itself. Nonverbal communication is at its best when he is walking around the school, storming into the staffroom, doing his rounds in classes, or roams in areas where graffiti was the trademark before his appointment. He manages to create an intimidating environment. One has to be on the right side of the law by choice or by circumstance.

His first action was the point at the times ahead. It had all the ingredients of intimidation. He called a general assembly for everyone in the school. The druggies and troublemakers were lined up on stage. They were all expelled (Lean on Me, 1989). Later everyone was forced to learn the school song, with the consequence of expulsion upon non-adherence. He starts everything like it is the beginning of a reign of terror. Sure to his word, he does not bulge on what he decides. All these scares and intimidations pass the simple message that everything has to tick regardless of any inconveniences (Murphy, 2014).



Every individual has his/her own strategy to excel, and they use different means to get to the destination. Joe Clark is like a true definition of determination, passion and self-believe in the route of excellence. For Eastside High to remain under the local authority and not be given up to the state, the students had to pass a state proficiency exam. The score before Clark was 33%, the target was 75% (Lean on Me, 1989). In many cases, this would be a pipe dream, an impossible miracle that could not be achieved even through the best of practices. But for Clark, he had one thing in mind, excellence and achieving that target.

Clark could be best described as a shrewd manager. However, it is this nature that brought back the glory days of Eastside. When the students sat the exam, they hit the target, and the school would remain under local control (Lean on Me, 1989). By this, Clark had achieved success in his mandate. He is the kind of manager who believed the end something justified the means used to achieve it. He applied his dictatorial regime to eradicate drug, crime and violence from the school. He was the right man for that moment.

Joe Clark combined a number of leadership characters to attain success. Despite being ruthless and dictatorial, he never lost focus on the main agenda. He had a vision. He knew the best way to achieve it would be a style of leadership that required tough decision making. Tough in a manner that he had to be in control at all times. He galvanized his efforts and believed in his abilities. This showed the flashes of a supreme leader. A man who could not be intimidated, and a person that passed his message across in the best way possible. Having managed this, Eastside High realized its lost glory through leadership and effective communication.



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Lean on Me. (1989). Hollywood.

Murphy, J. (2014). Understanding Intimidation. Mod. L. Rev., 77(1), 33-59.

Wren, D. (2003). The Influence of Henri Fayol on Management Theory and Education in North America. Entreprises Et Histoire, 34(3), 98.

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