Organizational Behaviors and Leadership Theories in Nanny McPhee

Nanny McPhee is a children’s movie in which the Brown family is totally disorganized. Nanny Mcphee uses her own magic in getting this group organized. In the movie we see interpersonal conflicts and the children using group thinking. I will show how the movie shows attitudes and perceptions, motivation, levels of power and influence. We see how individuals react to stress. Nanny McPhee changes the whole family dynamic with an authoritarian style of leadership. In this paper will explain leadership theories as well as other organizational behaviors.

Organizational Behaviors and Leadership Theories in Nanny McPhee
I chose to evaluate the movie Nanny McPhee. It is a story of a widowed father with seven children. Typically with several children, one would have one or two that could be labeled problem children, but all seven of Mr. Brown’s children were unruly. Mr. Brown has tried seventeen different nannies as he was trying to find a replacement for the children’s mother. mother. Then there was Nanny McPhee with her five lessons that she would teach the children. I will discuss organizational behaviors and leadership theories that I observed while watching the movie. I will begin in the beginning with the seventeenth nanny running away from the house to find Mr. Brown while screaming that the children have eaten the baby. (Doran & Jones, 2006)
Group Dynamics

The Brown children have banded together to deliberately sabotage the attempts of their father to replace their recently deceased mother with a nanny. (Doran & Jones, 2006) They have formed a group. Borkowski (2005) states that groups are defined by meeting four characteristics. The first is that there are four or more people in a social interaction. We first see the Brown children in a playroom pretending to eat their baby sister who is happily laying in a stew pot while one of the brothers gnaws on a turkey leg with a baby’s bootie on it. (Doran & Jones, 2006) The second characteristic is a stable structure. The Brown’s are a family unit, they will be together by family ties and they are all together in a somewhat stable but unorganized life. The third characteristic is common interest or goals. The children are working together to make sure that they do not have a nanny. Throughout the movie, the children work together to carry out their misdeeds. The forth characteristic is that the individuals have to think of themselves as a group. During the movie, the Brown children act as one unit at times, indicating that they think of themselves as a group. There are some negative aspects of being a group, such as group think. Group think occurs when there is directive leadership within the group; the members have the same social background and ideology, and isolation of the group from outside sources of information and analysis. It occurs more often in a tightly knit group (McCauley). This causes the group to all agree and think one way sometimes resulting in poor judgment and uninformed decisions. Group think involves making decision because the members want to get along rather than to evaluate a situation realistically. The Brown children meet this description with Simon acting as the leader and the other children agreeing with whatever he says.
Attitudes and perceptions.

Nanny McPhee enters the story in a magical way. Mr. Brown first learns of her from an unknown person speaking to him through a mail slot saying, “The person you need is Nanny McPhee”. He later sees an add that read, the person you need is Nanny McPhee. But he hasn’t a clue as to how to get in touch with her. (Doran & Jones, 2006) That night as the children are exhibiting a bit of Pygmalion effect in the kitchen, Nanny McPhee mysteriously appears at the front door. The Pygmalion effect can be describes as a person’s behaving in a manner that another person expects them too, whether that expectation is accurate or not. In the movie, the cook didn’t want the children anywhere near the kitchen because she knew they were destructive and unbearable. She received a contract that stated the children were not ever to be allowed in the kitchen. She kept the contract on her person and would tell anyone that she has it in writing. Of course the children lived up to her expectations and invaded her kitchen and were in the middle of destroying it and trying to blow the cook up when Nanny McPhee enters the kitchen.

The children used stereotyping when they decided all stepmothers were like the wicked step mothers in the fairy tales. (Doran & Jones, 2006) Stereotyping is the perception of traits that one projects to a group of people. The most common stereotyping are based on gender and leadership
Leadership Theories

Nanny McPhee became the active leader of the Brown household. Paul (2008) described leadership as a process by which a person has a vision or sets an objective and influences others to work toward accomplishing the objective. To me Nanny McPhee exhibited different leadership styles at different times. She exhibited the qualities of a directive leader by telling the children exactly what she expected. She didn’t consult with them. The family knew exactly where she stood on these issues. She also reflected some authoritarian styles that were exposed under the behavioral study of Kurt Lewin. The authoritarian leader remains aloof and directs the group’s activities without consultation. When Nanny McPhee first arrives in the kitchen she gives the children an order. Naturally they ignore her and won’t do anything. She uses her magic and taps the floor with her cane and the children continue what they are doing, only faster. The children all ask her to stop with the exception of Simon. When Simon caves in, just before cooking his baby sister, Nanny McPhee restores the kitchen and erases the adult’s memory of it. (Doran & Jones, 2006)
Theories of Motivation

When Nanny McPhee arrived, after getting Mr. Brown to admit that his children are out of control, she tells him that she will teach the children five lessons. First lesson – To go to bed when told. Second Lesson – to get up when told. Third – To get dressed when told. Fourth – To listen. Fifth – To do as they are told. The children are resistant to anything she says and has to be motivated. She set the goals of lessons learned and as each one was met, she would transform. (Doran & Jones, 2006) When utilizing the goal setting theory, you must first set your goal. McPhee’s goal was to get the children to behave and learn the five lessons. The goal should be specific. McPhee met the specificity with the lessons. The goal should also be obtainable. Though hard to imagine, it would be possible for the unruly children to reach the set goals. The second step is to get goal commitment. The children resisted at almost every turn on this one, but ultimately gave in when motivated. One example of motivation is to use the Reinforcement Theory. Nanny McPhee used punishment. When the children pretended to have measles and had to stay in bed instead of getting up when told, Nanny McPhee literally made them stay in bed. They tried everything to get out of bed and couldn’t do it. They were also forced to drink a horrible concoction of broth and medicine. When the children admit that they are wrong, she magically releases them from bed. (Doran & Jones, 2006) The children became committed to the goal and the lesson was learned, get out of bed when you are told. The third step in the goal setting theory is providing support elements. In organizations, you would have to make sure that the employees or team members have the adequate resourced to reach their goal (Borkowski, 2005). In the situations in the movie, Nanny would have to know that the children were capable of learning and had the ability to perform the five goals she set.
Power and Influence

Power was identified in our text, Organizational Behavior in Health Care, by John French and Betram Raven (1959) as being seen as five sources. Reward is the ability to give rewards; Coercive is the ability to punish. Legitimate is the authority given based on a given role, referent, based on attraction or identification and expert which are based on the perception of knowledge in a specific area. Coercive power could be seen in the scene where Mr. Brown sent the children to bed with supper after they had run off the seventeenth nanny. It was also noted to be used by Aunt Adelaide when she threatened to withhold the money if Mr. Brown didn’t get married. (Doran & Jones, 2006) Coercive power can punish in two ways; by actual punishment or by withholding something that is wanted or needed. In the first situation, Mr. Brown punished by sending them to bed, and he withheld supper, which is something that the younger son wanted and seem to need because he was always hungry. In the second situation, Mr. Brown needed the money to keep his family together. (Doran & Jones, 2006)

Borkowski (2005) stated in her text that certain degrees of stress were necessary for good mental and physical health. In Nanny McPhee, Mr. Brown seems to have more than his share of stress. Change is the only constant thing in life and when you can’t handle the changes, it stresses you out. (Paul, 2008) His level of stress has moved to distress. Distress occurs when you start exhibiting the negative effects of stress. Mr. Brown appears to be getting frantic, he changed the way he uses to interact with his children, and he begins conversing with the corpse that he is working on. Mr. Brown, in fact the whole Brown household is affected by external stressors. External stressors are can include adverse physical conditions such as pain, hot or cold temperatures, threats to personal safety, general economy, everyday hassles, or major life events. (Borkowski, 2005) Stressors can be either acute or chronic. Imagining a threat would be considered an acute stressor. A chronic stressor would be things that go on in everyday life where we must depress the normal “fight or flight” reaction. (Simon, 2003) Mr. Brown has been through major life events and experiences everyday hassles. Major life events can include death of a loved one, marriage, and financial worries. Everyday hassles can include dealing with children at home. Mr. Brown met all of the above. His wife has died. He had to “court” a woman that he had no interest in because he felt he was being forced to marry. He was in constant fear that Aunt Adelaide would cut out the money and he would go to debtor’s prison and the children would be separated and placed in work houses. The behavior of the children was a constant source of worry. These are chronic stressors. Then Aunt Adelaide wanted to take one of the children in exchange for her help. This would be an acute stressor and would be devastating to Mr. Brown. He was without a doubt living a stressful life. (Doran & Jones, 2006)

Conflict occurs when a person feels that they have been affected in a negative way by another person. Interpersonal conflict occurs when two or more people feel that their attitudes, goals, or behaviors are opposite. (Borkowski, 2005) Simon and Mr. Brown were involved in a conflict about hiring nannies. Simon felt that Evangeline, the maid, could take care of them and Mr. Brown felt that she was just a hired hand and not qualified. Simon felt that his father should talk to him and discuss things with him and Mr. Brown felt like he had to protect all the children from worry. This resulted in occasional outburst from Simon. (Doran & Jones, 2006)

Nanny McPhee entered the Brown household as a government nanny. She was determined to teach the children five lessons. She told them, “When you need me, but don’t want me, then I must stay. When you want me, but no longer need me, then I have to go.” Not only did Nanny McPhee succeed in having the children learn the lessons, the entire movie was filled with example of organizational behavior and theories as well as leadership theories.


Borkowski, N. (2005). Organizational Behavior in Health Care. Massachusetts:Jones and Bartlett

Paul, D. (2008, February). Essential Skill of Leadership. Leadership essentials program presented in a workshop at Covington County Hospital, Collins, Ms.

Doran, L. (Producer), & Jones, K. (Director). (2006). Nanny McPhee [Motion Picture]. United States: Universal Studios.

French, J., & Raven, B. (1959). The bases of social power. In N. Borkowski, Organizational Behavior in Health Care (pp.163-164). Massachusetts: Jones and Bartlet

Simon, H. (2003). What is Stress? Retrieved April 5, 2008, from