It is important to keep in mind that a “follower” is not necessarily someone who never leads; rather, a follower is someone who, in a non-leader situation, nonetheless has ample opportunities to exercise judgment, demonstrate initiative, and offer support to someone who has leadership responsibilities. In other words, the terms “leader” and “follower” have much less to do with rank, title, status, etc. and much more to do with relative authority and responsibility. In the U.S. Marine Corps, for example, senior officers will defer to a non-com who possesses better information.
As I began to read Chaleff’s book, I was reminded of James O’Toole’s essay, “Speaking to Power,” in Transparency: How Leaders Create a Culture of Candor that he co-authored with Warren Bennis and Daniel Goleman As he notes, “speaking to power is, perhaps, the oldest of all ethical challenges.” He briefly discusses several plays (Sophocles’ Antigone, John Osborne’s Luther, and Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons) whose protagonist offers a reminder to leaders in our own time of the responsibility to create a transparent “culture of candor.” This precisely what Chaleff has in mind when examining “courageous followers” who, when involved in the dynamics of the leader-follower relationship, must summon the c courage to assume responsibility, to serve, to challenge, to participate in transformation, and to take moral action.
Meanwhile, Chaleff quite correctly poses this question to leaders: “Do you have the courage to listen to followers?” In the book’s final chapter, he shares his thoughts about how important it is for leaders to not only accept but encourage and indeed welcome “messages” that, although perhaps unpleasant to receive, need to be heard and carefully considered. Chaleff urges all leaders to invite “creative challenge” rather than discourage it.
For me, this is one of the most important points that Doris Kearns Goodwin makes in Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. When forming his cabinet after election as the 16th president in 1860, Abraham Lincoln assembled a cabinet whose members included several of his strongest political opponents: Edwin M. Stanton as Secretary of War (who had called Lincoln a “long armed Ape”), William H. Seward as Secretary of State (who was preparing his acceptance speech when Lincoln was nominated), Salmon P. Chase as Secretary of the Treasury (who considered Lincoln in all respects his inferior), and Edward Bates as Attorney General who viewed Lincoln as a well-meaning but incompetent administrator but later described him as “very near being a perfect man.”
It took great courage as a leader for Lincoln to include these opponents in his administration but he needed their advice prior to making what proved to be critically important decisions throughout the Civil War. He welcomed their dissent. Also to Lincoln’s considerable credit, he created a “culture of candor” in which it was not necessary for a follower to be courageous when “speaking to power.”
I highly admire this updated and expanded Third Edition of a book that can be of great value to those who must address today’s leadership crisis…and perhaps prevent tomorrow’s.
Like so many other heroes, William Wallace (Mel Gibson) is at first reluctant to assume the responsibilities of leadership but when he does, it is for a cause far more important than personal revenge: freedom. As for King Edward (Patrick McGoohan), I think his response was appropriate to the threat that insurrection posed. As in the business world, leaders in this and other films I have selected come in all sizes, shapes, flavors, etc.
This is one of my favorite westerns because of John Ford’s development of the contrasts between two quite different leadership styles: those of Capt. Kirby York (John Wayne) and Lt. Col. Owen Thursday (Henry Fonda). Thursday is a narcissist who is obsessed with resurrecting his military career with dramatic victories against the “heathens” whereas York is a realist, respects the Apaches, and does all he can to minimize the damage of Thursday’s arrogance. Ultimately, Thursday gives ill-advised orders that York feels obligated to follow. How many toxic leaders are there in the business world? How to cope with them?
Robert Bolt’s play and subsequent screenplay are based on sound historical material as Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield) attempts to avoid what proves to be an inevitable – and tragic – clash of wills with his king, Henry VIII (Robert Shaw). Scofield portrays a great but profoundly human person who refuses to “render unto Caesar” what he is obligated to give to his God. The greatest business leaders are those who do not (in Dante’s words) “preserve their neutrality when faced with in a moral crisis,” as did Cardinal Woolsey (Orson Welles) and others.
Brilliantly directed by Stanley Kubrick, this film examines still another reluctant hero, a French officer identified only as Col. Dax (Kirk Douglas), who is given an impossible assignment (i.e. to lead an attack on an impregnable enemy fortress) and then after inevitable failure, is ordered to defend during a military trial three of his men who are innocent victims of the grossly incompetent (if not evil) judgment of the French high command during World War One, notably Gen. Broulard (Adolph Menjou) and Gen. Paul Mireau (George Mcready). How many innocent victims are the result of corrupt corporate leadership?
This film never received the attention it deserves. It is set during the Korean War and the focus is on Lt. Joe Clemons (Gregory Peck) who, like Sisyphus, is required to lead his troops up and then down a hill of questionable strategic importance, again and again, while under almost constant attack…in this instance, by Red Chinese troops. There are no “villains” in this film. Of special interest to me is Clemons’ resemblance to another character also played by Peck, Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. Both want to do what is right, to obey the given orders or laws, and care deeply about those dependent on them. But they are also resolute, wholly committed to certain non-negotiable values. Quiet leaders are often the most effective.
This is another film brilliantly directed by Stanley Kubrick but of much greater scale than any of the others. The focus is on Spartacus (Kirk Douglas), still another reluctant leader but, once engaged (as is William Wallace) with efforts to achieve freedom for himself and his companions, nearly leads his army to victory against the mighty Roman forces led by Marcus Licinius Crassus (Laurence Olivier). Of special interest to me is Charles Laughton’s portrayal of Sempronius Gracchus, a public official who is simultaneously an idealist, a realist, a hedonist, and a manipulator. Once again, leadership in this film comes in all shapes, sizes, flavors, etc. Near the end, each of his followers stands up and proclaims “I am Spartacus!” preferring certain death (by crucifixion) to betraying him and their common cause. Today, how many companies have employees whose loyalty and engagement are comparable?
At first, this may seem like an odd choice to those who have not as yet seen the film. However, once they do, I think they will agree that it offers a rigorous and compelling analysis of a subordinate officer who systematically undermines his commanding officer, eventually causing him to suffer a nervous breakdown. Maj. Jock Sinclair (Alec Guinness) deeply resents that he was not promoted to battalion commander, a position assigned to Lt. Col. Basil Barrow (John Mills) whom Sinclair characterizes as a “toy soldier.” His cunning and timing are worthy of Iago in Othello and Edmund in King Lear. Meanwhile, Maj. Charles (Charlie) Scott (Dennis Price) observes developments with detachment, in every sense a bemused accomplice. He is clearly someone who preserves his neutrality “when faced with in a moral crisis.”
Under Sidney Lumet’s skillful direction, this film offers one of the most talented ensembles of actors I have as yet encountered. Almost all of the action (such as it is) occurs in a jury room where twelve men (each identified by number rather than by name) are charged with reaching a verdict. At first, there seems to be a rush to judgment, led by the foreman (Martin Balsam) under pressure from #7 (Jack Warden) and especially from #2 (Lee J. Cobb) However, #8 (Henry Fonda) has some issues and begins to address them, determined to slow the pace of the discussion. All of the jurors are engaged (to varying degrees) and most of them gradually begin to have their own doubts. Often, effective leadership is the result of taking however much time is necessary to ask the right question and then what the right answers are. There are significant differences between speed and haste, between a timely response and a knee-jerk reaction.
On frequent occasions, Gregory Peck said that this is one of his favorite films, together with To Kill a Mockingbird. He portrays General Frank Savage who is assigned by General Pritchard (Millard Mitchell) to replace Savage’s close friend, Col. Davenport (Gary Merrill) as commander of the 918th bomber squadron, based in England, because the squadron has been underperforming on its raids. Directed by Henry King, the film examines what Hemingway once described as “grace under duress” until, eventually, Savage’s emotional involvement results in his burnout as a leader. I am fascinated by the contrasting leadership styles of Savage, Merrill, and Pritchard, each of whom is under almost unbearable pressure to achieve the military objectives. Unlike another subordinate officer, Maj. Charles Scott (Dennis Price), in Tunes of Glory, Major Stovall (Dean Jagger) speaks frankly with Savage as morale deteriorates throughout the squadron but Stovall’s decency and compassion also come into play because he realizes that his commander, Savage, is struggling to cope with the same pressures and concerns that Davenport did. All CEOs should have such support from those who report directly to them.
This film is based on actual events that occurred during the Boer War when about 4,000 Zulu warriors attacked a British outpost, Rorke’s Drift, in 1879. It was defended by 139 Welsh infantrymen under the command of Lt. John Chard (Stanley Baker), an officer in the Royal Engineers who had no previous combat experience. His second-in-command is Lt. Gonville Bromhead (Michael Caine) with whom there are strained relations prior to the 12-hour battle. Bromhead is a somewhat pompous and arrogant aristocrat who correctly doubts Chard’s qualifications as a leader. Chard shares those doubts and comes across as a pragmatist without any pretensions who struggles to make the best of a desperate situation. Their backgrounds and personalities could not be more different and yet, once the ferocious attack begins, they rise to the challenge. Frequently in today’s business world, on-the-job training (e.g. developing leadership and management skills by assuming responsibility) is the only option.
In this series, Bob Morris poses a key question and then responds to it with material from one or more of the business books he has reviewed for Amazon and Borders.
As James O’Toole explains in Transparency: How Leaders Create a Culture of Candor, co-authored with Warren Bennis and Daniel Goleman, “managers in companies with healthy cultures are constantly willing to rethink their most basic assumptions through a process of constructive dissent…companies get into moral and competitive hot water when their leaders are unwilling to test their operating premises about such once-taboo subjects as the nature of the working conditions they offer employees, the purposes of their corporation, and their responsibilities to various stakeholders.”
In his Divine Comedy, Dante reserves the last and worst ring in hell for those who, in a moral crisis, preserve their neutrality. Here are three examples of “speaking to power” from non-business sources:
1. In Sophocles’ play, Antigone, (the source of the modern cliché “killing the messenger”), palace guards draw straws. The loser will be the one to tell King Creon that his niece, Antigone, has defied his royal edict and, worse yet, the people support her. The guard risks the possibility of death and Antigone’s defiance ensures hers.
2. The same is true of Sir Thomas More, the subject of Robert Bolt’s play (A Man for All Seasons) on which a film was based, starring Paul Scofield as More and Robert Shaw as Henry VIII. It should be noted that More remains true to his conscience but also to his monarch (“Can I help my king by giving him lies when he asks for truth?”) and is nonetheless executed for “speaking to power.”
3. In another film, based on Giles Foden’s novel (The Last King of Scotland), a fictitious doctor named Nicholas Garrigan is employed by Ugandan president Idi Amin, After submitting to the dictator’s will and observing his brutality for several years, Garrigan finally “speaks to power” and is brutally punished.
In the corporate world, O’Toole notes, “The centrality of transparency to organizational health is well documented.” He cites a recent study of a cross-section of American workers, indicating that only a third reported any “bad news” to their supervisors because they feared retaliation or doubted that anything would be done about it. “The missing element, in essence, is trust [and] if there is one clear moral lesson about organizations, it is that trust is an essential ingredient to their effectiveness. The problem is that most leaders do not know how to create a bond of trust with followers.”
Comments, questions, requests, or suggestions? Please share them. They will be most welcome and I thank you for them. Best regards, Bob