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Managing when leadership is needed

Posted: August 18, 2014 11:50 a.m.
Updated: August 18, 2014 11:50 a.m.

When the movie “The Devil Wears Prada” was over, my wife turned to me and asked me what I thought. I told it was one of the best movies on business and leadership I had ever seen.

Since that “Ah-Hah!” moment, I have not watched a movie without looking at the plot and characters as they relate to leadership, management, teamwork or all three.

Some of the best movies I’ve seen on this include “Moneyball,” “13 Days,” “Chef,” “Miracle” and “Master and Commander.”

My personal favorite is “Patton,” and the reason I enjoy it so much is because George C. Scott, playing the general, moves very effectively back and forth between acting as a leader or manager, depending on what the situation requires.

As the movie opens, Patton inherits a mess: the Americans have been beaten in their first major battle in North Africa (Kasserine Pass) and the officers and men are deeply discouraged and unsure of their own capabilities.

They lack leadership, discipline, direction, and lack a clear mission.

Patton steps in and assumes the role of micro-manager, taking on the task of fixing the situation at a tactical level.

As the movie starts, Patton arrives early and unexpectedly at his new assignment and immediately inspects the officer’s mess. His walk-through inspection is a classic; he puts the fear of God into everyone he comes into contact with.

In less than a minute he establishes very clear expectations to be followed to the smallest detail, ordering his men to follow policy of officers wearing ties and leggings; what time the mess hall opens and closes each morning and fines the cook as an example of what others might expect if his orders are not followed.

He continues his inspection into the enlisted men’s barracks, surprising the men and whenever he finds fault, he makes it clear that he is unhappy and expects more from the men.

Patton is not afraid to drive his officers and men through intimidation, through use of a loud voice, through theatrics; even a sarcastic sense of humor works well.

Later than same morning, in a meeting with the British to discuss air support at Kasserine, Patton minces no words as to where the blame goes for losing the battle and makes it clear the subpar performance of the British Air Force will not be repeated under any circumstances.

This being a Hollywood movie, of course, the drama and humor have likely been enhanced.

But many business owners are guilty of being managers all the time instead of when the occasion warrants it.

Peter Drucker said that “Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things.”

For the remainder of the movie, Patton acts as a leader, making sure that those who serve him know the goal, and he fights to make sure that his army has the tools they need to win the war.

But near the end of the movie, when the American Army is racing across France to the German border, Patton runs into a traffic jam between competing columns and jumps into the fray to become, literally, a traffic cop. The next scene is talking post war strategy with his commander.

This ability to jump in and out of the roles of leader and manager and back again is not one I have seen many owners successfully pull off.

Managing will get today’s work done today, which is great. Customers will appreciate it and employees will keep busy.

The leadership role is all about tomorrow; not the next day but six or twelve months from now.
If you are not leading your business into the future, your company might just not have one unless you decide to change.

Ken Keller facilitates The Wise Owners Advisory Boards, bringing business owners together for education, sharing and on-going success. Contact him at Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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