The more I think about character-based leadership and the leadership traits I want to model, I keep coming back to the gap between who you lead and who you serve. Character-based leaders tend to line those up pretty closely. The question seems to be:
How big is your “WE”?
You know what I ‘m talking about. When you say “WE,” who’s included? If it’s just the people who can sign your checks, that’s a pretty small group. Maybe it’s just you. Maybe it’s all of your friends or people you like? Is it your whole organization? What about your whole nation?
After thinking about it, I wonder if sometimes, our WE expands when we expect trouble and shrink when we expect gain? That’s for another post.
Leadership at the Movies
I was struck by a couple of war movies that demonstrated my belief that character-based leaders develop or grow the size of their WE. This post is about the examples provided in the 1955 version of Mister Roberts starring Henry Fonda, Jack Lemon and James Cagney. James Cagney played Captain Morton, a man clearly obsessed with his record and reputation. The ship won a palm tree for the amount of cargo they moved. The palm became a symbol of everything the men didn’t like.
The captain stayed up in his quarters all day every day. He insisted the men work long hours with their shirts on even when the heat was bitter. Lt. JG Doug Roberts, play by Henry Fonda was always looking out for the men. He would often do things to make the jobs easier for the men even at the expense of his relationship with the captain. Doug consistently asks to be transferred to a battleship. He doesn’t want to miss the war and the men of the crew join him in his pursuit of a transfer. The key conflict occurs when Doug agrees to stop submitting requests for transfer in exchange for a liberty for the men. Its quite a sacrifice on Doug’s part, but he never shares it with the men. The liberty goes bad and the captain is embarrassed when asked to leave port.
From Wikipedia: “The men of the ship are mystified by Roberts’ new strict attitude. Morton falsely hints to them that Roberts is interested in promotion. When a crew member informs Roberts of a new policy which might assist him in getting a transfer despite the captain’s opposition, Roberts responds sharply and refuses to take advantage of it. Roberts’ friendly rapport with the crew is affected.”
Two interchanges between Doug and the Captain and one between the Captain and the crew, demonstrate a key difference between a character-based leader and a position-based one. The captain refers to the palm tree as his even though the crew sacrificed so the ship could win the award. He speaks of how his reputation was tarnished by the crew’s behavior on liberty. He also states his opinions about Doug, “college boys” and the crew in reference to himself. “I’m not going to stand for that any more.” The captain is clearly in the center of his own world.
Doug is no angel. He experiences anger with his situation, toward the leader and to some degree he even resists the temptation to be angry toward the men. He does look out for the crew, the people actually doing the work. He knows the effort is theirs and the rewards should be too. He holds them accountable for their work and for their behavior on liberty, but in the end, he’s for the men. Doug’s WE includes the men. The captain’s WE does not.
Who are you FOR?
A character-based leader is for people, helping them make the most of their life as they help the organization reach it’s goals and objectives. Those people need to be working for the organization’s goals, which I’ll cover in another post.
Examine your WE. Who makes up the community of people you serve? It should at least be your team. Even if you’re the low man on the org chart, you gain influence and authority as you demonstrate to others that you’re for them; that your WE includes them. The more people in your WE, the greater potential impact your leadership will have.