The movie Twelve O’Clock High, in which Gregory Peck portrays a B-17 squadron commander in WWII, provides an important principle of leadership.Â It graphically demonstrates that to do his job right, a leader must not be concerned with whether his followers like him or not.
The movie also accurately portrays another important aspect of leadership â€“ what is commonly called the “loneliness of command.”Â In this film, General Frank Savage has been given the tough assignment of turning around a demoralized squadron whose pilots have developed a bad case of self-pity due to the relentless pounding they are taking on their bombing runs over Germany.
It’s evident that the General is a caring commander as shown in the scene where he shares a cigarette break with his enlisted driver before driving onto the base to begin his difficult task.Â Once there he plays the “hard ass” who has come to restore discipline and confidence in his men.
The tough love approach quickly alienates the pilots, but that doesn’t concern the General, at least outwardly.Â Dean Jagger, playing the civilian lawyer turned squadron adjutant, begins to see through the General’s tough faÃ§ade and realizes what he is trying to do.Â Yet the General keeps his own counsel and doesn’t tip his hand despite the adjutant’s growing collaboration in his plan.Â Ultimately, the strain of Savage’s concern for his men as the continued bombing runs take their toll on the revitalized squadron causes the General to suffer a breakdown â€“ dramatically demonstrating the burdens of command.
But the lesson here is the portrayal of the loneliness at the top where the leader, despite his many burdens, keeps his own counsel and outwardly maintains his distant, command presence, regardless of his own doubts and fears.Â In this situation Savage knows that his hard-nosed approach is the only way to galvanize the men into action and shake them out of their lethargy and self-pity.Â So he makes himself their enemy and the focus of their wrath.Â While no leaders enjoy being despised by his followers, the General refuses to confide his plans to his men or fellow officers.
The lesson here is plain.Â Leaders must sometimes do tough, unpopular things in service to larger goals.Â Sometimes they will be vilified for their efforts, yet a true leader does not attempt to share his burdens by confiding in his followers, no matter what his concern, worries, or self-doubt.Â He knows that success, when achieved, will be the self-evident vindication of his plans and actions.Â In the meantime, he has the emotional maturity to realize that sharing his concerns with his subordinates will undermine the larger effort he has undertaken.
While this example of leadership is set in the life and death situation of combat, it still applies to the less dramatic setting of club management.Â In making tough decisions for the larger good of the club, the leader cannot be swayed or influenced by personal concerns of friendship with subordinates.Â If he has allowed himself to get too close to his followers, his judgment may be affected and he will find it difficult to do the right things.Â For this reason, while a leader must value his employees, treat them with kindness and respect, and engage with them daily, he must always maintain a professional distance between himself and his followers.Â Only then can he be “free” to do what is necessary for the larger good of the club.
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This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers â€” those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.
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