Professional Development

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Leadership at the Movies - Part 2

Thursday, 08 May 2014 06:33

What does it take to be an effective leader? Last week, we offered the first five principles of Bill Stanczykiewicz’s 2014 NAA Annual Convention presentation that revealed the essential characteristics of leadership. Here are the next steps to completing that transformation.

The leader makes the final decision. The best leaders ask the right questions of their colleagues and gather as much information as possible during the decision-making process. Most often, the right decision becomes apparent to everyone involved, and the leader has led the team toward consensus. When consensus is not evident, the leader then must make the final decision.

Throughout this process all information—positive and negative—needs to be shared with the entire team. Constructive candor is essential to the point of colleagues disagreeing with each other and even with the leader. Only in this transparent environment will good ideas become better and bad ideas—including the bad ideas of the leader—be stopped.

In Ike, observe how Gen. Eisenhower allows his generals to debate with each other and even disagree with him as they make final preparations for D-Day. Then observe how he delivers his final decision, and how the transparent process that led to his decision also leads to buy-in from his colleagues.

Just about every player in Major League Baseball can hit the fastball. The best hitters, however, are those who can hit the curve ball, the off-speed pitch, the surprise breaking pitch. If an organization faced nothing but fastballs, organizations would not need leaders. Leaders are needed to develop plans and make decisions, and leaders are especially needed when there are changes to the plan, something unexpected happens, a challenge arises or a new opportunity develops. If everything went smoothly and according to plan, the leader would not be needed.

In Apollo 13, watch how Gene handles curve ball after curve ball. The space ship has an explosion. The round air filters cannot fit into the square cartridges to produce fresh oxygen. There is not enough electricity on the spacecraft to bring the astronauts back to earth safely. In these various scenes, watch how Gene casts vision, is open and transparent with all information, and allows his team members to disagree with each other and with him. Gene then makes well-informed decisions that lead to the eventual safe return of the Apollo 13 crew.

As a successful leader, more people will bring you more good ideas. You have demonstrated that you can produce results, so you are presented with more opportunities for your organization. You also have a talented team, and you encourage their candor—even to the point of openly disagreeing with you. Thus empowered, those team members have many ideas for the organization and even some requests for themselves.

The leader cannot say “yes” to everything. This will cause the organization to drift away from vision, mission, and strategy, spreading the organization too thin and diluting the organization’s impact. In terms of staff, if all team members could simply implement any idea at any time—or change their own work conditions—then the organization would not need a leader (and also would not long survive!).

Bruce Almighty portrays TV newscaster Bruce Nolan receiving the powers of God over a specific region of Buffalo, New York. When Bruce starts hearing the prayers of the people in that region, he decides the right and easy answer is “yes to all!” Watch the consequences of Bruce’s decision, and determine if those are the consequences you want for yourself and your organization.

Anyone can lead when all is well. The leader, however, especially is needed when times are tough. Some difficulties are simply the everyday challenges of organizational life. Other challenges, however, are more serious and even tragic. During these difficult times, the team looks to the leader for direction, guidance, and even reassurance. The leader cannot hide. Instead, the leader must show up.

Toward the end of Apollo 13, the damaged spacecraft is ready to re-enter the earth’s atmosphere. A NASA communications director informs a top NASA executive of all that can go wrong. Watch how Gene reacts. Observe how he glares at his own boss. Gene shows up on behalf of his team members, the astronauts, and for NASA itself.

Effective leadership is essential for a successful organization, and leadership is not for everyone. If you can’t think first of your organization and your colleagues, you should not be the leader. If you cannot be rigorous when hiring and—when necessary—terminating employment, you should not be the leader. If you are not comfortable in a transparent environment that encourages information sharing and disagreement—including disagreement with you—that does not make you a bad person. You just should not be the leader. The same is true if you cannot say “no,” or if you are not willing and able to “show up” when times are tough.

However, if these are leadership traits that you have, or that you are willing to develop, your leadership is needed on behalf of the people served by your organization. While leadership is not easy, effective leadership brings harmony to an organization, in the same way the substitute teacher recruits and develops his rock band of students in School of Rock.

Bill Stanczykiewicz is President & CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. He can be reached at and followed on Twitter at: @_billstan. Image courtesy of Supertrooper/

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