Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Twelve O'Clock High, Developing Leadership Skills

I watched Twelve O'Clock High as part of my MBA through the University of Florida. The class is MAN 5141, Developing Leadership Skills. I really enjoyed the class and its unorthodox material, including this DVD, Machiavelli's The Prince and Cialdini's Influence.

Our first assignment for this class was to review and answer some questions about Twelve O'Clock High and our last assignment is to revisit it.
I want you to go back to the first 3 assignments that you submitted about the film. Now write a two-page paper about how you would answer the questions now, having seen the film. I don't want you to work on all of the questions, just those that you think are (1) most important and (2) the ones which you think about differently.
  1. Why is the 918th Bomb Group in trouble?
    The 918th is in trouble because they are unprepared and poorly trained. Initially, I fell for the same trap that they did and blamed their trouble on the conditions under which they were operating. They were precision bombing and intended to destroy specific targets, rather than the common practice of randomly dropping bombs over wide areas. The conditions aren't causing their "hard luck" and casualties. They're unpreparedness for a new tactic due to poor leadership is the reason they are in trouble.
  2. Watch Colonel Davenport’s leadership style. Why isn’t it working?
    My initial response was that he was too close to his men, and he started focusing too much on their feelings and not enough on their mission. I still believe this. However, I don't believe this would always be a problem. It is in this situation because his man lack sufficient training and are in such an emotional funk. They need a kick in the pants; not a hug.

    But there are times when good leadership is being sympathetic. We saw this with Savage. He recognized the 918th lack of focus and ability and whipped them into shape, but then shifted his leadership style to one that was more sympathetic.
  3. What is the purpose of the practice missions?
    I read too much into this on the first go around. I thought Savage had some deeper meaning to get his men to stop focusing on themselves and their "luck" and more on hating him. Anything to get them out of their "Whoa-is-me" attitude. But it was much simpler than that. Because Savage wasn't as close to the men as Davenport, he could see his men simply lacked the training necessary for their style of missions. He, like a coach with a struggling player, took the men back to square one and had them build the fundamentals needed to complete their task.
  4. What is the major difference between Savage and Davenport?
    Again, I feel I whiffed on this one, too. I pointed to leadership styles, focus and stability. But now, I feel the major difference was time. We don't get to see what Davenport was like when he first took command of the 918th or any other group. Savage and Major General Patrick Pritchard have great respect for him and feel he is a capable leader, so maybe, at one point, he was and the time he spent with the 918th broke him. We saw this happen to Savage, too.
  5. Why did he break?
    Savage "broke" because he began to see himself as solely responsible for the 918th. This is seen when Pritchard tries to get Savage to return to a staff job, but Savage refuses, claiming the 918th can't fully function without him. So, when the loses begin to mount, Savage takes them upon himself and falls into the same trap in which Davenport fell.
  6. Why was he able to turn the Group around?
    Savage turned the group around because he equipped them emotionally and physically to take care of themselves. He empowered them with the responsibility and tools needed to complete their missions. He was able to identify what they needed because he wasn't close to them yet, and like a business consultant, he had no personal or emotional attachment to the men.
  7. What can we learn from Ben Gately?
    This was my favorite part of the movie. Gately went from being arrested for being Absent Without Leave to flying three missions with a cracked vertebrae. Savage transformed Gately from the spoiled son of a general who failed to live up to his talent into a man who sacrificed himself for his comrades and lead them to victory. Gately taught me that people can be inspired and often need to be challenged in harsh way rather than given up on.

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