• Leadership Development and Team Building — Gandhi & Patton

    Gandhi and Patton. Two compelling movies about two great leaders. You couldn’t imagine two people with more different personality styles and roles – one soft spoken and the other brash; one a political leader committed to non-violence and the other a great military leader. There is a lot to learn from each leader individually, and also from comparing and contrasting the two leaders. Pay attention for insights on themes such as leadership development, team building, human resources, conflict resolution, corporate culture (team & organizational culture), leadership traits, and more.

    Leadership Development – Gandhi

    Gandhi (1982, starring Ben Kingsley) is a powerful movie about one of the most important, influential, and innovative political figures the world has ever seen. Lots of great questions to ask here… What made Gandhi such a powerful leader? What are his best personality traits, skills, and virtues? What were his shining moments as a leader (at least in the movie)? In what important ways was his non-violent approach not passive or pacifism, but rather active, proactive, and assertive? What was so brilliant and powerful about his non-violent approach, and how does that strategy or approach apply to the contemporary work world? Can you think of issues in your business in which it would pay to “take the high road”? Would Gandhi have been as successful if he had tried to fight the British with violence, and what can we learn from that regarding leveraging our strengths, organizational strategy, integrity, and courage?

    Team Building – Patton

    Patton (1970, written by F.F. Coppola) depicts Patton’s role as a very effective traditional command-and-control style leader… a completely different leadership style than Gandhi. When you look closely, however, you will see that despite the huge apparent difference in style, Patton and Gandhi share many personal qualities.

    Try this little exercise: how many significant similarities and differences can you spot between Patton and Gandhi – in terms of their best qualities and strengths as leaders? What do you admire most and least about Patton – what would you do differently as a leader? What are Patton’s weaknesses? Have you ever seen those weaknesses in the workplace? What generally happens when those particular weaknesses are left unchecked or run amok? What were his unique strengths; how and when do they work best; and what are the risks of letting those strengths go unchecked? We know that over-doing our strengths can cause problems. What can you learn from Gandhi and Patton for today’s work-world?

    Imitation Versus Finding Your Own Voice – Be Yourself

    Human beings learn from others. More than 2300 years ago, Aristotle pointed out the importance of learning from imitation. Nevertheless, leaders, like artists, are not merely imitators. They don’t just copy; they also pave the way. Leaders are expected to make decisions, create new solutions, and chart new paths through the landmines of the competitive landscape…

    We need to learn from others, and yet we also have to be original. When we learn from others (movies, books, and real life leaders), it is crucial to find a balance between imitation and charting our own path… and do it in a way that enables us to remain true to ourselves throughout our leadership development.

    Inauthentic Imitation – Learning the Hard Way

    Here is a personal story about imitating other leaders. In my first executive position, I worked for a firm in which two people clearly stood out as the best leaders in the organization. They both had the exact same personality style: they were both driven, “Type A”, charismatic, command-and-control style leaders, and perhaps a little on the macho side. They were classic leaders; the kind you see all the time in movies; and they did it well: great results, loyal following, admired and imitated by all.

    I found out immediately that imitating their behavior did not work for me. My personality style is so different from theirs that when I imitated them I simply looked stupid—like a faker, a charlatan. It was an embarrassing part of my leadership development journey. It is pretty difficult to have credibility when people see you as a poser, as credibility is crucial for successful leaders.

    Finding Leadership Inspiration Everywhere

    I learned from my imitation missteps that I had to find my own voice as a leader. Imitation only works when it’s authentic, that is, aligned with who I am and what works for me. I had to discover and acknowledge what makes me unique, what makes me tick, what works for me – and give myself some space to be different, while also respecting organizational culture. As soon as I figured this out, I was able to learn from those two “Type A” leaders – I just had to do it my own way. This discovery freed me up to learn from anybody and everybody: I could take and customize almost any lesson in leadership and adapt it for my own purposes, on my own terms. Since then I have actively searched for leadership development lessons from great leaders in business, politics, science, the military, sports, and even the arts. From those lessons, I figure out practical applications for myself and other business leaders.

    Think about it: if Gandhi was simply imitating General Patton he would not have been his best as a leader; he would not have been nearly as successful. And vice versa—just imagine General Patton imitating Gandhi! I can’t imagine that working out very well. Unless that is, Patton already had a strong sense of self and self-understanding before trying to learn from Gandhi, in which case, the potential for learning might have been almost limitless.

    You will be at your best as a leader, and be able to learn from a broader range of ideas and examples if you can identify and affirm what makes you unique and find your own voice as a leader. Learn from everyone but do it in your own way – a way that plays to your strengths and values.

    Joel Shapiro is a leadership educator and culture guru with Incrementa Consulting in Calgary, Canada. Joel is passionate about developing leadership capacity, making employees part of the solution, and finding the perfect blend of humanity and business performance. You can read more of Joel’s thoughts on the Incrementa website and on Twitter

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