Invictus: Real Leadership, Real Management

This week we’ll be exploring the theme that business is inherently personal, and that we’ve forgotten that fact to our detriment.

Last weekend I saw the movie Invictus, Clint Eastwood’s latest, about the early days of Nelson Mandela’s presidency in South Africa. It stars Morgan Freeman (of course) as Mandela, and Matt Damon, as captain of the hapless rugby Springboks, South Africa’s version of the Chicago Cubs.

Mandela knew that the Springboks were as hated by the black population as they were beloved by the Afrikaaner whites. His insight was to see the power of reconciliation that could be achieved if the team were to pull off the equivalent of the 1980 US Olympic hockey team’s victory.

The movie reviews are mostly positive; even the critical ones suggest that Eastwood got the critical story right. And the true story itself is so enormous that it needs no embellishment. For my part, Eastwood has rounded the sharp edges over the years, and increased the role of heart. For me, he has earned the right (since as far back as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly et al) to jerk my heart around pretty much as he wishes.

But this is a business blog, not a movie blog.

The Best Way to Lead, and the Best Way to Manage

We meet Mandela just after he has been elected president, after nearly 30 years in prison. His power lies in the overwhelming respect he merits by forgiving all those who imprisoned him.

In his first meeting with the Matt Damon character, Pinnear, Mandela asks him a question: How do you lead? Pinnear’s answer is clear, and Mandela delightedly agrees with him.

The best way to lead is to lead by example.

Mandela leads by refusing to fire the white former security officers, thus personally demonstrating reconciliation of the highest order on Day One of his administration.

The second question Mandela poses is, what is the best way to manage? And his answer is equally clear.

The best way to manage is through inspiration. And the best way to inspire is to demand of others things they cannot themselves conceive of accomplishing.

As Pinnear’s wife asks him how the meeting went, it dawns on Pinnear that Mandela has just acted on those two questions–by asking him to lead the hapless Springboks to (gasp) the World Cup championship, a goal he himself could hardly conceive of.

Leadership and Management: Whatever Happened to Role-modeling and Inspiration?

It was only 15 years ago that Collins and Poras conceived of BHAGs–Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals.

It was 21 years ago that C.K. Prahalad suggested that Strategic Intent–basically a "stretch" view based on direction, discovery and destiny–should inform strategy.

Warren Bennis has been preaching for many decades now the importance of role-modeling.

Yet what do we have these days?

  • Chuck Prince, former CEO of Citibank, says "As long as the music’s playing, you’ve got to get up and dance." Role-modeling? I don’t think so.
  • The image that remains today from "Shoeless" Joe Jackson’s 1919 conspiracy to fix the World Series is that of a kid saying, "Say it ain’t so, Joe!" In other words, dismay at the betrayal of a role-model. The fallout from today’s flame-out by Tiger Woods is discussed more in terms of brand image than of leadership.
  • The dialogue these days about the financial meltdown is centering on compensation incentives and structural reform. Management by inspiration? Not in evidence lately.

 

The point is not whether scientific management doesn’t have its place; surely it does. But that place has been overdone to the detriment of both leadership and management.

This is not some untested thesis. Mandela accomplished some remarkable things by applying these human principles to an "organization" of some 50 million people, and to problems as intractable as racism. Makes Citibank look like a walk in the park.

Whether you liked the movie or not, Clint Eastwood is channeling a message for our times.

1 reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *