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Collateral Damage in Leadership

Updated on September 9, 2015


Whether in leadership, management, aspire to, or are not in leadership use the following information as a guide when faced with making popular and unpopular decisions. Leaders’ create vision, strategy, and build synergy throughout the organization to support that vision. Managers’ monitor work and ensure personnel follow policy.

  • Sean Connery and Kevin Costner in “The Untouchables”, Gene Hackman and Owen Wilson, in “Behind Enemy Lines”,Bruce Willis in “Tears of the Sun”, Sigourney Weaver and Sam Worthington in “Avatar”.These movies represent people working in structured hierarchies that place a high value on following orders. Yet when faced with an unpopular decision, they responded with the confidence and guts to stand up for what they believed was the best solution. Sean Connery was a street cop that Federal agent, Kevin Costner recruited in the Untouchables. Kevin Costner trusted Sean Connery’s knowledge, and decided to follow Connery’s instruction and brought Al Capone to justice.
  • The difference between a leader and a manager has more to do with the decisions, actions, and words than job titles. A leader accepts the consequences of and is often defined by their decisions. A manager habitually does not interpret or deviate from policy; the goal is to encourage conformity. Gene Hackman ignored the Pentagon’s directive to follow North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) policy and sent a rescue squad to retrieve pilot, Owen Wilson from the Bosnia demilitarized zone in Behind Enemy Lines, at the sacrifice of his career as an Admiral.
  • Bruce Willis ignored commands to retrieve only medical personnel from violent political engineering by rebels in Nigeria. The Navy SEAL team rescued medical personnel, relief workers, and other West Africans, while losing team members to gunfire in Tears from the Sun. Sigourney Weaver and Sam Worthington ignored military orders to destroy Pandora for profit and joined the Na’vi people in the fight to keep their land at their own peril, in Avatar. Not glorifying or advocating ignoring orders but consider the affect each functional approach has on building trust and achieving success in teams.

Both functions are necessary especially for businesses that use systems and intelligent controls to get results. When making decisions, consider any choice made outside the system often results in collateral damage. Use the following as a guide to think through consequences of making unpopular decisions.

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