Books on leadership fill an entire bookcase at my local Barnes & Noble. Most are pap and/or ego fodder for retired business executives. There are a few useful gems. For example, Peter Drucker was a student of leadership in the business world and his comments are objective and convincing. Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin is a fascinating study of the leadership style and skills of Abraham Lincoln. The latter is remarkable because of the enormous stress Lincoln suffered during the Civil War -- in no small part while surrounded by politicians who either wanted his job or the failure of his initiatives. For leaders or leaders-in-waiting in the medical world, Team of Rivals comes closer to what one might face in academia or other large medical organizations.
But one may observe examples of good leadership in everyday life under seemingly mundane or odd circumstances. Here are some examples that I have observed:
· The head chef in a busy restaurant kitchen must oversee a complex service that resembles an operating room. The scene of careful preparation, timing, efficiency, and cleanliness by a well-trained and experienced team working under pressure is truly amazing to watch.
· A project manager overseeing a large building project depends on skilled tradesmen, electricians, plumbers, and many others that must be safely orchestrated to arrive and depart on time, to meet building code specifications, and to complete the whole process on time and on budget to avoid a financial penalty. The project manager must have substantial experience and the confidence of the tradesmen and his or her boss. Strong leadership is the key to success.
· Finally, here is an example from a movie. Pirates of the Caribbean--The Curse of the Black Pearl is one of a trilogy of action-comic films starring Johnny Depp as the ever resourceful and adventuresome pirate, Jack Sparrow. He loses his ship, the Black Pearl, and much of the movie deals with overcoming the “bad guys” (there are several groups of bad guys, including Sparrow at times) and regaining his ship and crew. At the end of the movie, despite some hurt feelings and a few deaths and zombies here and there, he gets his ship and crew.
They all are happy to be back together and Sparrow looks down at this crew and gives the order, “Bring me to the horizon.” The crew cheers their leader, raises the sails, and off they go to adventure and booty. His crew trusts him (at least eventually) and trusts his judgment (mostly), and he and they have a shared vision.
Sparrow is a leader -- ironically more so than the others, because the reality of leadership is that things often go wrong. If they didn’t, you wouldn’t need a leader. Think of Abe Lincoln.