I had the honor to be asked to serve as “guest faculty” at a Management Excellence event this week.
I learned as much, I think, as the participants. It was a terrific experience, and I got to practice some skills myself by virtue of knowing I should at many times listen to how things were said rather than what was said.
I also led some sessions. My first session was on managing up. I started with a scene from the movie Gettysburg — a film well worth watching in its entirety, BTW. In the scene, Southern General Longstreet — Lee’s #2 guy — orders General Hood to “take that mountain” (Little Round Top). Hood recognizes it is a poor tactic and proposes an alternative — a tactic Longstreet himself preferred. But Lee had ordered Longstreet specifically to capture the hill. And so Longstreet passes the order to Hood, who is later unable to execute successfully.
My obvious intent was to focus attention and to provide two examples of managing up, a direct one (Hood to Longstreet) and an indirect one (Longstreet reporting on his failure to convince Lee). We had a good discussion on the scene as metaphor that led to analysis of manage-up tactics, concepts, etc.
But what I found really interesting was the number of times later in the week I or others would refer to that scene. It became a metaphor for a number of items — management vs. leadership, the difference among mission, vision, and goals, and more.
It reminded me — again — of how powerful storytelling and metaphor are as management tools.
Leaders lead by telling stories — not battle stories, but personal tales of your vision, future histories of a better world. Steve Jobs is famous for his “reality distortion field,” but all leaders do it.
Think of Reagan and “morning again in America,” or Clinton and his “bridge to the 21st century.” They’re memorable phrases, but they stem from stories in which the speakers believed and wanted us to believe. And they’re powerful visual images, too.
Management may often be words and numbers, but leadership is pictures and vision. If visuals are a powerful teaching tool, as I rediscovered, think how much more powerful they are when they’re part of your story.
Oh — and if Lee had listened to Longstreet or Longstreet to his heart, all us Yankees might live in a narrower nation of but 35 states. (It makes an intriguing alternate-history debate over a few beers if you’re a history buff.)