Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Defenders – Leadership Training?

Last night I watched a new show - “The Defenders” - about a couple of Las Vegas attorneys who are part Robin Hood and part con artist. The show was quite entertaining, but led me to think about its role as a leadership lab for us viewers to learn from.

Here's the four themes running through the first episode:

Nick & Pete interacting – two rather cynical guys practicing law together. Informal leadership bounces between them freely, although Nick is the senior partner. They freely debate what to do but back the other's play once an action is decided. There's a mixture of unimpressive and wiz-bang – transportation is an old classic auto – like a Chevy II convertible however they advertise the firm (and the two of them) on a huge billboard using a vinyl sign (new technology).

Nick and his wife – they are separated but it is clear - they would both like to be back together AND they can't figure out how...and make things worse. This bitter-sweet relationship is entertaining only because you can quickly see how the conversation will turn out even in its early stages.

Pete and the junior associate – he bamboozles the new junior associate into covering an arraignment, and then abandons her to do it. Later they talk (she was yelling) and he shares a story of his first day and how he was thrown to the lions – but also was victorious. While she was skeptical, he continued with how this proved to be a strong foundation for a successful practice and pointed out that she was successful in her first assignment and cataloged how far she had come. Was he sincere or was he 'spinning a tale'? The new associate came away with confidence in her ability and led her to suggest what became a break in their case.

Gutsy approach to case resolution – the two of them pull all the stops to get the outcome they want. Their client was in a jury trial for murder and the jury asked for guidance from the judge, who was going to give instruction on a lesser charge, but Nick got the judge so mad at him that he ended up refusing to give the instruction and their client was found not guilty.

Each of these themes is pretty simple but should give rich material for the season. After all, the Star Trek programs in the different iterations and movies went on for 30+ years on a very simple premise: Gene Roddenberry had a social conscience and incorporated various issues in the programs around the constant tension between the need for humans to meddle and the Prime Directive which prohibited meddling.

Both shows are useful for leadership labs to see how situations develop and what we can learn from them, And with The Defenders, some entertainment for Wednesday evenings.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Beacon or Gadabout - What's the Board Done This Time?

Have you ever watched ants?  Industrious little creatures in reaching their goal (how can they get into that sealed container?), the 'ant-path' to arrive there is fascinating.  As singles and in small groups, the ant-path is halting and confused - sometime this way, sometimes that way, sometimes back the way they came ... helter skelter with no clear path or rationale.  When in a group, the ant-path is never a straight line to the goal, but a march in a wavering column - meandering single file in a general direction.  No shortest distance from A to B for these guys.

This week Alan Weiss wrote his thoughts about Hewlett-Packard’s Board being human - excusing them for serial mistakes which have taken the firm, known for innovative and superior products, such as calculators (still have my 12C bought in early 1980's) and printers, on a confusing get & purge spree that has driven the stock price to almost nothing.

To me this is a good reminder that boards have a group dynamic going on which can make them drift from the vision and mission into some pretty rough turf for no apparent gain.  The HP Board is mimicking an 'ant-path' approach to moving the company forward, which puts HP in play and can allow Oracle to swoop in to get EDS for a song and finance it by selling off the other HP units to eager buyers. Of course there are plenty of examples of boardroom miscalculations which have crippled or sunk organizations. 

We as leaders, whether in a board capacity or as a key player in our firm, can learn from such examples and determine how an action (and its inherent risks) supports the vision and mission - or why the vision and mission needs an update or overhaul to support it.  A beacon sheds light and offers direction, while a gadabout is founded on whimsey and offers confusion - which leads to a brighter future?

Have you been faced with the question: 'What's the Board Done This Time?'

Our next programs are
Wednesday, September 15th, Noon How To Get More Value From Your Existing Resources, Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce, and Thursday, September 16th, 7:15am to 8:30,Championship Leadership in Resource Constrained Markets,  Intelligent Office, Rockville,