Some people might say a good leaders is born that way. It is true that some individuals have a natural instinct to lead people, but they also have tools to help them in their success. In watching the movie Twelve O’clock High we see different types of leadership. Why is Colonel Keith Davenport’s leadership ineffective in comparison to General Frank Savage’s leadership? With all the men of the 918th Bomb Group loyal to Colonel Davenport, what steps does Gen Savage take to not only win their loyalty but make them an effective team? While working on a project is a lot different than fighting a war, we see how good leadership techniques, trust, good communication, developing leaders, and instilling a sense of pride can turn around the poorest of teams. If you have an ineffective leader, chances are the team will be ineffective.
There were many deficiencies in Colonel Davenport’s leadership style. Colonel Davenport was more focused on each individual in his group than he was on the mission at hand. He had the loyalty of his men but failed to lead them. When one of his men failed to accomplish their mission or messed up, Colonel Davenport assumed responsibility and failed to discipline them. When Colonel Davenport received orders to push his men to the maximum potential, he wouldn’t, for fear of burning them out. While Colonel Davenport could not see his deficiencies in his leadership, it could be seen by the commanding General of the VIII Bomber Command, Eighth Air Force. General Pritchard brought Brigadier General Frank Savage in to see if he could fix not only the leadership problem but the productivity of the men in the 918th Bomb Group.
When Brigadier Frank Savage arrived at the 918th Bomb Group he went right to work. One of the first items on his agenda was restoring the military standards that had become very laidback. We see this in a couple of scenes. He reprimands the gate guard for not checking his identification card upon entering the base. When he walks into his new office he catches Sergeant Mclllheny typing without his uniform top on. Brigadier General Savage immediately reduces him in rank and tells him why. Word soon travels around the base that they must adhere to the military standards and rules. Once Brigadier General Savage has made it clear that he will restore accountability and standards he calls a meeting to set his expectations clear.
In this meeting Brigadier General Savage lets everyone know that they have a job to do and they need to stop feeling sorry for themselves. He tells everyone that from this point on they will be held accountable for their mistakes. Brigadier General Savage then informs everyone that since they are performing poorly, they will practice over and over again until they get it right. This infuriates the pilots and they immediately put in for a transfer. Once Brigadier General Savage has made his expectations clear, he begins gathering support from others.
Major Stovall is the group Adjutant who works directly for Brigadier General Savage. Brigadier General Savage begins asking Major Stovall’s opinions on individuals in the unit. He takes the advice given to him by Major Stovall. Major Stovall begins to see that Brigadier General Savage is a great leader and he has a plan to get the 918th Bomb Group back on track. Major Stovall becomes a loyal hard working member of the 918th Bomb Group. He can see that Brigadier General Savage is committed to his job. A trust is built between the two men. “Trust is at the core of all meaningful relationships. Without trust there can be no giving, no bonding, no risk-taking” (Berkun, 2008, p. 242). He then begins to talk to the other men and gather support and trust for Brigadier General Savage. The next item on Brigadier General Savage’s agenda is to develop leaders in the 918th Bomb Group.
When Brigadier General Savage is reviewing everyone’s personnel records he notices that the second in charge is underperforming. Lt Colonel Ben Gately is immediately fired from his position and place in charge of a plane full of underachievers. He informs Lt Colonel Gately that he will receive every lazy nonperforming person who comes into the 918th Bomb Group. If Lt Colonel Gately wants to survive he needs to step up to the plate and become a good leader. The plane that Lt Colonel Gately is in charge of is called the Leper Colony. By doing this, Brigadier General Savage is giving Lt Colonel Gately a way to prove his leadership. This method of leadership works very well on Lt Colonel Gately, because he begins to perform exceptionally well. Lt Colonel Gately even flies with an injured spine.
Brigadier General Savage can see the 918th Bomb Group is turning around into an effective unit. He then sets out to develop a sense of pride in the group. Savage praises them for their performance and what they have achieved as a group. He begins promoting excellence in everything they do. On days where there is no mission they practice to get it perfect. Individuals who show outstanding performance in the Leper Colony get promoted out and those who make mistakes move to the Leper Colony. Results from all their hard team work began to pay off. When the 918th Bomb Group goes on a dangerous mission they return with everyone. The whole unit is put in for a commendation. While Savage has turned the unit around he still has trouble communicating to his people.
Communication is a major part of being an effective leader. While Savage has begun communicating very well with Major Stovall, he still had trouble communicating with his pilots and ground crew. Only when he finally sits down and communicates with a young pilot named Bishop, do the other pilots removed their request to be transferred to another unit. Savage was trying to keep his distance from his pilots. He felt that not becoming emotionally involved with his pilots would help create a barrier. Savage cared about every single person in his unit, but he kept his emotions inside which was the cause of his breakdown.
Looking at a project manager or leader of a company, it is easy to see why you would want someone like Brigadier General Savage in charge. He arrived at the 918th Bomb Group with a clear and direct sense of responsibility. He knew what he had to do and he knew it was not going to be a popularity contest. While Brigadier General Savage had trouble communicating to everyone, he understood his people, their motivations, and the emotions they were feeling. It is important when you are in charge of a project to know the people you will be working with. There needs to be trust between you and your employees. As the project manager when you say you will do something, you must ensure you follow through.
Brigadier General Savage demanded that the members of the 918th Bomb Group give him loyalty, respect, integrity, and selfless service. He in turn not only gave the same right back, he gave them leadership, direction, and a sense of self-worth. By the time Brigadier General Savage left the 918th Bomb Group, they were able to continue their mission under any good leader who took over. As a leader, you have to take responsibility for the decisions you make. You must inspire your people and establish teamwork. Sometimes being a leader is not an easy job, but with the right set of tools you can be an effective leader. “Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in the abundance of counselors there is a victory” (Proverbs 11: 14).
Berkun, S. (2008). Making Things Happen. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, Inc. New International Version. (1970). Thomas Nelson Inc.