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Marshall Goldsmith
Executive Coach/Author

Marshall Goldsmith

Marshall Goldsmith is an executive educator, speaker, coach and best-selling author. His most recent book is Mojo.

Losing the Way on "The River Kwai"

My favorite leadership movie is The Bridge on the River Kwai. In this Academy Award winner, the British Commander (played by Sir Alec Guinness) demonstrates almost every quality of outstanding leadership except one: He let his goal -- to "build the bridge" -- become more important than his mission, "to win the war."

This is a wonderful case study of goal obsession. I believe that goal obsession is one of the greatest challenges faced by smart, successful leaders. For example, we may become so focused on "proving we are right" that we forget to "listen and learn." We may become so focused on making money that we ruin our family life, get divorced and lose half of everything that we made.

At the end of the movie, the Commander's last words were, "What have I done?" If leaders are not careful, they can become so obsessed with achieving their goals that they think, "What have I done?" on their death bed.

By Marshall Goldsmith

 |  February 17, 2009; 10:07 AM ET
Category:  Pop culture Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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An excellent choice. Not only the Guiness character is goal obsessed, but the camp commander played by Sessue Hayakawa and the commando leader played by Jack Hawkins are as well. Guiness aids the enemy by building the bridge, Hayakawa subverts his samurai honor by yielding authority to the prisoners, and Hawkins sacrifices the lives of others to accomplish his mission. Not all of these choices are necessarily wrong, but all are the result of goal obsession. The last line of the film is uttered by the camp doctor, "Madness!"

Posted by: kguy1 | February 19, 2009 10:45 AM
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