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Marty Linsky
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Marty Linsky

Co-founder of the leadership-focused consulting firm, Cambridge Leadership Associates, Marty Linsky teaches at the Harvard Kennedy School, co-authors the advice column, Leadership House Call and blogs at Linsky on Leadership .

"Twelve Angry Men"

This is a slam dunk. The most extraordinary exercise of leadership on film was Juror Eight, the character played by Henry Fonda in the movie version and by Jack Lemmon in the Showtime made-for-TV version of Twelve Angry Men.

Leadership is about overcoming resistance in mobilizing people on behalf of something you care deeply about. Leadership is particularly powerful when it comes from someone without a position of formal authority. Juror Eight was the only person on the jury not to vote guilty on the first ballot. He demonstrated some of the most critical leadership skills in the process of moving the group to a very different place than where they began. He absorbed tremendous heat from his fellow jurors, he was able to not take personal attacks personally, he held steady under enormous criticism, and he kept his hand on the thermostat in managing the disequilibrium he was generating so as to keep the pressure high but not so high as to to blow the place up.

Juror Eight also took two enormous risks in the service of his purpose: First, when he called for a secret ballot and said he would vote guilty if he was the only holdout; and then when he baited the Lee J. Cobb character into losing his temper in order to illustrate in real time the idea that people often say things they do not intend to be taken literally. We can all learn from Juror Eight's courage, tactical competence, and commitment to purpose.

My favorite anti-leadership film is The Seduction of Joe Tynan. Tynan, played by Alan Alda, is an ambitious United States Senator (is that a redundancy?). Alda's Tynan is seduced into sacrificing his principles and his family's emotional health and stability, literally (and most engagingly) by Meryl Streep and metaphorically by the possibility of a run for the presidency. The story is a powerful example of how people with the potential for exercising leadership can lose their way by the forces in the system designed to divert them from their most noble purposes.

By Marty Linsky

 |  February 17, 2009; 11:04 AM ET
Category:  Pop culture Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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