Would you follow someone into a burning building? What if this someone was your supervisor?
In the literal sense this is a dumb question since for most business people putting your life at risk is simply not in the job description. Never the less I've been in meetings where the answer to this question formed part of the criteria used to determine a person's ability to gain promotion to management. The thinking is that it's not enough that a team leader has formal authority/responsibility/education but that his/her people have to want to follow them.
Ron Howard's 1991 film - Backdraft demonstrates this concept. This movie's a great thriller with amazing special effects, drama and great quotes. It succeeds in portraying real life where firefighters demonstrate the essence of courage and teamwork every day. Ten years later in the real world during 9/11 New York Fire Department heroism and sacrifice made us weep.
The line from Backdraft that is forever burned into my mind is - "You go, we go". Kurt Russell playing Lt. Steve McCaffrey says this a couple of times as he saves a fellow firefighter from almost certain death by putting himself into the brink. "You go, we go" instantly transports me to the rare intense teamwork experience you get in high performing teams.
I know now that we got it wrong in those promotion meetings. What we missed while assessing promotions was that leadership isn't a one dimensional skill of getting people to follow you. People follow for good reasons and a lot of bad ones.
True leadership is when they follow you because they know you've got their backs. More importantly you're backed up by every other team member not just the team leader when you're at the brink. Thank you Hollywood!
Previous Posts in this Series:
What I learned from Hollywood - Part 1
What I learned from Hollywood - Part 2