Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Leading, By Examples #3 - Night of the Leading Dead

My 3rd entry for my workplace's leadership blog. You can see past entries here and here for the backstory of what this is all about!

"Not every leader intends to be a leader. In fact, I sometimes get a little bit leery of anyone who seems just a bit too eager to lead. What are their motivations? Are they seeking power for power’s sake, fame, something to look nice on a résumé? Sure some people just have a knack and affinity for leading (possibly innate, possibly developed, probably both) and I don’t mean to malign anyone just for liking the power of leadership. After all, power isn’t “bad” by nature; it’s all about what you do with it. But this entry isn’t about people who were born to lead and who love to lead. No, some of us are thrust into leadership because there’s a need, not a desire. Today we’ll look at one of my favorite examples of this, Shaun from the film Shaun of the Dead.

Shaun (no last name is ever given) isn’t any paragon of leadership at the film’s beginning. He’s a lazy guy who can barely keep his life together. His best friend Ed is a jackass (a loveable jackass, don’t get me wrong, but a jackass), his roommate is pissed at him, his girlfriend Liz is ready to dump him, his step-father thinks he can’t be counted on to keep up a good relationship with his mum (British movie, British spelling), he hates his job, and all he wants to do is sit on the couch and play video games or go to the local pub, the Winchester. While he may technically be a “leader” at his job in an appliance store, he commands and receives no respect whatsoever from his teenage employees, who see him as a loser. Shaun doesn’t seem like much of anyone you’d want to emulate, even if he is a nice enough guy, and funny to boot. You like him, but you don’t want his life.

But then, zombies happen (oops, we’re not meant to use the “zed-word”!). Suddenly Shaun’s life is turned upside-down, even if it takes him a while to realize it. Under the pressure of this outbreak of the walking dead, Shaun doesn’t crack. Instead, he plans, he improvises, he rallies his friends and family, and he manages to keep everyone safe for a while. Now, it’s a safe bet that Shaun had never encountered animated corpses before. He certainly didn’t wish for them to arrive. At no point did Shaun try to name himself a leader in these circumstances. But in this new, frightening situation, Shaun stepped up and became a leader nonetheless.

How did he do it? Fairly simply, he stayed focused on the group mission. The mission was straightforward: survive. Nearly every action Shaun took from the moment he realized the state London was in was done in the service of this goal. But he wasn’t out to just survive alone; he also had the members of his group to consider. Commitment to this goal of shared survival allowed him to make peace with his step-father, confront his best friend about his inconsiderate behavior, and even earn back the respect of his (ex?)girlfriend. And while his best friend and girlfriend might’ve been people he really had a vested interest in saving, he even acted to keep people he didn’t particularly like alive, such as Liz’s dour and annoying friend David. He was committed to the group and the mission.

As a leader, Shaun’s biggest gift was probably his ability to adapt. Over and over his group faced new challenges and watched their situation go from bad to worse. Each time, Shaun was able to improvise a solution, or look within his group for a solution, such as relying on Dianne’s acting skills to help them imitate zombies through an infested area. Shaun used vinyl records, flatware, a cricket bat, and pool cues to fight off the undead, making use of whatever resources were available to help him and his group. At every step, he displayed ingenuity and an unwillingness to give up until things were absolutely hopeless (even then, they turned out not to be).

When it was all over, Shaun went back to pretty much the same life as before. He still enjoyed relaxing on the couch, eating snacks from the convenience store, and playing video games with his buddy. There were a few changes, but all in all, he enjoyed simple pleasures. But now he had a new confidence and satisfaction in the fact that when the going got tough, he got going. Like a modern, lazy, funny Cincinnatus, he stood up and led when he was needed, and then gave up that title to go back to a simpler life. So for all of you out there who haven’t really stepped up and taken leadership roles yet, take heart! Your chance may come once you find the cause you care about and the situation that needs your skills! And hey, you probably won’t even have to deal with zombies."