I recently watched the classic World War II film Twelve O’Clock High because a former colleague, whom I respect highly, mentioned on Quora that it had better leadership lessons than any business book. The movie is about a general (Gregory Peck) who takes command of a B-17 squadron that is suffering from bad luck, low morale and high casualties. There are two fundamental principles from the movie that can be applied to leading a social game company: provide your team with autonomy and do not let your team get caught up in fear.
Give your team autonomy
In the movie, Peck’s character (General Savage) takes over for a commander who is failing because he is too worried about his men rather than the missions. Although admirable, it actually is leading to higher casualties among the flyers. What General Savage does:
- Train the airmen on what they need to do and set clear goals. They are shown the path to success and the definition of success;
- Provide challenging missions. With success on these missions, the airmen get a sense of confidence;
- Let the bomber crews succeed on their own. Although General Savage leads by example, he often lets others lead missions and help craft tactics. This policy further builds the team’s confidence and gives them the ability to succeed without relying on the commander. This strategy also leverages all the skills of the team, rather than just the skills of the General.
The extension to social gaming is pretty clear but to summarize: you must train your team members to get the job done, let them know what the mission is and let them do it without interfering too much.
Do not let fear dominate
The other great takeaway from the movie that applies to leadership in our space is not to let your team get overcome by fear. In one of the classic scenes of the movie, General Savage remarks:
“We’ve got to fight and some of us have got to die. I’m not telling you not to be afraid. Fear is normal. But stop worrying about it, and about yourselves. Stop making plans. Forget about going home. Consider yourselves dead. Once you accept that idea, it won’t be so tough.”
In the game space, it is very easy for your team to get pessimistic. We read stories almost every day of dire situations in the industry, with companies such as OnLive, 38 Studios, Zynga and Radical. Although in no way would I try to equate this situation with what bomber pilots had to face, it is easy for people in the game industry to become equally as fatalistic.
Once this attitude sets in, it often leads to sub-optimal performance as people stress more about the industry and less about getting the job done. You need to ensure your team does not focus on the challenges of the game industry and instead is dedicated to achieving its goals.
The lessons in leadership from Twelve O’Clock High can help you create a great social game company. Again, without trivializing what daylight bomber crews went through in WWII (facing death every mission shows that creating social games is not nearly the life-changing activity so many people in the industry think it is), the movie highlights two very fundamental elements of leadership.
One related thought. The two movies that most influence my business leadership are now Twelve O’Clock High and Moneyball. I guess that makes me a cross between Gregory Peck and Brad Pitt (anyone who has met me is ROFL right now).
2 thoughts on “Leadership lessons from Twelve O’Clock High”
One of the great film fade ins of all-time. The middle aged man staring in the antique shop window
at his sguadron mug..his mind propels him and audience back to that airfield with all the Fortress
engines turning up. A stunning, riveting movie.