Envision an army of ants, multitudes of them carrying food and piling the food on a large rock. These ants are performing their task in uniformity and in a sequential order. The leadership is responsible for delivering the goods in order to maintain the survival of the ant colony.
On the human side, imagine a commanding officer of a unit assigned to a foreign country, responsible for his troops’ safety, operating an efficient command post, defending his country, and operating as an assumed dignified commander.
“Success in leadership, success in business, and success in life has been, is now,
and will continue to be a function of how well people work and play together (Kouzes & Posner, 2002, pg. 21).”
The two films which were selected represented a virtual-time situation, “A Bug’s Life” and a real-time situation “A Few Good Men.” Each film demonstrated a leadership style conducive to its environment and a communication style which revealed its strengths and weaknesses. Both films illustrated deception in leadership, the revelation of power in numbers, and the success and failure of leadership in action.
Analyzing Leadership in the Ants
The main character of this movie was an ant name Flik. Flik was an army ant who had a creative imagination. His role brought challenges to the leadership team and forced them to make a decision to send him away to find an answer to their dilemma of confronting the grasshoppers. In the beginning of the movie, the ants are gathering food and marching the food up to a rock. This gathering of food serves a two-fold purpose:
- First, to feed the swarm of rebellious grasshoppers, led by “Hopper” their leader, and
- Second, to secure the survival of the ant colony.
The story focuses on a colony of ants who seasonally gather food for themselves and a wild gang of rowdy grasshoppers. When bumbling worker-ant Flik (David Foley) destroys the food supply, the angry grasshoppers, lead by the maniacally warped Hopper (Kevin Spacey) threaten to kill the ants if they don’t produce a new supply of food by the time they return, an impossible feat. Flik leaves the anthill in search of help in the form of bigger bugs to wage war against the grasshoppers. What he doesn’t know is he has actually discovered a group of down-on-their-luck traveling circus insects in need of a job. When the ants realize that their heroes are really circus performers (and the circus bugs realize that these grasshoppers are really big and mean) the situation goes from bad to worse. Ultimately the ants use their large numbers to overcome the grasshoppers. (Gore, 1998, http://www.allmovie.com).
Yukl’s definition of leadership basically defined the process in which leadership was demonstrated in “A Bug’s Life.”
Leadership is the process of influencing others to understand and agree about what needs to be done and how it can be done effectively, and the process of facilitating individual and collective efforts to accomplish the shared objectives (pg. 7).
Leadership was prevalent in all parts of the movie. The “Queen Ant” and the “Princess” were the female leaders who were born into their natural assignment by virtue of the fact they were the reproducers of the colony. They performed their assignment with the utmost of integrity, considering the safety and well-being of the colony. Because of this demand, their leadership skills reflected, “….consensus building, inclusiveness, and interpersonal relations, being willing to develop and nurture subordinates and to share power and information with the colony (Carr-Ruffino, 1993; Grant, 1988; Hegelsen, 1990; Rosener, 1990) (Yukl, pg. 412).” The movie demonstrated how each ant was committed to the survival of the ant colony; thus, demonstrating the shared power from the leadership. Leadership’s goal was to organize and protect the colony, laying down their life for one another if necessary.
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:34, NIV)
Although there was a Hierarchical type of leadership, the movie shifted the spotlight to the workers who were part of a “networking” which reflected the Paradigm Shift stated in Benus and Nanus book, written by Chronicler John Naisbitt (1997, pg. 13).
Communication in the Colony
When Flik was sent away to seek help, he heard the colony cheer for his leaving. The colony was communicating a cheer of “yea, he is leaving” but Flik thought they were communicating a cheer of “yea, he is going to find help.” Communication was the main element in this movie. There was:
- Miscommunication – When the colony sent Flik away to seek help, they did not communicate the real reason of why he was being sent away.
- Non-communication – When Flik hired the circus bugs, he did not communication to them the real purpose of their going to the colony.
Body language was prevalent in the movie and reflected powerful emotions throughout
The face is the language of emotions. Different parts of it are used to display different emotions. Fear is usually looked for in the eyes, as is sadness. Happiness is seen in the cheeks and the mouth as well as in the eyes. Surprise is seen in the forehead, eyes and mouth (Latiolais-Hargrave, 1999, pg. 39).
Communication was a powerful tool within the colony expressing emotions, surprise, anger, and deception. The biggest turnaround in the movie took place when the Princess communicated to the colony to rally together and unify for the purpose of saving what generations of ants have fought for. Once the Princess realized the colony was more powerful in number and unity, they were able to defeat the grasshoppers and end their harassment. The model of communication which this movie followed was the Superior and Subordinate Nonverbal Relationships: Appearance, Gesture and Movement, Face and Eye, Vocal Behavior, Space, Touch, Environment, Scent, and Time. This reflected the Higher Status definitions and the relationship to the Lower Status relationships (Goldhaber, 1993, pg. 197).
Analyzing A Few Good Men
The main character of this movie was Navy lawyer Lt. Daniel Kaffee. He was assigned to defend two Marines who were facing a Court Martial for the death of a fellow Marine. The intensity of the movie bounced leadership off the wall in almost every scene. From the beginning of the assignment of defending the accused until the end of the trial, the leadership and the tremendous interaction revealed a range of leadership from the ethical down to the dark side of charisma.
In this military courtroom drama based on the play by Aaron Sorkin, Navy lawyer Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) is assigned to defend two Marines, Pfc. Louden Downey (James Marshall) and Lance Cpl. Harold Dawson (Wolfgang Bodison), who are accused of the murder of fellow leatherneck Pfc. William Santiago (Michael DeLorenzo) at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Kaffee generally plea bargains for his clients rather than bring them to trial, which is probably why he was assigned this potentially embarrassing case. But when Lt. Commander JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore) is assigned to assist Kaffee, she is convinced that there’s more to the matter than they’ve been led to believe and convinces her colleague that the case should go to court. Under questioning, Downey and Dawson reveal that Santiago died in the midst of a hazing ritual known as “Code Red” after he threatened to inform higher authorities that Dawson opened fire on a Cuban watchtower. They also state that the “Code Red” was performed under the orders of Lt. Jonathan Kendrick (Keifer Sutherland). Kendrick’s superior, tough-as-nails Col. Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson), denies any knowledge of the order to torture Santiago, but when Lt. Col. Matthew Markinson (J.T. Walsh) confides to Kaffee that Jessup demanded the “Code Red” for violating his order of silence, Kaffee and Galloway have to find a way to prove this in court. A Few Good Men also features Kevin Bacon as prosecuting attorney Capt. Jack Ross, and Kevin Pollak as Kaffee and Galloway’s research assistant, Lt. Sam Weinberg. — (Deming, 1992, http://www.allmovie.com).
The lawyers and the Marine Officers each formed their leadership relationships which described the Leader-Member Exchange Theory (LMX). This theory “…describes the role-making processes between a leader and an individual subordinate (Dansereau, Graen, & Haga, 1975; Graen & Cashman, 1975) (Yukl, pg. 116).” The exchange relationship usually takes one of two different forms. According to the theory, most leaders establish a special exchange relationship with a small number of trusted subordinates who function as assistants, lieutenants, or advisors (Yukl, pg. 116). In the case of the Marine Commander and the LMX Theory, his intention in usurping his authority was for deceptive purposes. The lawyers utilized the LMX (Yukl, pg. 116) Theory to produce a values and ethical outcome for the Marine prisoners.
Communication for the Pros and Cons
The lawyers representing the convicted soldiers shared their leadership responsibilities. They were appointed to the case and one of them emerged as the leader because of his passion for the truth. They eventually found the loop hole in the case and proceeded to communicate a path which led to the truth. Their presentation created an atmosphere of suspense which eventually broke the Commanding Officer’s self-righteousness attitude and unfolded the truth.
Researchers comparing the impact of assigning or choosing leaders have discovered that followers expect more from natural leaders than appointed leaders.Since they have more invested in leaders that they have selected for themselves members have higher expectations and tolerate less failure. Yet, at the same time, group members give natural leaders more room to operate. Emergent leaders have greater freedom to make decisions on behalf of the group. One of the most common assignments for appointed group leaders is to plan and to preside over meetings, the subject of the next section (Hackman And Johnson, 2004, pg. 193).
The Marine Commander communicated a message to his entire command which perverted the Marine Code and the minds of the soldiers. The Commander was highly charismatic and knew his strength and power. He became his own Commander-in-Chief, deceiving himself and creating his own rules and regulations. Charismatic leaders tend to make more risky decisions that can result in a serious failure, and they tend to make more determined enemies who will use such a failure as an opportunity to remove the leader from office (Yukl, pg. 251).
For a man’s ways are in full view of the Lord, and he examines all his paths. The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him Fast. He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly. (Pro. 5:21-23,NIV).
The bugs had resolved to believe their destiny was doomed by serving the grasshoppers the rest of their ant lives. They did not realize their power in unity until the situation became a life and death matter. The colony was used to following rituals, rites and routines (Hackman & Johnson, pg. 224) which kept them bound to traditional servant hood. The Princess and the Queen were desperate for a resolution. At the point of contending with the enemy, the colony realized their numbers were greater than the grasshoppers. It took the boldness of the Princess to urge the colony to unite together and defend their rights and territory.
Your effectiveness as a symbolic leader will depend in large part on how well you put your “stamp” on an organization’s culture or subcultures either as a founder or as a change agent (Hackman & Johnson, pg. 230).
In “A Few Good Men”, the Commander became so wrapped up in his assignment that he went overboard in performing the very purpose he was assigned to his post. He perverted the Code of Ethics and his charismatic leadership fell into the dark side contributing to the death of his fellow Marine. The resolution of the movie came to past when the Commander’s true intentions were revealed. Hackman and Johnson describe his charismatic leadership as follows:
- Uses power only for personal gain.
- Promotes his or her own personal vision.
- Censures critical or opposing views.
- Demands that his or her own decisions.
- Be accepted without question.
- Engages in one-way communication.
- Is insensitive to followers’ needs.
- Relies on convenient external moral.
- Standards to satisfy self-interests (pg. 117).
Leaders who learn to listen, seek wisdom, and evaluate the situation can find resolution in most conflict. Although these movies are secular, God can use the foolish things of the world to confound the wise (Matt. 11: 25, NIV) and teach life-learning lessons. The lesson learned from “A Bug’s Life” was the fact that desperate situations can bring unity and resolution. “A Few Good Men” was an example of the struggle people encounter when they shut off the rest of the world and allow their world to become the pivotal point in all of life.
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Carr-Ruffino, N. 1993. The promotable woman: advancing through leadership skills. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Deming, Mark. 1992. Video: A Few Good Men. Columbia Pictures: David Brown Productions.
Goldhaber, Gerald M. 1993. Organizational Communication, 6th Ed. Dubuque, IA: Brown & Benchmark Publishers.
Gore, Chris. 1998. Video: A Bugs Life. Walt Disney Productions: http://www.allmovie.com
Grant, J. 1998, Winter. Women as managers: What they can offer to organizations. Organizational Dynamics, 56-63.
Hackman, Michael Z. & Johnson, Craig E. 2004. Leadership, A Communication Perspective 4th Ed. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, Inc.
Hegelsen, S. 1990. The female advantage: Womens way of leadership. New York: Doubleday/Currency.
Kouzes, James M. & Posner, Barry Z. 2002. The Leadership Challenge. 3rd Ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Company. http://www.josseybass.com
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